If the headline is the giveaway, your Nashville Predators managed to reel off some good hockey while comfortably settling into their home at Bridgestone Arena this past week.
The team concluded a five game homestand that featured two high scoring wins (last week’s 7-5 pasting of Ottawa, and this past Saturday’s shellacking of the Winnipeg Jets, 7-0) and a grueling defensive effort last night against Anaheim that yielded a 3-2 victory. Once again, the team called on the unworldly efforts of their All-Star goaltender Pekka Rinne, and the team finished the homestand 3-1-1, accruing points in four of the five games played.
As the ultra competitive Central Division of the NHL continues to lead the league in talent and hard fought decisions, the Preds find themselves nestled in second place out of the seven teams. A record of 11-3-3 gives Nashville 25 points to start the young season, five off the pace set by division leading Dallas (30). St Louis (25, but in 19 games), Minnesota (23) and Chicago (21) would all find berths in the post-season if the standings were to hold true through the end of the regular season. Winnipeg (18) and Colorado (15) would currently find themselves on the outside looking in.
Amazingly, Anaheim, a team that most pundits predicted to be a shoo-in for not only the post-season, but also with a great crack at the Stanley Cup, finds their team well out of the playoff picture. With just 16 points throughout their first 19 games the Ducks sit in the fifth spot in the Pacific Division, with just Los Angeles (24), San Jose (20) and Vancouver (20) finding themselves above the playoff line.
Tuesday night’s effort was not a game you could pin on the slow starting Ducks, or their coach Bruce Boudreau. Some weak goaltending by Freddie Andersen put Anaheim in a 3-1 hole in the early part of the second period and Boudreau lifted the netminder in favor of back-up Anton Khudobin who shut the door the remainder of the way. The Preds put just 11 shots on goal over the final 32 minutes of the contest. Meanwhile on the other side of the ice it was Rinne who faced 40 Anaheim shots, allowing just the pair of goals, and making improbable and timely saves off repeatedly high percentage chances to earn the victory.
What lies ahead for Nashville?
Five road games over a span of just eight days means a lot of focus will be necessary as the team is no longer a surprise to opponents. Road trips are often great bonding experiences for a team but the thought of trudging through airports in Columbus, Minneapolis, New York, Buffalo and Philadelphia all the while missing a quiet Thanksgiving holiday with family means a whole lot of determination will be brought to the forefront over the next week-plus.
The next Preds home game, Saturday November 28 vs. Buffalo, will come just a little over 24 hours after the Friday afternoon contest in Philadelphia, adding a second “back-to-back” to the team’s grueling schedule.
Just off Injured Reserve look for Preds backup netminder Carter Hutton to give Rinne a breather during at least one of the forthcoming road games. Two Predator forwards (Eric Nystrom and Paul Gaustad) are currently on IR, with Milwaukee call-ups Colton Sissons and Mikka Salomaki stepping in and providing youthful exuberance as well as some clutch goals along the way. Hard decisions will have to be made when the two vets are ready to go.
On defense the top six remain healthy and intact, with 3rd year pro Seth Jones netting his first three-point game in the big win vs. the Jets. Roman Josi’s assist in the Ducks game was the 100th of his young career.
Up front, Salomaki notched his first of the season, credited as the game winner against Anaheim.
Other milestones included Calle Jarnkrok notching his first two goal game in the win against Winnipeg and in the 2-1 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs captain Shea Weber played in his 700th regular season NHL game.