If the first week of the National Hockey League season proved anything it’s that it won’t be easy for the Nashville Predators to win their first division title.
Then again, it won’t be easy for any of the other six Central Division teams either.
Preseason prognostications pegged the Central as the most difficult of the NHL’s four divisions and the first seven days of play did nothing to make anyone think differently.
Through the first seven days of play, which concluded Tuesday, the Central was the only division in which every team had at least one victory. Six of the seven, in fact, had more than one.
The collective 15-5-0 record of Nashville, Chicago, Minnesota, St. Louis, Dallas, Winnipeg and Colorado easily was the best of any division – and three of those five losses were to other teams in the division. Minnesota had victories over St. Louis and Colorado, and Dallas’ lone defeat was to Colorado.
Against teams outside the division, therefore, the Central teams were a combined 12-2-0.
CONCENTRATION OF POWER
A look at the collective records of the teams in the NHL’s four divisions through the first week of the 2015-16 regular season:
Half of the teams in the Metropolitan Division had no points in the first seven days of play. The Predators contributed to that misery with their 3-1 victory at New Jersey on Tuesday, which dropped the Devils’ record to 0-3-0.
Nashville, currently 3-0-0, does not face a division opponent for the first time until Nov. 5, when it plays at Minnesota. That will be its 12th game of the season, which means there will be plenty of opportunity to flex its muscle against the rest of the league first and the next opportunity to do so is Thursday at the New York Islanders.
The Nashville Predators were his first.
But defenseman Kimmo Timonen, the fourth captain in franchise history, called another team is his “No. 1.”
“Obviously I was in Nashville for eight years and I was the captain there,” Timonen said recently. :My kids were born in Nashville. So those memories are really nice.
“Here in Philly, I think my role was so good and playing for the Flyers in front of these fans, it was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life. We like the area here, we like to live here, and that’s why we’re back here. My kids like it here and they like the school. I think the Flyers are my No. 1 team.”
Timonen spent eight years with, and played 573 games with Nashville. He spent most of the next eight seasons with Philadelphia, for which he played another 519 games.
The Flyers traded him to Chicago late last season and he helped the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup. After that he retired.
Wednesday, the Flyers and Blackhawks paid tribute to the smallish player who put up big offensive numbers for most of his career. He was honored during a pregame ceremony in Philadelphia prior to the Flyers’ 3-0 victory over the Blackhawks.
“In more ways than one, he had an impact,” Chicago captain Jonathan Toews said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “It was a short, short time, but you come into Philly last year and you see the standing [ovation] that he gets here, then you start to get what it’s all about. People say great things about him for a reason, and for the guys in this room that had won before, it was very special to see a guy like that hoist the Cup and be a part of the reason why he gets to do that. He’s as deserving as anybody.”
Said Philadelphia forward Wayne Simmonds: “"Kimmo was great for our team, obviously for this organization and a lot of us looked up to him as a leader. … "I think we miss Kimmo's complete presence.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
Before Peter Horachek gets back on his feet as an NHL coach, he decided to do something about his knees.
The former Nashville Predators assistant coach is in Fort Lauderdale after recently having had both knees replaced, according to SportsNet’s Elliotte Friedman, who provided an update on Horachek’s state of mind and body Tuesday.
“I can’t tell you how many people have said to me, ‘This will be a great year for you.’ They told me to take some time away, do something I’ve never done before, think back, learn from it and move on,” Horachek told Friedman.
Horachek is still under contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team for which he acted as interim coach for the latter part of last season. That affords him the opportunity to take a break.
He went 9-28-5 in charge of the Leafs. A year earlier he was in the same position with the Florida Panthers and led them to a 26-36-4 record over the final 66 games. Before that he spent 10 seasons on Barry Trotz’s staff with the Predators after a lengthy run as a successful minor league coach.
Already, he has some clarity about how to be a better head coach when (or if) the next opportunity comes.
