Peter Laviolette often says there are no easy games in the NHL, but there was a time when a trip to the Sunshine State may have been more likely to yield two – or four – points than say a trip to California or Western Canada. That’s no longer the case on the Gulf Coast or along the Atlantic.
The Nashville Predators will face the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers back-to-back on Friday and Saturday night, two teams with a combined record of 61-36-10 this season. Meanwhile, the Preds went 4-0-0 on their last road excursion, and will have some extra motivation this weekend, with the annual Fathers Trip underway.
“They’re two of the top teams in the East; they’re playing well right now, winning a lot of hockey games, so it’ll be a good test for us,” Laviolette said. “We did a good job on the road last time we were out, and we have to continue that.”
The Lightning are up first tomorrow evening, led by All-Star forward Steven Stamkos. Tampa Bay has lost two in a row, but are 7-3-0 in the last 10 outings and have won eight consecutive times at Amalie Arena (their last lost at home coming on Dec. 30).
“Making good hockey decisions, being smart with what we do on the ice is going to go a long way,” Laviolette said of facing the Lightning. “That’s a pretty wide topic; from discipline to execution, offensively and defensively to specialty teams, we need to make good decisions and be smart with how we play the game.”
Forward Ryan Johansen may be a bit more familiar with Friday’s opponent than many of his teammates, thanks to his experience in the Eastern Conference in Columbus. With the intensity seeming to ramp up each and every game at this point in the season, Johansen knows that success on the weekend is crucial.
“The message this morning is it’s a big test for our group in these two games,” Johansen said. “If you’re going to make the postseason, you have to be able to go into great hockey teams’ buildings and be successful. We look at this back-to-back as a great challenge, an opportunity for us to gain some confidence moving forward and come home with some points.”
Bass Putting Forth Consistent Game in Nashville:
Cody Bass isn’t going to show up on the scoresheet every night. He may not even register more than five or six minutes of ice time. But the rugged winger, now in his ninth season of professional hockey, knows his role with the Preds and continues to relish each and every opportunity he gets to pull on a NHL jersey.
Signed to a one-year, two-way deal last July, Bass is on his second recall of the season with Nashville and has skated in 11 games during his current stint. Usually slotting in on the fourth line, Bass has registered two fighting majors during the campaign and tied his season-high 10:03 of ice time on Feb. 6 in Nashville’s 6-2 win over San Jose.
Being the veteran that he is, Bass knows he could go back to the AHL at any time, but he knew the opportunity existed to have a chance to be relied upon at the NHL level when he joined the organization over the summer.
“In the summertime, I try to find a team that understands what kinds of player I am, and it’s one of the reasons why I signed here,” Bass said. “I think they understood what they were getting from me. I just try to play a simple, safe game right now. I just try to show up go to work, compete as hard as I can and hopefully good things happen for myself and this organization and we can find a way to get some points here.”
The 29-year-old won a Calder Cup Championship with the AHL’s Binghamton Senators in 2011, an experience he credits with helping him to understand what it takes to succeed at the highest levels of hockey. That’s just what he continues to do with the Preds.
“I think the biggest thing nowadays is consistency,” Bass said. “With the schedule the way it is and how fast and how intense games are now, the biggest thing I can take out of it is just showing up every day and doing the same things every day and competing as hard as I can and trying to be a consistent player. That’s something that can help me in the future, wherever I end up, wherever I’m playing. There’s still a lot of hockey left, but that’s the biggest thing right now is wherever I’m playing, whether it’s five minutes or 10 minutes, just giving it my all every shift.”
Lines and Notes:
Eric Nystrom (Injured Reserve, lower-body) was the only absentee from Predators practice on Thursday at Bridgestone Arena. Forward Gabriel Bourque (Injured Reserve, upper-body) continues to skate with the team and took some rushes with the fourth line Thursday. Austin Watson participated as an extra forward.
The line combinations were as follows:
| ||Forwards || |
|Calle Jarnkrok ||Ryan Johansen ||James Neal |
|Filip Forsberg ||Mike Ribeiro ||Craig Smith |
|Colin Wilson ||Mike Fisher ||Viktor Arvidsson |
|Miikka Salomaki ||Paul Gaustad ||C. Bass/G. Bourque |
Shot of the Day: