On Thursday night, the Preds will face the Phoenix Coyotes for the first time this season. The game in Phoenix also marks the beginning of a stretch where the Preds will play nine of their next ten, including the next seven away from Bridgestone Arena.
The road trip comes at an especially tough time for the Preds with the recent injury to Pekka Rinne. Only two games have passed since Rinne went down and there are still lingering questions about how the goaltending situation will play out. Carter Hutton stopped 34 of 36 shots to earn a 2-1 win over Winnipeg, but he was pulled two nights later after allowing five goals on 26 shots against St. Louis. Magnus Hellberg made his first NHL appearance in relief against St. Louis and allowed one goal on four shots in a little over twelve minutes of action. Hellberg will definitely add to his NHL experience during this upcoming stretch. This tandem will have to prove they can carry the load or the Preds may have to look to add a veteran goaltender to the roster.
In addition to goaltending questions, the Preds face some strong opponents over the next few weeks. During the upcoming seven straight road games, the Preds will take on division leaders Pittsburgh and Colorado and the defending cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Only three of the next ten games will be against teams with losing records. Like most teams, the Preds are better at home than on the road, with only five wins coming on the road last year. The Preds’ road woes can be magnified with Trotz’s style of constantly trying to match lines without the benefit of the last change. This trip will likely offer quite a test for some of the young defenders when they get stuck on the ice against other teams’ top lines. Shea Weber and Seth Jones could also be asked to play even more minutes to help with match-ups.
Even with all the potential problems, this road trip could be a huge turning point for the Preds. A long road trip early in the season can offer a good opportunity for team bonding and building, especially with a team that added so many new pieces over the summer. It could also allow the team to be off the local media radar with fewer questions about Rinne. The Preds’ grinding style is well-suited for playing on the road and scratching out points where there is less pressure to put on a show for the home crowd.
While there will be some challenges on this road trip, it offers a great opportunity for the Preds to grind out some wins and entrench themselves in the play-off race. Let’s hope the goaltending comes through and Viktor Stalberg can play his way back into some meaningful minutes.