Photo by: predators.nhl.com
It is official…It’s HOCKEY TIME IN SMASHVILLE!! The long wait is over and fans are coming out in droves to sell-out Bridgestone Arena for tonight’s tilt against the oft-battered Columbus Blue Jackets.
Puck drop is at 7 P.M. and can be heard on 102.5 the Game and viewed on FS Tennessee with Pete Weber and Terry Crisp on the call.
Like an Ennio Morricone orchestration, it has been the build-up over the last few months that Predators fans have been gnashing teeth, biting nails and holding their collective breath for the chance to see the Gold-clad warriors back on the ice again.
The season home opener is against a familiar opponent, one the Predators have owned for many years. Columbus pulled off their first win at 501 Broadway last year, but alas, it was an overtime win on the stick of James Wisniewski.
As Kris has been follwing the “shotgun” training camp, the Predators have very little turnover this season and are looking to build on the foundation of last season where they finished top ten in scoring and had the league’s best power play. The Blue Jackets, however, are without their stud offensive threat Rick Nash who is now sporting Ranger Blue. The Blue Jackets did pick up Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky in the trade along with prospect Erixon and a first round pick for this year. The departure of Jeff Carter at the trade deadline last season also took more fire-power away, but the Jackets did add a key piece on defense with Jack Johnson coming back the other way.
It’ll be a raucous crowd of Nashville faithful at Bridgestone for the opening game and that palpable feeling will radiate through many of the players that are looking forward to playing to the frenzied 17,113+.
Looking at the Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets are playing with house money this season. Everybody from hockey experts to random NHL fans have picked the Columbus Blue Jackets to finish dead last. This makes Columbus a very dangerous team because they have nothing to lose.
With offensive powerhouses like Nash and Carter stripped away, it’ll be up to the newcomers Dubinsky, Foligno and Anisimov to shoulder the load. The stalwarts of Columbus’ offense like Umberger, Brassard and Prospal alongside the rookie phenom Johansen will help in a scoring-by-committee approach similar to the Predators.
The defense is looking to make big strides with the additions of Jack Johnson and Adrian Aucoin. Wisniewski and Tyutin should play lights out in front of Steve Mason, while Nikitin will continue to develop into a top 4 defenseman. Mason will be on a short leash with Sergei Bobrovsky waiting in the wings. At the first sign of derision, Mason could get yanked in favor of the former Flyer.
Looking at the Predators: The Predators have very little turnover this year. The biggest news was the departure of Ryan Suter, but when Shea Weber was asked how the Predators could replace Ryan Suter, he simply said “Roman Josi.”
Scott Hannan was also brought in to help on the second defensive pairing with Kevin Klein. Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad were locked up with contracts to pick up where they left off in the playoffs with solid defensive play and Gaustad’s face-off expertise.
The 23-man roster for the Predators:
Forwards (13): Martin Erat, David Legwand, Mike Fisher, Nick Spaling, Craig Smith, Richard Clune, Brandon Yip, Brian McGrattan, Matt Halischuk, Patric Hornqvist, Paul Gaustad, Colin Wilson and Sergei Kostitsyn.
Defensemen (8): Victor Bartley, Ryan Ellis, Shea Weber, Jonathon Blum, Kevin Klein, Scott Hannan, Roman Josi and Hal Gill.
Goaltenders (2): Chris Mason and Pekka Rinne
For the Blue Jackets to win: The Blue Jackets are skating into enemy territory and a place that has been a nemesis for many years. They will have to take the crowd out early and keep pressing the Predators until the final horn.
The Predators came back from sizable defecits last season to win. The Blue Jackets have to understand that they can’t let up for one second against their division rivals. The snipers will be Dubinsky, Prospal and Umberger for Columbus and with extra offense on the blueline in Johnson and Wisniewski, the Blue Jackets will have to fire on all cylinders to snatch a point or two tonight.
For the Predators to win: Feed off the frenzy. It’ll be a huge and rowdy crowd at Bridgestone Arena tonight and the Predators can use this energy while keeping things under control. It’ll be a tight balance to be sure and the first game to knock the rust off the lock-out consumed months of September through January.
The big question will be whether or not Josi can fill the sizable hole left by Ryan Suter, but the bigger question should be how will Craig Smith and Colin Wilson fare this season? Both have tremendous skill with the puck and a goal scorers touch. Another player to look at having a superb year is Patric Hornqvist. He will be an RFA by the end of the season and with another stellar performance, Nashville may be looking to lock him up for quite some time. Then there’s Rinne. In the KHL, Rinne looked human, rather than the super-human Nashville fans are accustomed to seeing. Most think it’s the speed (or lack thereof) of the game and the wider ice surface that gave Rinne fits, but many believe he’ll be back to true form out the gate. He will have to be at top form early with every point being so important in the shortened season.
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