“What I learned was you have to spend more time trying to communicate with the rest of the organization on what our short-term and long-term goals are,” Horachek said. “Where are we going and how do we plan to get there? … What I would do differently is spend more time with (franchise officials) asking, ‘What is our expectation with these players?’ Spend more time trying to define our identity. Force that out of the situation.”
It’s not the first time Roman Josi had a performance such as this.
His latest two-goal night, Tuesday in the Nashville Predators’ 3-1 victory at New Jersey, was a little something different, though.
It was the fourth time in his NHL career (256 games) that he scored a pair of goals but the first time he did it so early in the season, and the first time he did so outside of Bridgestone Arena. The previous three all occurred in late February or early March at home. Oh, and each of those three contests went to overtime.
ONE PLUS ONE
A look at Roman Josi’s four career two-goal games:
• Feb. 25, 2013 vs. Dallas (W 5-4 OT)
• March 25, 2014 vs. Colorado (L 5-4 SO)
• March 17, 2015 vs. Minnesota (L 3-2 OT)
• Oct. 13, 2015 at New Jersey (W 3-1)
Against the Devils, Josi put Nashville ahead to stay when he made it 1-0 with a power-play goal at 10:34 of the first period. He provided some much-needed insurance with 2:39 to play when he scored the first of the Predators’ two empty-bet goals.
In so doing, he became the first Nashville player with a multi-goal game this season and tied Craig Smith for the team lead in goals. His three shots on goal tied for the team lead.
Josi has now notched two goals twice in his last 13 regular-season appearances and is the only Predators defenseman with any goals through the first three games.
(Photo: Getty Images)
Craig Smith has proved he is a fast starter.
For the second time in his career, the fifth-year forward has scored goals in each of the first two games, which only one other Nashville Predators player ever has done.
With the start of a three-game road trip Tuesday at New Jersey (6 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee), he has the opportunity to at least match Steve Sullivan for the franchise’s longest goal scoring streak to start a season.
Sullivan is the only Nashville player ever to score a goal in each of the first three games and the only one other than Smith to start out with goals in each of the first two more than once. He scored in each of the first two in 2006-07 and then in the first three contests in 2010-11. Smith notched goals in the first two games of his career, in 2011-12, and now has done it again.
“When he gets his legs going, he is a very impactful player,” coach Peter Laviolette said of Smith. “… When (Smith) gets going like that, he becomes a dangerous goal scorer.”
This is now the eighth season in which a Predators player scored in at least the first two games and, in all, seven different players have done. A year ago, two did it, which was a franchise first.
OUT OF THE BLOCKS
A look at the Nashville Predators who have scored a goal in at least each of the first two games of a season:
Steve Sullivan (2010-11) – 3 games
David Legwand (2002-03) – 2 games
Steve Sullivan (2006-07) – 2 games
J-P Dumont (2007-08) – 2 games
Jason Arnott (2009-10) – 2 games
Craig Smith (2011-12) – 2 games
Shea Weber (2014-15) – 2 games
Eric Nystrom (2014-15) – 2 games
Craig Smith (2015-16) – 2 games
Smith’s two goals tie him with defenseman Seth Jones (two assists) for the team points lead through two games. Jones notched one of his assists on Smith’s first goal.
Oddly, his linemates, Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher, have just one assist between them. Wilson assisted on Smith’s second goal, Saturday against Edmonton.
“[I am] playing well with some players that are making some really nice plays,” Smith said. “As of right now, we’re connecting. We’re sharp. And we’re only trying to get better. We can only go up.”
It’s no secret that the Nashville Predators are fortunate to have Pekka Rinne.
The veteran goalie is a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist who has allowed one goal in the first two games of this season and on Saturday upped his franchise record for career shutouts to 37 in a 2-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers.
Franchise officials realized their good fortune years ago and identied Rinne as a franchise cornerstone. They signed him to a seven-year, $49 million contract that secured his rights through 2018-19.
How lucky are the Predators, though, that they previously had one similar to him.
The game against Edmonton was Rinne’s 383rd as Nashville’s netminder. That tied the franchise record set by Tomas Vokoun.
