Strange week huh? Return of Radulov, Pekka beats “Da Funk”, the slump against the Oilers continues, and an absolute kicking of the Blackhawks. The guys in gold were on National TV not once, but TWICE in a matter of days, and on Hockey Night in Canada versus the Jets (so maybe 1/8th of Canadians saw it since the Leafs and Habs were playing at the same time).
We learned a few things about the team on Broadway this week, and we’ll learn even more after this one. Buckle up, kids. The main event is coming.
Headline is a nod to the late Bert Sugar- one of the best ever in covering the sport/spectacle of boxing. Smoke a cigar for Bert, will ya?
This week was different than many regular season weeks in Preds history. The byproduct of the Radulov spectacle, and recent good play is attention- something we’re just not used to. Of all the bad labels in sports you can earn, there are two that stick out as the worst you can call an athlete: “soft” and “choker”; Not being able to answer a challenge (See: Daniel Sedin vs. Brad Marchand) when tested, and not being able to handle the big stage. After Thursday, the latter at least seemed to be true at the time.
But as the title of this posts says, they answered the bell.
vs Edmonton Oilers
I hate playing these guys. Nashville makes Devan Dubnyk look like Terry Sawchuk again. Edmonton is a speedy team that shoots well, but don’t kid yourself- this was a rotten game to watch. A goal went in off Kevin Klein’s skate. A goal went in after Rinne was crashed into. A goal was waived off that was a clear good goal. The Preds never gave up, and peppered Dubnyk, but nothing seemed to work well enough to erase the 4 goal lead the Oilers built. Move along.
The next day, press conference, and that Russian guy is here.
vs Pittsburgh Penguins
To say the Penguins were hot was a gross understatement. Take the most talented team in the league, and get them playing inspired hockey. Then, take the focus off of them for one night so they can focus on playing hockey. And yes, the Penguins are great at playing hockey. Giveaways, bad passes, whiffs on open nets, this game had it all. Evgeni Malkin may not have all the murals that Sidney Crosby has in the arena, but he may be the best in the league. Geno, James Neal and company had their way with a distracted Preds team that looked like they weren’t there to play the type of hockey Barry Trotz wanted. And it showed- 5-1.
vs Winnipeg Jets
Many of the Nashville faithful will remember this as the strangest game seen at 501 Broadway in some time. It had the feeling of a protest being hosted at a hockey game. The war of Southern Aggression was brought by the disenfranchised Atlanta fans, who made the 200 mile trek up to Nashville. They were heard, and seen. The game though, went back to the script that Nashville likes to play- defense created chances, and protected Rinne. Kevin Klein demonstrated this by making a save himself early in the first that likely saved the team from slipping into a deeper funk. Preds scored first on a FILTHY shot by Matt Halischuk, and Gabriel Bourque was hero of the night after scoring the GWG, and blocking a Dustin Byfuglien that KO’d him for a bit. Back on the ice moments later, that Bourque kid was as advertised- TOUGH.
vs Chicago Blackhawks
The first of three very important tests on the road this week, Nashville needed to keep their positive momentum rolling forward. After five minutes and some risky play, Jordin Tootoo responded to being a healthy scratch by challenging a bigger Brandon Bollig to a brawl. Not the best choice for his own safety, but it deep seem to have the desired effect on the rest of the team- that scored 4 unanswered goals and shut down Chicago. The penalty kill was outstanding- allowing zero shots on 4 kills. Patrick Kane was a non-factor, after talking a big game responding to Barry Trotz’s comments. Six goals were scored by six different players, and 13 Preds recorded a point. Corey Crawford was shamed again, and Ray Emery didn’t look much better either. All of this without either Martin Erat or Colin Wilson. Erat was listed as an Upper Body Injury and while the depth is nice, Erat is a guy the Predators will need this week.
It would’ve been nice to beat the Oilers, but most fans agree that the win over Chicago was better than that loss. The team is playing defense again, and downright frustrated a potent Chicago team. The Pittsburgh game? Eh, they’re really that good. Score was a bit inflated, but it’s still a loss. As a whole, the week finished very strong. It was nice getting big Paul Gaustad back, and Colin Wilson seems to be healthy.
The big plus I’ll remember about this weekend was the play of Matt Halischuk and Gabriel Bourque. Those kids played their hearts out the last two games, it was hard not to notice. Halischuk is fighting his way into the lineup every time he’s out there, and doing more than what’s asked of him in the offensive zone. Don’t look now, but players like him have been catalysts for postseason runs (Ruslan Fedotenko says “Hi”).
I don’t plan on ever understanding what Atlanta Thrasher fans endured over the past year or so, mostly because I cannot understand it. If my team moved, I’d be furious as well. It wasn’t their fault they had the worst owners in sports and managed by Don Waddell, who was in over his head. Personally, jerseys cost too much to be tossed onto the ice. But in the grand scheme of things, it’s a bit more honorable than throwing an octopus.
Road trips to St. Louis and Detroit loom ahead, in a week that won’t necessarily determine the seeding, but at least give the teams one last chance to lay a whooping on each other. Nashville has already claimed a season victory over the Hawks and Blues, it’s Detroit that’s given the Preds problems. Luckily, the Hawk’s surge in the standings adds a new wrinkle to the playoff matchups.
It’s HellWeek folks. 1 down, 3 to go. Let’s do the damn thing.