By Amanda DiPaolo
The Nashville Predators played their first preseason game Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena, losing 3-1 to the Carolina Hurricanes. The roster for the Predators was predominately filled with prospects. Carolina fielded a team of mainly NHL veterans. The prospect vs. regular NHLer was an intriguing storyline of how the future of Nashville would fare in front of Carolina’s present.
Nashville opened the scoring when J.P. Dumont scored at 9:18 of the first period. Pekka Rinne was in net for the first period and a half, stopping 17 of 18 shots on goal faced. Rinne’s one goal allowed came on a Patrick O’Sullivan breakaway only 4:46 into the middle frame. Predators defenseman Cody Franson broke his stick on a slap shot and the puck was turned around by Carolina, and sent up ice onto the stick of O’Sullivan. Sergei Samsonov scored late in the period against one of the leading candidates for the backup goalie position, Mark Dekanich. Samsonov took the original shot from the slot and followed through to the net, scooping up his own rebound off the pad of Dekanich and right into the back of the net. Dekanich stopped 6 of the 7 shots he faced. Carolina’s third goal was an empty net goal by Erik Cole.
Despite the loss, the Predators should feel pretty good about most aspects of the game, namely the penalty kill, the defense and goaltending.
The penalty kill was on full display. Nashville was shorthanded 6 times and only allowed one power play goal with Jonas Andersson and, Brentwood native, Blake Geoffrion playing over 4 minutes of short-handed ice time.
The battle for defense really heated up as all the leading contenders to round out the final pairing were on the ice. Cody Franson, Ryan Ellis, Ryan Parent, Teemu Laasko, Jonathon Blum, and Alexander Sulzer were manning the blue line for Nashville. The play of Ryan Parent was overall the most solid. Billeted by the Predators organization as a top shutdown defenseman, it was a difficult statement to prove given that the 23 year old Prince Albert, Saskatchewan native never played more than 48 games a year at the NHL-level, nor did he play top minutes with the Flyers organization. However, Parent, paired with Sulzer, played top minutes on the penalty kill last night and he was very responsible in his own end.
It will be interesting to see how the final pairing shapes up. Especially since 2009 first round draft pick Ryan Ellis has to make the team out of camp or be sent to junior for another year. Ellis showed signs of offensive spark, willing to jump into the play when the puck was deep in the offensive zone, but his offensive-minded nature also lead to at least one goal. O’Sullivan’s breakaway was made possible because when Franson’s stick broke, Ellis was already rushing to the net and being out of position left a lot of ice free for Carolina forwards to work with.
In goal, Pekka Rinne already looks great. Last pre-season, Rinne’s lackluster performances in goal prompted the coaching staff to go with Dan Ellis on opening night. It wasn’t until the Olympic break with Rinne signing his new two-year contract that he became the undisputed number one goalie in Smashville. Carolina’s Drayson Bowman found out why when he took a shot into an open net, but Rinne dove across the goal to keep the game 1-0 Nashville. When the referee blew the whistle to stop play, the crowd raucously rose to its feet and serenaded Rinne with cheers.
While all these positives are reasons enough to get excited about another season of hockey in Smashville, the power play never clicked. In four and a half attempts on the man advantage, the Predators were unable to capitalize. Ellis, who played over 4 minutes on the power play, admitted that working the man advantage was no easy gig. “It was tough. We still need to get some chemistry out there. That’s one of the most important things about the power play is the chemistry. We didn’t get pucks in the proper areas and we didn’t win battles. That’s where it all starts,” he said.
Power play aside, the effort, if inconsistent, was a good one on the part of the Predators. Geoffrion summed up the game by saying the team got off to a strong start, trailed off in the second, allowing Carolina to score twice, and came back in the third, but were just unable to get the equalizing goal. It wasn’t like the chances weren’t there. Late in the third Taylor Beck and Marcel Goc both had shots into an empty net of Carolina goalie, Justin Peters, but neither capitalized.
Carolina is now 1-1 in the pre-season while the Predators start out a 0-1. The two teams meet again tonight in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Predators will be bringing a much stronger lineup to Carolina for tonight’s matchup. Veterans include Ryan Suter, Joel Ward, Martin Erat, David Legwand, Francis Bouillon and Colin Wilson. Several players who played Thursday will also be in the lineup tonight including Jonathon Blum, Teemu Laakso, Cal O’Reilly, Jordin Tootoo, Jonas Andersson, Nick Spaling and Andreas Thuresson. Goaltending duties will be split between Mark Dekanich and Anders Lindback. Game time is at 6 p.m. CT.