Predators eye improvement in OT, set to face Blackhawks
On the eve of perhaps their most anticipated season in franchise history, the Nashville Predators spent the final days working on the one thing that cost them playoff positioning last season: overtime hockey.
Nashville, which hosts the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night in sold-out Bridgestone Arena, dropped 14 games in overtime or in shootouts last season. The 14 losses were more than every team except Carolina (16) and Philadelphia (14).
Had it won even four or five of those games, it might not have had to travel back-and-forth to the west coast for four weeks to play grueling seven-game series with Anaheim and San Jose.
"We weren't good in the 3-on-3 and we need to be better there," defenseman Mattias Ekholm said to NHL.com. "It's nice to get a foundation for it again, and then maybe put emphasis on it. We need to get better at it, that's just the bottom line."
If the Predators are to create the edge in a stacked Central Division that includes perhaps four of the NHL's top 10 teams, that means winning more of the close games they lost a season ago. Beating Chicago would certainly be a good way to start.
Nashville went 2-3-0 against the Blackhawks last season, splitting the two meetings at home. Of course, that was a different Predators team, one which didn't have the services of defenseman P.K. Subban, who was acquired on June 29 in a blockbuster trade that sent captain Shea Weber to Montreal.
Adding Subban to a defense corps already featuring All-Star Roman Josi, Ekholm and Ryan Ellis has made Nashville one of the preseason favorites in the Western Conference.
Of course, the Blackhawks figure to have something to say about that, even though they opened their season Wednesday night in the United Center with a 5-2 home loss to St. Louis.
With four rookies on its opening-night roster, Chicago was outshot 32-19 by a Blues team skating without top-six forward Jaden Schwartz. The Blackhawks were also troubled by a breakdown in discipline, taking three straight minors late in the second period that led to two power-play goals which turned a 2-1 lead into a 3-2 deficit they never overcame.
St. Louis scored its first three goals with the man advantage and the last two after Chicago emptied the net for an extra attacker.
"We want to make sure we're playing the right way from start to finish," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "There will definitely be some learning going on, and we'll be accepting mistakes from hard work, but that's where you get better."
Chicago will get defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson back after he served a suspension for a charging penalty on St. Louis' Ty Rattie in an exhibition game. It could also get a milestone goal from forward Marian Hossa, who needs one to reach 500 in his career.
But the spotlight figures to be on Nashville, which believes it has the ingredients to play hockey in late May or even early June.
"I think we'll be ready," coach Peter Laviolette said to NHL.com.