As you’ve probably heard by now, the NHL has officially cancelled all games through December 30, 2012. That brings to an end almost all hope of elite-level hockey being played in North America this year, save the possibility of a New Year’s Eve Lockout-Is-Over Extravaganza. It also brings us a little bit closer to a second lost NHL season in seven years. (I’m trying not to think about that second part too much, but it bears mention that the game of chicken between the NHL and the NHLPA is this close to ending with two cars running off a cliff.) If we can’t have hockey at Bridgestone Arena, at least there’s the residual memory of the wild ride that was the Nashville Predators’ 2011-12 season.
That’s what I’ll be focusing on this week here at Predlines – looking back at what happened throughout that tumultuous season and reliving. It’s not exactly a “Year in Review” – they publish those in the summertime, when the reason there’s no hockey is because you don’t play hockey in the summertime, not because of owners and players failing repeatedly to make a deal. No, this is more of a year in review, in review. And this, in particular, is the first part.
Nashville Predators 2011-12 Year In Review (In Review), Part 1: October and November
Expectations were high when the Nashville Predators’ 2011-12 season began: the previous year had been one of the best in the team’s history, and the question was how the young team would respond to its first-ever playoff series win (against Anaheim) and its second-round loss (against Vancouver).
Craig Smith’s Nashville Predators career got off to a strong start. (PHOTO: Russell LaBounty, USA Today Sports)
The Preds got the season off to a great start by winning 3-2 in Columbus. Pekka Rinne had 32 saves and rookie Craig Smith scored in his first NHL game. Smith scored again and David Legwand notched two goals the next night as the Preds won 4-2 in St. Louis. Nashville fans suddenly had high hopes for the kid they affectionately nicknamed “Honey Badger.”
The next four games didn’t go so well for Nashville as injuries kept both Mike Fisher and Martin Erat out of the lineup. The team sold out both of the first two home games, but it lost both. Before the 5-2 loss to Phoenix, the team played a video in memory of Wade Belak. The team fared a little better the next night, but still lost 3-2 in a shootout against New Jersey.
Then came a northwest road trip that started with two losses, 3-1 to Edmonton and 5-1 to Vancouver. Whatever Coach Barry Trotz said after the game must have sunk in, because the boys ended their road trip with a 2-0 win in Calgary – Pekka Rinne’s first shutout of the season. That brought the team’s record back to 3-3-1, a rougher start than most fans had hoped for.
Pekka picked up his 100th career win and franchise-record 22nd shutout against Anaheim. (PHOTO: Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports)
The payoff for the long road trip was a three-game home stand. The Preds lost the first one 3-1 to San Jose but finally got their first home win of the season, 5-3 against Tampa Bay, thanks to two goals from a healthy Mike Fisher. They finished out the homestand with a 3-0 win against Anaheim, the 100th win (and 22nd shutout) of Pekka Rinne’s NHL career, before closing out the month with a 4-3 overtime loss in Chicago.
Between injuries callups from Milwaukee, off-season singings, and waiver acquisitions, there were a lot of new faces on the ice for Nashville in October. Brian McGrattan, Niclas Bergfors, Jack Hillen, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Thang all played their first games for Nashville. One thing stayed the same thoughout the month, though: Pekka Rinne started every game in net.
With a bumpy first month out of the way, the Preds burst out of November’s gate with great vengeance and furious anger.
Step 1: Pay Rinne $49M. Step 2: Rinne gives you a shutout. Step 3: ? Step 4: PROFIT. (PHOTO: Matt Kartozian, USA Today Sports)
The team started off by avenging its home-opener loss against Phoenix with a 3-0 shutout in the desert. It was Rinne’s third in 12 games, and it came on the same day the superstar goalie signed a 7-year, $49M contract – the largest in franchise history at the time. After putting away San Jose 4-3 on a Legwand overtime winner, the team gave backup goalie Anders Lindback his first start of the year and lost 4-3 to Los Angeles. That game saw Patric Hornqvist play his 200th career NHL game and Ryan Suter tally his 200th career point.
Craig Smith scored twice in the next game – his 6th and 7th goals of the season – as the Preds wrapped up a five-game road trip with a 4-2 win at Anaheim. The team returned home for the next game, the franchise’s 1,000th in the NHL, ended in a 2-1 overtime loss to Montreal. But after back-to-back home wins against Eastern Conference opponents in the next two games – 3-1 against Washington and 4-1 against Nashville – the Predators were standing at 10-5-3 and starting to look like their old selves again.
Then the wheels came off as the Preds returned to their early-season form, starting a 4-3 overtime loss at home to Columbus. The win was the first in Nashville for Columbus in 17 tries spanning more than five years, and it seemed to shake the Predators up as they headed out on a five-game road trip.
When Rinne’s form dropped off in late November, Anders Lindback gave the ace some relief. (PHOTO: Brace Hemmelgam, USA Today Sports)
Pekka Rinne was pulled after giving up three goals in the first period of the next game, a 6-2 loss to Edmonton. Then he gave up three goals in the third period at Minnesota as the Wild made a comeback to win 3-2. After a 4-1 loss to Detroit, the team’s fourth straight, Coach Trotz finally gave Pekka finally a breather. Anders Lindback picked up his first win of the season in that game, 2-1 against Edmonton. Rinne returned to play the last game of the month, stopping 28 of 29 shots as the team fell 1-0 to Calgary.
The team ended the first two months of the season 11-9-2, having shown both flashes of brilliance and frustrating inconsistency. It wasn’t certain which Nashville squad would show up in December and into the new year – but luckily for fans, things turned around. I’ll be back tomorrow with a look at the third and fourth months of the Nashville Predators’ 2011-12 season.