From 2005 to 2012, Bridgestone Arena was known as one of the toughest buildings for visiting teams to try and claim points.
Nashville hit home win totals of at least 24 (and 32 in 2005-06) between 2005 and 2012, but the team’s record at their own rink fell to close to .500 the past two seasons and the club missed out on the postseason both times.
Memories of the home dominance, once such a regular feature, have come flooding back with the Preds incredible start to the 2014-15 season, however. The team’s return to glory within the confines of their own arena has happened quickly a quarter of the way into the campaign.
Thursday’s overtime victory over the Edmonton Oilers stretched the Predators home record to 9-1-1. The team has also won five-straight contests at home and are looking to complete a perfect four-game home stand on Saturday.
“I think we’ve done a good job building what it should be here; it’s just electric here,” Preds goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “I think we take a lot of pride playing at home. Throughout the years we’ve been successful here and now we’re [back to that]. I don’t know if it’s a mindset or what, but obviously our fans make it easy for us to get wins here. It’s always the boost we need and a good atmosphere at the rink.”
In his first season with the team, Nashville’s new head coach has been able to truly experience all of the dynamics that can make playing at Bridgestone Arena a true advantage for the home team.
“The [fans] are filling the building and bringing a lot of passion and the players are playing hard on the ice,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “Coming to a game at Bridgestone right now is a pretty good deal. It’s a lot of excitement and energy and a lot of that has to do with the fans. They’ve been terrific.
“[Tuesday’s home win over the Los Angeles Kings] was just another example of how special it can be. There have probably been six times this season the fans have gotten up during a timeout and shown their appreciation for the effort on the ice. They’re loud and incredibly supportive of our team. Right now it’s a really good working relationship.”
Finding the single source of what’s allowed the Preds consistent success at home to return is difficult, but Roman Josi and Colin Wilson agree that it’s a combination of both the new mindset instilled in the club and the support of the team’s fans.
“I still think it’s the confidence that’s been put into our team, pounding the issue that if we play our game then no one is going to be able to beat us,” Wilson said. “The fact that we all believe in that system is allowing us to have confidence whether we’re down by a goal or up by a couple, we know that if we keep playing our game we’re going to eventually win. Playing at [home] only helps that.”
“If you hear the fans cheering even on plays that [aren’t goals], it’s big,” Josi said. “When everybody is just standing up and cheering, that just gives you that energy and that extra boost. It’s been great this year playing in front of them...We had a really good start by winning those first two games of the season at home. I think that was pretty big for us and gave us some confidence.”
In the 2005-06 season, the club finished with the NHL’s best record at home (32-8-1), and the Preds claimed 20 points in their first 11 home contests. This campaign’s mark over the same time span is 19 points, a single point shy of the highest total ever achieved by the franchise.
Something special is happening for Nashville at home again, and the Predators personnel are taking notice.
“Especially with the success we’ve had at the start of the season at home, it’s huge for our confidence,” center Mike Ribeiro said. “It’s very important to win at home, knowing that when you go on the road it can be difficult to win in those buildings. Most of the times you can be about .500 on the road, so the best teams have a top record at home...You have to come with focus when you play here to take advantage of the opportunity.”
“There is something that makes us better at home, and I think it’s a lot of different factors,” Rinne said. “[Knowing] you have a good home record gives you confidence for sure but at the same time you have to keep establishing yourself at your rink over and over. You never get a day off no matter what your record is.”
One instance of taking advantage of the home advantage afforded to them was the momentum built by Nashville after a strong closing to the second period in their game against the Kings. Defenseman Ryan Ellis and forward Eric Nystrom scored for Nashville in a span of 52 seconds to give the Predators a 3-2 lead. Both of the goal scorers explained that the boost given to the team by the fans rallying behind them at that point helped to change the course of the contest.
“It’s all connected; it’s crazy how the game can go back and forth and how you can get those swings of momentum,” Nystrom said of the moment on Tuesday. “Our fans in the building are amazing and that gives us such a lift and [after those two goals] was just another example of it.”
Despite being tied for second in NHL in home wins, all of the Predators players were quick to caution any kind of assumption that their path would now be easier. Even with the return to form inside the confines of Bridgestone Arena, the team knows they can still continue to improve.
“You can’t just look at the stats and relax. It starts over every game and we have to keep bringing our best to get where we want to go,” said Rinne.
But as the goaltender went on to admit, the success so far at home has been pretty fun to be a part of.
“You can get pumped up for the games here and during the games the crowd goes crazy and it’s a great feeling when you hear that,” Rinne said. “It’s great to come here and try to keep the momentum going. I’m looking forward to what’s ahead.”