Even if it was just an exhibition game for both teams to tune up, Nashville was head-and-shoulders the better of the two on the ice today.
While collectively breathing out a sigh of relief, the Predators fan-base saw a team that converted on the power play, killed all three opposing man-advantages, scored at even-strength, notched a shut-out, and dominated on both ends of the ice. And it wasn’t the other team.
What more could you ask for from a Preds team with a massive list of question marks in front of it? Many of those which were seemingly answered.
23 blocked shots. 23 as opposed to nine for the Stars. That’s a whole lot of diving in front of high-velocity vulcanized rubber for playing a game that’s not supposed to matter.
What that means to me is that the Predators are taking this seriously. They’re taking all of this seriously. If there were questions before about buying in to what head coach John Hynes has been preaching to them, then I think those could be put to rest.
The defensive approach to their game was probably one of the bigger questions marks outside of goaltending (which we’ll touch on later). Today’s exhibition showcased a Nashville team that seemed to get back to their roots in that regard, largely holding the Stars at bay on the shot chart for the bulk of regulation and keeping the front of the net cleared so that both Saros and Rinne could see what was in front of them.
This included the team sacrificing their bodies to lay out in front of pucks. In an exhibition game.
But it clearly meant more to them than just being an exhibition game. It meant an opportunity to see what they were capable of doing before Sunday’s Game 1.
When we last left off with the Predators, the JOFA (Ryan “Jo”hansen, Filip “F”orsberg, and Viktor “A”rvidsson, for the uninitiated) line was slowly becoming scrap heap material and Nashville was looking for something new.
Well, 140 days is enough time to smash the reset button and give those three another shot. And zero regrets will come from it.
Totaling four points combined against the Stars, Nashville’s top production specialists re-discovered what made them so unique over the last couple of seasons and gave fans hope that they could help steer the organization deep into the playoffs.
“It felt like we never really left”
A departing quote from Arvidsson after Thursday’s game essentially summed up what most of us were hoping to see from the team, in its entirety, after such a long break. More precisely though, it’s what we wanted to hear. It shows that the players, especially Nashville’s top players, continue to stay in the right mindset.
A 26-save combined shutout from two goaltenders fighting for the starting position in a game that’s right around the corner is totally what we all expected to see from both Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne today, right?
What in the world is Hynes going to do?
Well, don’t ask yourself that question. We can already surmise what Hynes is going to do. Better yet, we know what the smart decision would be.
It was good to see Rinne have a strong performance after a bit of a bumpy couple of split-team scrimmages over the last week. He was tested earlier after relieving Saros midway through the second period and stopped two point-blank Stars chances, probably their two best chances of the game, almost immediately.
Was it classic Rinne? Maybe not, but it felt pretty close to what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from him during his formidable seasons.
Then there was Saros. He was tremendous between the pipes. Calm, cool, and collected. It felt like he belonged, as if the starting job was already his and it was a foregone conclusion.
Having two number one goalies is an excellent problem and it’s one that Hynes will thank himself for having come this time next week. Both are going to play in this series against Arizona. There’s no way one will start three straight, especially when two of those are back-to-back.
Who starts, though?
I’ll let Hynes announce that decision all on his own, but I’ll leave you with a parting thought: if you have to ask yourself who will be starting in net, you either can’t or won’t accept the fact that it may be time to make a change that many have been wondering (or dreading?) when it would come over the last couple of seasons.
That’s not a slight at anybody, but it shows how much one single player has meant to this organization and its fans over the last 12 seasons.