Preview #1: Predators open season on road in Columbus
Nashville Predators 0-0-0
Columbus Blue Jackets 0-0-0
For the first time in franchise history, the Nashville Predators will face off against Central Division rival Columbus Blue Jackets to open the NHL season.
A year ago, the Predators and Blue Jackets moved in opposite directions. Nashville fought for home ice advantage in the post season, garnering 99 points with a 44-27-11 record to finish 5th in the Western Conference. Only Edmonton had a worse record than the Blue Jackets a season ago. Columbus ended the year with 81 points and a 34-35-13 record.
During the off-season, however, Columbus made some moves in the hopes of putting the Blue Jackets back where they were just three seasons ago, in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Columbus added Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski and Vinny Prospal to their lineup. Carter alone is a 30-goal scorer and the hope is that he is the center Rick Nash has been missing these past several years. If the two players can find chemistry on the ice together, the Blue Jackets top line may turn into one of the best offensive lines in the League.
The Predators went in another direction this off season, promoting the youth of the organization rather than seeking outside help. Not only will Nashville start the season with six rookies on their roster, but 17 players of Nashville’s 23-man active roster were drafted by the organization. The Predators are carrying 25 players, currently with two on injured reserve. However, both Francis Bouillon and Mike Fisher came from outside the organization. Bouillon was undrafted but played for Montreal and Fisher was drafted 44th overall by the Ottawa Senators.
The average age for the Predators is 26 years old, 5 months. One of the youngest teams in the NHL, promoted this season are rookies Jon Blum, Matt Halischuk and Blake Geoffrion who all played half the season in Milwaukee a year ago but were mid-season call ups due to injury. This season will also feature rookies Craig Smith at forward as well as Teemu Laakso and Mattias Ekholm on defense.
Smith and Ekholm enjoy the rare distinction of never playing for Milwaukee of the American Hockey League, the usual pathway to Nashville. Laakso has played with the Admirals since the 2008-09 season, paying his dues in the minors before earning his spot on the roster.
Columbus Head Coach Scott Arniel talked about the Predators defense before going into Friday’s game. “Especially Weber with his size and Suter with his mobility, if we can catch them on an icing or a whistle or a long shift, and I can get [Carter and Nash] away from them, or give them extra shifts, you want to try to do that,” Arniel said, adding “Whenever you have a top pair of defensemen, the opposition coach will try everything to get them out against your top line.”
Whether or not Arniel is successful in getting his top line away from Weber and Suter or not, expect a close game. Since the 2006-07 season, the Predators have a 10-5-2 record at Nationwide Arena, but seven of the last 11 meetings between the teams have required overtime or a shootout to determine the winner. The Predators are 6-6-0 in season openers, but since December 27, 2007, the home team has won 19-of-23 games between the two clubs.
It is the third time in the past four seasons that the Predators will start the regular season on the road. Nashville plays on back-to-back games this weekend before heading to Bridgestone Arena for the home opener next Thursday night against the Phoenix Coyotes.