The Predators earned their first win of the season with a victory over the Wild in their home opener.
By JOHN MANASSO FS Tennessee
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.”