Photo: John Russell
Forward Steve Sullivan, who posted a goal and an assist Saturday, leaps to avoid a teammate's shot on goal.
With some of the team's bigger names in the lineup for the first time, the Nashville Predators scored a decisive 7-3 victory over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes in Nashville's preseason home opener at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Paul Kariya recorded one goal and three assists and Martin Erat
tallied twice to lead Nashville to its third exhibition victory in as many nights. Newcomers Jason Arnott, Josef Vasicek and J.P. Dumont made an impact as well, with Arnott contributing two helpers and the latter two each notching a goal. Kariya, Sullivan and Arnott had each been kept out of Nashville's three previous exhibition games due to slight injuries. With two games remaining on its preseason slate, Nashville is 3-1 in exhibition play.
"I think while we played well [Saturday], we got off to a little bit of a slow start early on," Kariya said. "The guys that hadn't played contributed and that's always a positive thing when it's your first exhibition game and you're trying to get your touch and timing down."
Despite spending nearly half the first period on the power play Saturday night, the Predators were unable to capitalize in the opening frame. Nashville generated a number of chances, but it was a short-handed rush for Carolina that resulted in the only first-period goal. With former Predator Scott Walker in the box for roughing, Hurricanes forward Justin Williams pulled up on the left side of the offensive zone and spotted defenseman Anton Babchuk streaking down the right wing. Babchuk received the puck and put a high, hard shot over Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun from the right face-off dot to make it 1-0 at 1:46.
For Nashville, chemistry between Arnott and Erat was evident in the opening 20 minutes. The pair combined on two high-quality chances--with Arnott setting up Erat on both occasions--that were stopped by Carolina goaltender Justin Peters. "In the first period, Sullivan and Erat and myself, we moved it around a lot and we read off each other well and created some opportunities," Arnott said. "We could have had a few goals in the first but it took us a few periods to get her going. It was good to have chemistry right off the bat--to find guys you can definitely play with. It's not going to be hard on this team to find guys to play with, that's for sure."
One of those guys could be Predators prospect Alexander Radulov, who continued to make a bid for a spot on the roster Saturday. In the first period he was constantly around the puck, just missing on a doorstep chance around the 14:00 mark and later applying pressure with Steve Sullivan and Josef Vasicek to draw the Hurricane's fourth minor penalty of the period.
Formerly with Carolina, Vasicek tied the game 3:11 into the middle frame, entering the offensive zone as a trailer and taking a feed from Kariya. Vasicek's one-timed low shot beat Peters inside the left post. The Predators took a 2-1 lead less than four minutes later with a five-on-three manpower advantage. As the Preds were set up in the offensive zone, defenseman Marek Zidlicky delivered the puck from inside the blue line to Sullivan below the left circle. In a familiar play from last season, Sullivan threaded a pass to Kariya on the opposite side of the ice and Kariya's quick shot banked in off the side of Peters to give Nashville its first lead of the game.
Photo: John Russell
Forward J.P. Dumont continued his strong play Saturday, scoring to cap a give-and-go play with Paul Kariya.
"[Friday] we practiced a little bit of five-on-three and just started getting a feel for each other with the big man Jason [Arnott] in between us," Sullivan said. "We moved the puck around pretty good yesterday and were able to do that again tonight."
Vokoun was tested many times in the second period and responded with key saves. First there was a stop on a spinaround shot by Staal near the 4:00 mark, then two saves during a three-against-five penalty kill over halfway through the period. The first of the latter two came on a Williams rebound chance from the right circle and the other on Derrick Walser's shot off a cross-ice pass. Nashville nearly made it 3-1 going into the intermission after Arnott sprung Dumont for a one-on-one break. Dumont undressed ex-Predator defenseman Cale Hulse with a move but was unable to shovel a backhand attempt past Peters.
Erat extended the lead at 5:18 of the third, unleashing a wicked shot from the right wing that beat Peters high to the short side. Carolina cut the margin to one again less than a minute later, when Ryan Bayda wound his way through two falling Preds defenders before scoring with a shot inside the left post. The goal was reviewed but ultimately counted by officials. Carolina's tally didn't slow the Predators, though. Sullivan, Dumont, Radulov and Erat each scored in a 2:54 span to make it 7-2 by the 10:39 mark.
Carolina's Williams added another goal for his side at 11:14 to round out the scoring. He capped off a breakaway opportunity with a smooth shot through Vokoun's five-hole.
Despite the 7-3 final, the two teams participated in an exhibition shootout following the final buzzer. The event, which is typically used to decide regular season games that are tied after an overtime period, ended 2-0 in the Hurricanes' favor after two rounds. Carolina players Andrew Ladd and Williams each scored on Vokoun with backhanders, while Dumont and Erat both failed to beat Peters on Nashville's attempts.
The Predators finished the night two for eight on the power play while Nashville's penalty killers blanked Carolina in four opportunity's with a manpower advantage. "You can talk about scoring goals or whatever," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said, "but the one thing I'd like to take away from this game is we were really disciplined in terms of not taking penalties. What I've been trying to say is when you move your feet, you may be at a disadvantage for three or four seconds till you can get position again--that's a lot better than being shorthanded for two minutes. Guys are working hard and getting position and we're creating some penalties because we're skating."
Vokoun stopped 23 of 26 shots in the game as the Predators outshot the Canes 31-26. Now the Nashville roster, which was cut to 27 Saturday, will board a plane and head to Orlando, Fla. Sunday morning for the final week of training camp. Practice and team bonding activities will culminate in the Preds' final two preseason games--a home-and-home series against the Atlanta Thrashers on Sept. 29 and 30.
NOTES: After being shutout 2-0 by Columbus in the preseason opener, the Predators have scored 20 goals over their last three exhibition games... Nashville's power play converted four of 16 chances (20 percent success rate) during the two-game series with Carolina... Attendance at Gaylord Entertainment Center Saturday was 14,083.