NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As the Nashville Predators embark on the longest road trip in franchise history, inquiring minds want to know …
How do you pack for a 17-day excursion for seven road games against Phoenix, Los Angeles, Colorado, Winnipeg, New Jersey, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh in that order before returning home Nov. 16 to play Chicago?
That’s four time zones, two countries and roughly 5,000 aeronautical miles.
“Two suits, two shirts, three ties and a bunch of socks and underwear and a pair of jeans,” Predators veteran forward Mike Fisher said matter-of-factly about what he packed before heading out Wednesday on the longest road trip of a career that includes nearly 11 years with Ottawa and three-plus seasons as a Predator.
Predators head coach Barry Trotz said that he has been on longer trips while playing and coaching in the minor leagues, but none as the only coach the Predators have had since their inaugural 1998-99 season.
“Usually, I try to pack for about five days,” said Trotz, whose team opens the trek Thursday night at Phoenix. ” … Probably different ties, but you’ll see a lot of the same suits. All my suits are black and blue, so it’s hard to tell which I’ve got going on.”
Of course, the Predators’ primary focus on the trip is not attire and laundry chores, but rather their stated goal of trying to finish .500 or above on the road not only on this trip, but all season long. That means the Predators would like to finally return home Nov. 16 to play Chicago by earning at least seven or more of the potential 14 points.
“I have a pretty good understanding of what we are made of,” Trotz said, “so I think we are built for going on the road. It shouldn’t matter too much to us.
“I think you will find out which guys really dig in when they have to and all that. That’s what being on the road is about. I think it will play out just fine for us.”
While opening the season 6-5-1 for 13 points and the 10th spot in the Western Conference standings thus far, the Predators have gone 4-2-1 at home and 2-3-0 on the road. That includes winning two out of three on their last road trip after starting winless in their first two road games.
Then again, road trips for the Predators this time of year are nothing new, considering Bridgestone Arena is annually taken over by the Country Music Association Awards festivities and the awards ceremony national telecast on Wednesday. The Predators have played seven-straight road games on two other occasions, but not over 17 days.
“We are going to a lot of cities and obviously cover a lot of ground,” Predators defenseman and team captain Shea Weber said. “It should be a great experience for this hockey club. Your team is your family. You’ll spend a lot of time with the guys. It’s fun.
“We go for dinners. We do different things. We see different cities and different attractions. So, we are going to have to find a way to kill time when we are not playing games. And we have to find ways to win games.”
Making that more difficult is that the Predators are without standout goaltender Pekka Rinne for a month after he had arthroscopic surgery last week on a hip to remove an infection. On May 9, Rinne had surgery on the same hip, but apparently had returned to full speed, or close to it, when the infection was discovered. He is currently 4-4-1 with a 2.31 goals-against average and .917 save percentage.
Enter backup goaltender Carter Hutton and Magnus Hellberg, who was summoned from Milwaukee, the Predators’ top minor-league team. In three starts this season, Hutton is 2-1, but the Predators were drilled 6-1 last Saturday by visiting Chicago. Hellberg replaced Hutton in the third period for his first NHL action.
“Obviously, you know the task at hand,” said Hutton, who played one game last season for Chicago for his only previous NHL experience. “I am going to be playing a lot more minutes, so there are more expectations on you. But that’s something I am excited about. I am looking forward to playing and getting the chance to help our team win hockey games.”
Trotz was non-committal on the goaltender rotation heading into the road trip that has only one occasion of games being played on consecutive nights. And that’s the last game of the trip at Pittsburgh on Nov. 15 before the team returns home the next night to face Chicago. After that, the Predators travel to Detroit and Toronto, making nine of their next 10 games on the road.
“It will probably feel longer because we are not playing as many games,” said Fisher, who returned to the lineup last Thursday in a win over Winnipeg after missing three games with a foot injury. “A 17-day road trip normally has two more games in there. So, we need to have some fun as a team and work hard.
“When you’re winning, everything is all good. As long as we are playing good, it makes the trip feel a lot better.”
Expected to return to the lineup is defenseman Roman Josi, who started the season on the top defensive line with Weber. While Josi missed all but the first two games with a concussion, rookie Seth Jones — the No. 4 overall draft pick this summer — has been paired with Weber.
And Jones has not disappointed. The 19-year-old leads NHL rookies and the Predators overall in average ice team (24:42), which is 19th in the league. Among rookies, he is seventh on power-play goals (one), eighth in shots on goal (23) and 10th in points (five).
“You are around each other every day,” Jones said of taking just the third road trip of his NHL career. “When you’re at home, you come to practice, and then you go back home and you don’t see each other as much.”
That’s the bonding part of the road trip that Trotz hopes the team will embrace.
“Something is going to happen on the road here, good or bad, and we will try to rally around it,” he said. ” … I always look at it as a little bit of a field trip, when we take the family on the field trip, go camping, or you’re stuck together for a number of days. Something always funny happens, or someone will say something, and guys won’t be able to let it go.”
And what will you pack, Shea Weber?
“I’m not a huge packer,” he said. “I’ll bring an extra suit and a bunch of shirts and ties.”