The Preds dressed a strong roster for tonight’s game against Atlanta. Early on, the team was rolling. Nashville netted an early goal and created numerous high quality scoring chances. Atlanta settled in during the second period, but Nashville regrouped and put together a strong third period to claim the win.
On an individual level, Ryan Suter
and Shea Weber
were paired together for the first time during this preseason and looked dominant. They were in control in all three zones of the ice, with Weber finishing the game with a goal and an assist. They looked every bit like a world class defensive pairing. And Francis Bouillon
also continued his solid play this camp. Bouillon isn’t flashy, so he’s often overlooked when he’s on his game, but he’s just been a very solid veteran presence with whichever d-man the coaches rolled out along side him. With his current play he is giving the Preds a strong anchor to a reliable second unit behind Suter-Weber.
Up front, Matthew Lombardi continued to look impressive and his line with Martin Erat
and Colin Wilson
seemed to be the barometer for the Preds tonight; when they were clicking in the first and third periods the team got in rhythm and put Atlanta on its heels. Remember, Erat and Wilson were a good duo down the stretch run last season with Jason Arnott as their center; they looked every bit as comfortable playing on a line together tonight. Individually, Lombardi’s speed created mismatches against any of Atlanta’s defensemen. Seven minutes into the game he took a feed from Erat high in the offensive zone and beat the defenseman wide with such ease that Lombardi was one-on-one with the goaltender by the time he curled across the top of the goal crease. Pavelec made a big time save, but Lombardi’s ability to create a dangerous chance in that situation was a testament to his tremendous speed.
Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist
also put some dangerous combinations together. Those were another pair of wingers who spent time together at the end of last season. If they continue to play like they did tonight, they will likely spend a good deal of time on a line together at the start of this season. Sullivan was dangerous with the puck, using his speed and shiftiness to create offensive chances. And Hornqvist was himself driving to the net and getting to the tough areas in the offensive zone. For the night they combined for 12 shots, six of which found their way on goal.
The pieces are there for the Preds to ice three skilled offensive units. If Erat-Lombardi-Wilson continue to mesh well and Sullivan-Hornqvist form the wings for a unit, that still leaves J-P Dumont, Sergei Kostitsyn
, and Joel Ward as potential offensive minded wingers for third offensive unit Jordin Tootoo
and Jerred Smithson showed signs of becoming a difficult line to play against. They were solid in their defensive reads and played the body when they had their chances. Tootoo has been playing at a higher tempo this year than he seemed to play at last season; he’s skating fast and using his speed to create opportunities – both with the puck and on the forecheck. Smithson, meanwhile, is quietly playing his game; he’s always been a reliable defensive forward, but he’s using his size and experience to be a pest on the forecheck as well. Early in the third period they took some shifts with Lombardi at center --- wow did that mixture fly up and down the ice; could be a very useful late game checking unit when the Preds are looking to close out a lead. This is the second time in three games they’ve been impressive playing on a line together; Friday night at Carolina they were joined by Matt Halischuk
to form Nashville’s best forward group.