Among the NHL’s eight youngest franchises, half of which have been around for more than two decades now, the Predators are one of two that have gotten more than 300 appearances from two different goalies. For example, the Tampa Bay Lightning record for games from a goalie is 206. The record for Ottawa, which came in with Tampa Bay in 1992, is 283.
In terms of those eight franchises, Rinne and Vokoun are tied for fifth in games played.
“(Vokoun) was somebody I looked up to many years he played here,” Rinne said. “I played three years in Milwaukee and I had a chance to get to know him and to train with him in the training camps. He’s such a classy guy. Great athlete. Great goalie. And as a little bonus, he’s a European guy too.
“… It’s an honor and hopefully there’s many more games to come.”
BETWEEN THE PIPES
A look at the top three, in terms of games played by goalies, for the NHL’s eight youngest franchises (with first year of competition in parentheses):
Nashville Predators (1998)
Pekka Rinne – 383 (206-115-43, 37 SO)
Tomas Vokoun – 383 (161-159-35-11, 21 SO)
Mike Dunham – 217 (81-104-24, 8 SO)
Columbus Blue Jackets (2000)
Marc Denis – 266 (84-146-24-1, 12 SO)
Steve Mason – 232 (96-99-27, 19 SO)
Sergei Bobrovsky – 149 (83-50-14, 11 SO)
Minnesota Wild (2000)
Niklas Backstrom – 409 (194-142-50, 28 SO)
Manny Fernandez – 260 (113-102-20-8, 12 SO)
Dawyne Roloson – 167 (62-71-26-1, 15 SO)
Winnipeg Jets (1999)
(formerly Atlanta Thrashers)
Ondrej Pavelec – 339 (136-141-43, 16 SO)
Kari Lehtonen – 204 (94-83-17, 14 SO)
Johan Hedberg – 137 (57-47-14, 4 SO)
Florida Panthers (1993)
Roberto Luongo – 393 (143-180-32-22, 29 SO)
John Vanbiesbrouck – 268 (106-108-43, 13 SO)
Tomas Vokoun – 248 (101-108-30, 23 SO)
Anaheim Ducks (1993)
Jean-Sebastien Giguere – 447 (206-163-23-36, 32 SO)
Guy Hebert – 441 (173-202-52, 27 SO)
Jonas Hiller – 326 (162-110-32, 21 SO)
Tampa Bay (1992)
Darren Puppa – 206 (77-91-26, 12 SO)
Nikolai Kahbibulin – 192 (83-74-28, 14 SO)
Mike Smith – 118 (43-52-17, 6 SO)
Ottawa Senators (1992)
Patrick Lalime – 283 (146-100-30, 30 SO)
Craig Anderson – 195 (97-65-25, 15 SO)
Damian Rhodes – 181 (65-74-32, 11 SO)
(Photo: John Russell/Getty Images)
So what if it wasn’t necessarily the way he imagined it?
Viktor Arvidsson’s first career NHL goal will, nonetheless, be one he will never forget, just as it would be for any other player.
“You work your whole life to get to the National Hockey League, you finally get in your first game, and you’re able to score a big goal so that’s something he’ll remember for the rest of his life,” Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette said Thursday. “…, This is a kid that works really hard, he worked hard last year, came over, learned the game, and in his first opportunity tonight he’s able to score a big goal for us.”
Arvidsson, 23, became the first member of Nashville’s 2014 draft class to score an NHL goal when he got what turned out to be the game-winner at 17:27 of the first period in a 2-1 season-opening victory over Carolina.
It was not exactly a work of art.
He and teammate Calle Jarnkrok battled with Carolina defenders for position in front of the net during a power play when Seth Jones shot from the point. The puck hit Jarnkrok and then deflected off Arvidsson’s midsection and in.
“They all count,” Arvidsson said. “So I’ll take what I can get.”
Particularly since he did not get any in his first taste of NHL action. The 5-foot-10, 173-pound left wing made his NHL debut and played six games for the Predators last season but failed to register a point.
