The Nashville Predators are 2-3-0. I can already hear people getting their hot takes ready. “This team isn’t as advertised!” “They lost the Subban-Weber trade!” “The most disappointing team in the NHL!” In reality, this team is fine. The power play has been clicking, goaltending has been very good outside of a few periods, and the young talent has shown great promise. That’s not to say they’ve played great hockey so far though. You don’t start 2-3 without your issues. We’ll take a look at the first week (and a half) for the Preds, break it down game by game, grade the week, and debut a weekly award.
10/14/16 vs. Chicago
The most electric home opener I have ever seen. I thought Bridgestone Arena couldn’t get any louder once P.K. Subban got introduced. I was wrong. When he scored his first goal as a Predator on his first shot as a Predator, the lid came off the arena. The celebration wasn’t too bad either. As for the actual game, the boys in gold got off to a slow start. Chicago had already played their first game and it showed. The Predators looked slower and Pekka was shaky to start. Part of that shakiness by Rinne was a questionable poke check that led to the puck ricocheting off the chest of Marcus Kruger and into the net. Once the game got going, the Predators began to dominate play. They were perfect on their first three power play opportunities, and it looked like a thing of beauty. Puck movement was great, and that generated open shots from the point which led to all three goals. Ryan Johansen looked extremely comfortable with the man advantage as he assisted on every Predator goal of the night. The 3rd period, especially the latter half, was the Pekka Rinne show. He mad some spectacular saves as he preserved the slim 3-2 lead, and Nashville hung on to win an incredible opening night game in Smashville.
10/15/2016 @ Chicago
In a pleasant turn of events, Marek Mazanec got the nod in net on the back end of the back to back. It was great to see that the coaching staff was committed to getting Rinne rest so early in the season while also allowing Mazanec to get his feet wet right out of the gate. Hopefully this is a trend that continues as the season progresses. In a not so pleasant turn of events, Maz and the Preds had an abysmal start. They fell behind 3-0 early and couldn’t recover. Shmaltz, Seabrook, and Panik all tallied for the Hawks before the first 10 minutes of the game had passed. After that, Mazanec appeared to settle in and Nashville finally realized there was hockey to be played at the United Center that night. Colin Wilson was able to get the Predators on the board before the buzzer sounded on the first period. In the second, the Predators scored another pretty power play goal to make it 3-2 in favor of Chicago. This time it was Smith coming in off the half boards and rifling one past darling. In the 3rd, Panik scored his second of the evening in the first five minutes, but Arvidsson was able to answer for Nashville with about ten minutes left as he used his speed to get behind the Blackhawks’ defense. That’s were the comeback stalled. Before they were able to get the net pulled, the Predators gave up a 2-on-1 to Kane and Panik, which resulted in hats being tossed on the United Center ice as Panik completed the hat trick. The Blackhawks were able to lock down the Preds after that and won 5-3.
10/18/16 vs. Dallas
This one, well this one was not so good. Well, Rinne was exceptional and Fisher looked fantastic, but outside of that you’d be hard pressed to find any positives in this one. In the first period, Nashville was outshot 16-4. However, the scoreboard read 0-0 because Pekka Rinne was vintage Pekka Rinne, which is a fantastic sign for the Preds. In the second, the teams traded goals. Adam Cracknell tipped the biscuit past Rinne with about 15 players screening the net to give the Stars the lead. Later in the period, the Nashville power play went to work yet again. After Dallas failed to clear, Captain Mike Fisher found the puck on his stick in front of Dallas netminder Kari Lehtonen and slid it under his pads to tie the game. Speaking of Mike Fisher, he made some outstanding defensive plays on the back check to thwart the high-powered counter attack of the Stars. He was about the only one with any defensive awareness on Tuesday night. As a team, the Predators were careless with the puck and had an abundance of turnovers in their own zone and the neutral zone. Some of this was plain carelessness, but some of it was certainly the new players not having great chemistry with one another yet. Regardless of the cause, it bit them in the rear end in the 3rd as they failed to clear the puck and gave Jason Spezza (Smashville’s favorite Star) a great opportunity in front. Of course, he cashed in and gave the Stars a late 2-1 lead. Nashville tried to tie it, but the Stars were much better in their defensive end than the Predators were. It seemed the Stars got a body or stick in the way on every Predator shot. They would hang on to win, in a terrible effort by Nashville, by a score of 2-1.
