The Nashville Predators will have two more new faces in the lineup tonight when they return to divisional play against the Chicago Blackhawks. Goaltender Pekka Rinne, recalled from Nashville's American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee Wednesday, will get the start in his NHL debut. Feisty forward Jordin Tootoo was recalled from Milwaukee on Thursday and is expected to skate in place of injured forward Jeremy Stevenson. Stevenson will have surgery Friday to repair torn cartilage in his knee and is expected to miss four weeks.
Many in the Predators locker room agree that the team is facing the most adversity it has seen this season.
"You look at guys missing and we lost three games," sidelined goaltender Tomas Vokoun said. "We lost to Florida--obviously a team who's been struggling--by a [7-3 margin]. It's certainly not a good situation, but you can't feel sorry for yourself because that's not going to do you any good. There's still a job to be done out there and whoever is in at that moment has to do it. That's just the way it is."
Predators head coach Barry Trotz feels his team, despite having five regulars on injured reserve, is up to the challenge.
"This is probably the most adversity," Trotz said. "That's where you get the measure of a man, when there are times of inconvenience and controversy a little bit, if you will. One of my sayings I put up [in the locker room] is Martin Luther King, saying that really tests your character and you really find out about people in times of adversity. I'm OK. I like our guys, and I like that we can handle adversity real well. We didn't handle it particularly well [Tuesday night], but we'll be fine. I have a lot of trust and faith in our guys in our organization."
"We've had adversity many times [this season]," forward Steve Sullivan said. "After we went 8-0 to start the year we went on a little slide, and we bounced back out of there with flying colors and went back on our winning ways. It's a long season. You play  games. You're going to have your ups and downs. You just try to minimize your downs. If you can do that, you're going to have a successful season. The challenge is in to the 20 guys that are going to wear the jersey [tonight] to step up to that challenge."
Nashville's lineup currently includes seven players that have been recalled from Milwaukee. Two of them--Rinne and Brian Finley--are currently serving as the goaltending tandem, with a total of two games of NHL experience. It's an uncommon scenario, but one that Jerred Smithson, another Admirals call-up, has seen unfold before.
"I have with L.A., the one year we went through a lot of injuries and I think pretty much everybody on the American League team at least got a couple of games." Smithson said. "You don't see it too often. You see a lot of teams where there are only two or three guys a year getting called up. We've got some pretty good depth down there [in Milwaukee]."
The Predators will look to regroup against a familiar opponent tonight--the Blackhawks. The game is the second of eight meetings between the Central Division rivals this season. In the first match-up on Oct. 25, which Nashville won 5-3, Stevenson and Matthew Barnaby dropped the gloves at the opening face-off and the teams combined for 146 minutes in penalties.
"They are sort of a hard-nosed team," Trotz said. "They built it that way. I think that reflects the city. They've got guys like Barnaby and people like that. From that standpoint, they come at you hard, they finish their checks, they play a real robust style."
While players say it's important to get pumped up for every game, facing such an intense opponent with key points on the line may help rally a club.
"Obviously it's a big game," Vokoun said. "Look at the standings. The standings are pretty close. You can't relax for a second. Our record is very good. You don't want to fall into that group of teams that are fighting [for a playoff spot] and you play every game with a lot of pressure on. I feel confident we'll play much better than we did in Florida."