The fourth-round pick (112th overall) was the only one of three youngsters that made the team this year out of training camp who was in the lineup against Carolina (forward Austin Watson and defenseman Anthony Bitetto were scratched) and it turned out to be a good move.
“Of course, it feels great to score goals,” he said. “It’s always fun to score and it feels good because it was the first one.”
(Photo: Getty Images)
Patience is obviously not one of Craig Smith’s strong suits.
The Nashville Predators forward can skate. He can shoot. He can do a lot of things that make him an effective hockey player and he has shown he is willing to do them right from the get-go.
Thursday he became the second player in franchise history to score the Predators’ first goal in consecutive seasons when he converted on the power play 2:23 after the opening faceoff of Nashville’s 2-1 victory over Carolina at Bridgestone Arena.
The only other player to accomplish that feat was Cliff Ronning, who got the scoring started in three straight seasons during the Predators’ formative years. Two others, Jason Arnott and Ryan Suter, got the first goal twice each but not in successive seasons.
“It was good,” Smith said. “I’m ready to go. I’m playing with some good players out there and able to make some plays.”
GET IT STARTED
A look at who scored the Nashville Predators’ first goal in each of their 17 seasons:
2015-16: Craig Smith (PPG), 2:23 first period
2014-15: Craig Smith (PPG), 1:36 third period
2013-14: Mike Fisher, 10:42 first period
2012-13: Martin Erat, 00:39 first period
2011-12: Ryan Suter (PPG), 5:10 second period
2010-11: Marcel Goc, 4:10 second period
2009-10: Jason Arnott (PPG), 1:48 first period
2008-09: Ryan Suter, 2:03 first period
2007-08: Jason Arnott (PPG), 4:31 first period
2006-07: J-P Dumont, 00:39 first period
2005-06: Scott Walker, 8:24 first period
2003-04: Andreas Johansson, 5:18 second period
2002-03: Andy Delmore, 10:20 first period
2001-02: Cliff Ronning, 7:12 first period
2000-01: Cliff Ronning, 4:16 first period (at Tokyo, Japan)
1999-00: Cliff Ronning, 17:19 first period (second game)
1998-99: Andrew Brunette, 5:12 first period (second game)
Ronning, who was not on the roster for the first game of the 1998-99 season, is the only player ever to finish a season as Nashville’s leading goal scorer after having been the first to find the back of the net. He finished 1999-00 with 26 goals, which stood as the franchise record until 2005-06 when the league made a concerted effort to officiate obstruction out of the game.
Smith, now in his fifth NHL season, has scored in the opener three times. He got Nashville’s second goal in his NHL debut (Oct. 7, 2011). It took him 17 games to get the first one the following season, the start of which was delayed three months when NHL owners locked out the players, and he got his first of the 2013-14 campaign in the sixth contest.
Clearly, he prefers to get it out of the way as early as possible.
In this case, he registered the fifth fastest goal from the start of the season in franchise history and sent the Predators on their way to a dominant first period. They outshot Carolina 14-5 in the first 20 minutes and reached the first intermission with a 2-0 lead that held up all the way to the finish.
“We were strong in the first,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “We were ready to play. … To get a [power play] goal early on there, I think, was real important for us.”
For Smith, it was nothing new.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The Nashville Predators decided to stick with largely the same roster they had a year ago.
That group was good enough to have one of the league’s best records throughout the first three-quarters of the 2014-15 season but ultimately did no better than second place in the division and a first-round playoff exit.
Collectively, therefore, this team will have to find a way to be better than it was.
Here is what the Predators need from each individual for that to be the case:
• Mike Ribeiro: Lead the team in assists. Whether he plays with James Neal, Filip Forsberg or both he needs to be the facilitator he’s always been and allow those guys to score.
• Mike Fisher: Fight the effects of time. He’s 35 years old and missed 23 games last year. This team cannot afford for him to finally act his age.