10/21/16 @ Detroit
Yet another game where the Preds are sloppy early and Pekka Rinne has to bail them out. That is not a pattern the Predators want to develop as the season goes on. The main improvement from the Dallas game on Tuesday to this one was that the Predators were generating chances despite the fact they were giving them up. Some great goaltending on both sides contributed to a scoreless first. After that, the Predators would no longer have the services of Craig Smith or Ryan Johansen available the rest of the night, but more on that later. In the second frame, a weak holding call on young Filip Forsberg led to Justin Abdelkader giving the Red Wings a 1-0 lead as he redirected a shot past the otherwise brilliant Pekka Rinne. Not too long after that Detroit gave the Predators a 5-on-3 power play. I would not advise that on account of the Predators’ power play mowing down opposing penalty kill units like a Gatling gun. Sure enough, Nashville converted twice. Subban fired a laser past Mrazek, and 18 seconds later Mike Ribeiro showed off his silky mitts as he drug the puck across a sprawling Mrazek and gave the Preds a 2-1 lead. With under a minute left in the 2nd, the Predators failed to clear (again), and Drew Miller just did the ol’ turn and fire as his back was turned to the net when he first received the puck. Unfortunately for Nashville, it found it’s way up and over Rinne’s shoulder right before intermission. In the 3rd, more poor defense (looking at you, Matt Carle) and horrendous turnovers gave the Red Wings a 4-2 lead with under 9 minutes left in the game. However, Captain Fish and the Predator power play gave them a shot down the stretch yet again by making it a 4-3 game with just under 5 minutes remaining. With new life the Predators were able to find the back of the net to tie the game. Lol jk. Jarnkrok and Neal took penalties on the same play and the Red Wings added a power play empty netter to win 5-3. Now, I’m gonna give the boys from Smashville a pass on this one because it came out after the game that food poison was running rampant throughout the locker room during this one. Apparently guys were yacking in between periods and Smith and Johansen couldn’t even finish the game. Maybe read the Yelp reviews prior to picking a spot for the pregame meal next time, gentlemen.
10/22/2016 vs. Pittsburgh
The morning of this game, Peter Laviolette asked the media if they had any questions about hockey or if they all just wanted to talk about vomit and diarrhea. Seriously. So many Preds had issues from eating dinner at Golden Corral (I assume) the night before that they had to recall 5 players from the Milwaukee Admirals. With the defending Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins coming to town, it would’ve been extremely easy to chalk this one up to a loss, except that didn’t happen. The young Predators led the way. Alfter allowing an early breakaway goal, rookie goaltender Juuse Saros slammed the door. The heir apparent to Pekka Rinne was outstanding. He stoned Phil Kessel on a breakaway and robbed Nick Bonino with a glove save in the second. On offense, the young guns broke through. Prior to this game, the Predators had 2 5v5 goals on the season. Saturday, they had 4. Viktor Arvidsson opened the scoring on the power play. Then, the rookie Kevin Fiala who was recently demoted from the first line, scored twice. Calle Jarnkrok also got one by Marc-Andre Fleury on a rocket of a wrist shot. With less than one minute left in the 2nd, Viktor Arvidsson put the nail in the coffin in the form of his second goal of the game after a beautiful pass from Mike Ribeiro. It was a positive sign to see the up and coming Predators play with confidence against a team like Pittsburgh, especially on a night when they were needed most.
This team has alternated between incredibly frustrating and brilliant through the first five games of the season. The problems in the defensive end are due in large part to 50% of the defensive corps being new. It will take some time to gain chemistry and know where one another will be. That said, some of those issues have been to due to carelessness, but it is all very fixable. The lack of scoring in 5 on 5 play has been the story, but Filip Forsberg, James Neal, and Ryan Johansen have yet to find the back of the net. I’ll go out on a limb and say that will change. The Predators have too much skill and are too well coached to keep having these woes. Once the even strength scoring comes around, the Predators will be the team everyone expected them to be with the power play clicking and the goaltending being outstanding.
Grading the Predators
Every week, we will give the Predators a grade. However, it will not be numerical nor will it be a power ranking. We will grade them on a scale of former Nashville Predators. We won’t include any very recent players like Shea Weber or Seth Jones. It’ll be players a little more far removed. With all that said, the Hockey 615 grading curve will be on a scale from Andrei Kostitsyn to Tomas Vokoun.
This week’s score: Joel Ward- In the 2010-2011 season, “Wardo” had just 10 goals in the regular season. In the playoffs, he had 7 goals and 6 assists in just 12 games. In similar fashion, the Predators were a little underwhelming throughout the week, but stepped up and got an unexpected win when they needed it most.
Honorable Mention: Alex Radulov- He makes me want to puke.
Little Caeasar’s Hot N’ Sweaty Preds Facebook Take of the Week:
“Turnoversberg i.e. #9 strikes again! yay…” -Michael H.
Catchy nickname! Congrats Michael, you win a foam puck autographed by former Preds backup goalie, Eric Fichaud!