Predators beat Wild for first win this season

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – When the

Nashville Predators took the ice for their home opener on Tuesday, they did so

with 11 of the same players who helped them to advance to the second round of

the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2012.

 

Yet to show how much of

a toll last season took on the team’s collective psyche – the Predators

finished with the NHL’s fourth-worst record – Nashville coach Barry Trotz said

after a home-opening 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild that night represented a

step in “learning to win again.”

 

It didn’t help that

Nashville lost this season’s first two games on the road, failing to get to

overtime and earn a point in either one. That would not exactly translate into

confidence for the Predators that they have turned things around.

 

After the team’s morning

skate, Trotz said that last season the Predators’ “identity got crushed” and

that the team that Nashville iced at the end of the season – injuries ravaged

the lineup and necessitated numerous call-ups from Milwaukee of the American

Hockey League – was “quite over their head.”

 

“You’ve got to have a

little success to have that confidence,” Trotz said following that first win on

Tuesday. “Sometimes when you don’t have a lot of success in a while, you tend

to play cautious and when you have that confidence you go for it. That was

probably Step 1.”

 

Trotz is the NHL’s

longest-tenured coach with the same team, having been around since the

Predators entered the league in 1998, so he tends to know when he has a good

team and when he doesn’t. He said after the team’s morning skate on Tuesday

that he liked this group.

 

It might not have shown

in a 4-2 loss at St. Louis last Thursday or in the 3-1 loss at Colorado the

next day. The Predators failed to score a power play goal, going 0-for-7 in the

first two games, while allowing the Blues to go 2-for-4 on the power play.

(Nashville killed all of their penalties against the Avs, who were 0-for-5 with

the man advantage.)

 

The St. Louis game, in

particular, carried a worrisome look, as goalie Pekka Rinne, a finalist for the

Vezina Trophy (best goalie) in 2011 and ’12, got pulled after allowing three

goals on six shots in the first 10 minutes. General manager David Poile said

last week at the outset of the season that early on the team would be a work in

progress and Rinne did not play much during the preseason, as he was coming off

serious offseason hip surgery, which entailed a four-month rehab.

 

Furthermore, the

Predators have encountered some unwelcome injuries early on. Their biggest

free-agent signing, wing Viktor Stalberg, has a shoulder injury and remains a

few weeks away from returning. On Friday, No. 2 defenseman Roman Josi suffered

a concussion and missed the home opener. Highly touted rookie forward Filip

Forsberg also missed the first two games.

 

Nonetheless, Trotz

remained optimistic.

 

“I really like this

group,” he said on Tuesday morning. “We’re three games into it but it’s one of

the groups I could really see jelling as we go along here. The types of people

we brought in and the fits and some of the young guys we’ve been able to

acquire through the draft and trades, it’s a really good mix. Now we have to

come together as a mix.”

 

On Tuesday, that process

of coming together gave reason for optimism beyond the coach’s office. The

Predators broke through for two power-plays goals, converting a 5-on-3 in the

form of Forsberg’s first NHL goal, and then the ensuing 5-on-4. Eric Nystrom,

one of those offseason signings designed to help Nashville reestablish its

identity, scored on a penalty shot.

 

From there, the

Predators killed penalties, got strong goaltending from Rinne and rode out a

closely fought victory much in the way they have in their more successful

seasons. The promising signs were there in terms of Forsberg and rookie

defenseman Seth Jones, the league’s fourth overall pick in 2013 who may quickly

cause the teams that passed on him to regret that decision, picking up points.

The preternaturally poised Jones posted an even rating in a team-high 25:02.

 

Trotz was equally

encouraged by the team toughness the Predators showed. Rich Clune earned a fighting

major and then after a scrum erupted when he received a penalty for goalie

interference – he put a clean hit on Wild goalie Josh Harding when Harding

ventured out of the crease – a number of teammates came to his rescue when the

Wild’s Clayton Stoner took exception.

 

“We didn’t have much

bite at all last year,” Trotz lamented in the morning. “That was the most

infuriating thing for me. We’re playing with a little more bite and a little

more passion and if we can stay healthy I think this group can really come

together.”

 

On Thursday, Toronto,

off to a 3-1, intimidating start, visits Nashville.

 

“We’re going to have to

come out Thursday and be better than we were tonight and hopefully on Saturday

we can build a few things,” Trotz said. “I think you’re finding out that we’ve

got lots of very quality pieces. That when they come together and we get the

confidence and we got our special teams and our penalty kill, we have a lot of

different ways we can beat you.”

 

What a difference a win

can make.