Scott Walker and Ryan Suter each had a goal and an assist and Martin Erat and Paul Kariya each contributed two helpers as the Nashville Predators ended the preseason on a high note Sunday with a 4-1 road victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Nashville also rekindled its power play, connecting three times with the man advantage. The win lifted the Predators' record to 4-3 as they closed the book on exhibition play.
Next, Nashville opens the regular season Wednesday night at home against the San Jose Sharks.
"I'm feeling better about going into Wednesday now than I probably did," head coach Barry Trotz said. The Predators had lost two in a row entering Sunday's game, going a combined 2 for 22 on the power play in those matches.
"I asked our veteran group of leaders to step up and have a bigger impact in the game and I thought they did."
Defenseman Kimmo Timonen opened the scoring 4:17 into the first period after firing a shot from the point that deflected first off the shoulder of Blue Jackets goaltender Pascal Leclaire then the crossbar before entering the net. The goal, which came on the power play, was assisted by David Legwand and Paul Kariya. At the other end of the ice, Nashville goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped all 13 shots he faced and the Predators killed off four power plays to carry the 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Nashville came out in the second generating quality chances, as Legwand sent Kariya in on a failed breakaway attempt early and Steve Sullivan was thwarted during a flurry of short-handed chances with less than eight minutes gone. Nashville did strike four minutes later though, when Scott Hartnell and Martin Erat set up Suter for a the team's second power play score of the night. Then, with two minutes remaining in the period and the sides skating four-on-four, Walker grabbed the rebound of Erat's shot and put the puck over Leclaire's shoulder. Suter collected the second assist on the goal, which gave the team a 3-0 cushion after 40 minutes of play.
The Predators extended the lead early in the third--again on the power play--when Sullivan one-timed a pass from Kariya into a gaping goal mouth. Walker, who had just sent a chance of his own off the side of the net, was credited with the additional assist. For the game, Nashville converted three of eight power play chances.
"We made some adjustments," Trotz said of the special teams units. "We were getting a little too fancy in terms of the power play. Everything had to be an extra pass and we got away from shooting. We tried to shoot a little bit more [Sunday] and make some better decisions adjusting to what they did. Hence, we had some good production on it and won the hockey game."
Columbus' lone goal came with Predators defenseman Marek Zidlicky in the penalty box for tripping. Tyler Wright beat Vokoun to cut the margin to 4-1 with less than nine minutes left to play. The Blue Jackets finished the night with 10 power play opportunities.
"The one area that we have to respect a lot more is taking too many penalties," Trotz said. "We should create penalties, and we can't have an arrogance about how to play here. We've got to limit our penalties against."
Vokoun went on to stop 24 of 25 shots for the game, while Leclaire allowed the four Nashville goals on 32 shots. The game was followed by a shootout exhibition--with no bearing on the game--in which Predators Legwand, Vernon Fiddler and Walker were unable to bury their attempts while Wright scored on his one-on-one showdown with Vokoun to win it for Columbus 1-0.
Nashville's Opening Night game, 7 p.m. Oct. 5 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, is sold out. The game will be broadcast on television by FSN South and on radio by WGFX-104.5 FM. A limited number of tickets to the game have been reserved for season ticket sales. Therefore, a season ticket plan is now the only way to ensure you'll be in attendance when NHL regular season hockey returns to Nashville on Wednesday. For details, call 770-PUCK (7825) and select option 2. Tickets also remain for Saturday night's home game against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.