• Cody Hodgson: Forget last season. He averaged 18 goals and 39.7 points over a three-year span before he slipped to six and 13, respectively, in 2014-15.
• Paul Gaustad: Win faceoffs. Whatever points he scores, the toughness he provides are secondary to the need for him to get possession of the puck for a team that relies on that very thing.
• Filip Forsberg: Avoid the sophomore slump. He has to be even better than he was last season when he had 26 goals and 63 points if this team is going to take a step forward.
• James Neal: Stay healthy. He has shown he can score from almost anywhere on the ice. He can’t do it from the sideline, which is where he was for 15 games last season.
• Colin Wilson: Keep it steady. His career thus far is a study in streaks. He finished last season on a playoff hot streak but he has to avoid the lengthy scoring droughts that have happened all too frequently.
• Craig Smith: Go forward. There’s no questions about his speed or his ability to finish. He has to make sure his intensity does not waver as it sometimes has in the past.
• Viktor Arvidsson: Keep it simple. He can skate and he can shoot. As long as he does those two things he can figure out the rest in his first NHL season.
• Calle Jarnkrok: Stay flexible. He’ll start the season as a wing but if a center gets hurt or slumps he will be the first to fill in. So he will have to change positions smoothly.
• Gabriel Bourque: Production. He is going to give effort but he dipped from .39 points per game in his first 108 NHL appearances to .19 per game last season. No one expects him to lead the team in scoring but he has to chip in.
• Eric Nystrom: Defense. He can do a lot of things but his primary role will be as a checker on the fourth line – and he must do it well.
• Austin Watson: Seize the opportunity. The 2010 first-round pick has waited a long time for his opportunity. He might not get another one with Nashville.
• Shea Weber: Leadership. There’s no doubt what he’ll deliver on the ice but the captain since 2010 needs to hold the rest of the team more accountable on the bench and in the locker room.
• Roman Josi: Prove last season was no fluke. His style of play has taken away from Weber’s offense, which is OK as long as he remains one of the NHL’s highest scoring blue liners.
• Seth Jones: Continue to grow. The fourth overall pick in 2013 has had his rough spots. There were fewer last season than his first. He needs to reduce that number even more.
• Ryan Ellis: Score more. He’ll never recreate the absurd point totals he produced in junior hockey but this team counts on its defense to score more than most – and there’s more Ellis can put up more than 27 points as he has each of the last two years.
• Mattias Ekholm: Make a name for himself. He’s been somewhat overlooked among this group but he has the size, skill and surprising toughness to be a star in his own right.
• Barret Jackman: Quality minutes. He shouldn’t have to play more than 10-12 minutes per game. In that time he has to provide high quality defense and penalty killing.
• Victor Bartley: Stay ready. There’s a reason he’s the seventh defenseman on this team, but he’s also given teammates and coaches reason to trust him when he is needed.
• Anthony Bitetto: Toughness. There’s plenty of skill in Nashville’s defense group but there are times when real grit is needed. Bitetto can be that guy.
• Pekka Rinne: Consistency. Typically, he’s a slow starter who plays his best late. Last season it was the reverse. He needs to play well throughout and deliver occasional great performances.
• Carter Hutton: Start fast. He typically plays better once he gets some regular action. If things go according to plan, he’ll only see spot duty.
(Photo: Getty Images)
The Nashville Predators’ roster continued to get smaller Thursday.
Veteran forward Cody Bass, who has spent the majority of his career in the American Hockey League, once again is headed to that league.
The Predators reassigned the 28-year-old to Milwaukee, which left them with 24 players on the NHL roster. The regular season limit is 23.
Bass signed as a free agent in July. He has appeared in just one NHL game over the past two seasons and 49 for his career. Since 2005-06, though, he has appeared in 272 AHL games, during which time he has racked up 537 penalty minutes with 46 goals.
He had seven penalty minutes, three hits and two blocked shots in the most recent preseason contest, a 5-2 loss to Columbus on Tuesday. His nine penalty minutes are third on the team this preseason and he is one of three Nashville players who has been assessed a fighting major.
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