On Saturday the Nashville Predators gave their home fans something to cheer about early on. Just listen to the uproar after Martin Erat’s goal at 39 seconds of the first period:
Music City has been starved for hockey since the team lost to Phoenix in May, and that goal by one of its longest-serving players was a gift. Predators fans returned the favor, launching into it Section 303-led chants for the next few minutes. The Blue Jackets learned that they suck, Sergei Bobrovsky learned that it was all his fault, and all was right with the world. Though they looked rough in spots, the first period of that game was comparatively good for the Preds. They ended it with a 2-1 lead and the crowd fully behind them.
The second period couldn’t have been a more different story. Nashville came out decently in the second period, but by halfway through the period the Blue Jackets were determining the pace of the game. At that point the only sound coming from the crowd at Bridgestone Arena was a low-level collective mutter. You can hear it in the highlight of Artem Anisimov’s goal in the second – the volume level doesn’t change from 12:04 to 12:05.
Bridgestone is an intimidating place for opposing players to visit; a survey of 100 NHL players by Smashville 24/7 last season had it ranked 6th in the league, up there with vaunted arenas like HP Pavilion, Bell Centre, and Joe Louis Arena. But when the Preds aren’t keeping the crowd in the game, the advantage the crowd brings diminishes. Bridgestone becomes just another arena.
Against a top team like the St. Louis Blues, having the crowd fully behind the team throughout the game means two things. First, it means there’s a more difficult environment for the Blues to play in. And second, the Predators are paying attention to detail, which means they’re in the game. If they want to win tonight, they’re going to want to get the crowd into it.