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Preds Split Preseason Doubleheader with Panthers

Nashville Falls 4-1 Before Finishing with a 2-1 Victory

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten /

The Nashville Predators went 1-for-2 in their first preseason action, as they travelled to South Florida on Tuesday, falling 4-1 in their first outing with the Florida Panthers before finishing the night with a 2-1 victory over the same opponent.

More important than the score, the six periods of hockey in one day afforded the opportunity for the coaching staff and management to see almost every player in camp in a game situation, a benefit when it comes to evaluating the talent pool.

There were high and low points, but that's to be expected in the first games, as Head Coach Peter Laviolette explained.

"I thought the power play did well, we generated a lot of shots, lot of opportunities, and defensively I thought we were pretty tight," Laviolette said. "We made some mistakes at the start of the third in game one, that cost us three goals, and we turned the puck over a little bit too much, especially in the second game here in the second period. We controlled it so well in the first, and even in the third, we did a good job of just making smart plays and good decisions, but in the second it got real sloppy for us. But overall for a first day, guys were probably a little bit nervous out there, and I thought it was pretty good."

With the exception of the first five minutes of the third period in game one, the Preds were even with Florida, but three goals against to open the final frame put Nashville in a hole. It's experiences like that, defenseman Yannick Weber said, that will be used as teaching points before the games count in the standings.

"You just have to be ready," Weber said. "We had a little let down there in the third and that just can't happen. Those are things we can learn for the season coming up; you always have to be ready, you can't let loose and then be soft all of a sudden or you'll pay for it."

There were also bright spots for the Preds in the afternoon slot; goaltender Marek Mazanec stopped 15 of 16 shots he faced through two periods before Jonas Gunnarsson entered in the third, and Nashville was perfect on the penalty kill. The line of James Neal, Calle Jarnkrok and Kevin Fiala provided the club's only goal and combined for 13 shots. It was Weber who found Neal streaking to the net, and Neal deflected the pass underneath the pads of Sam Brittain.

Weber skated with Matt Carle on the team's top defensive pair, logging more than 24 and 26 minutes of ice team, respectively.

"It's those kind of games that you learn from, you get your rhythm from," Weber said. "We created a lot of chances, we had a lot of shots, but you never want to lose like that."

The second contest of the day went in Nashville's favor, thanks to two markers in the opening period.

Anthony Bitetto's point shot on the power play was tipped in front by Miikka Salomaki and past Roberto Luongo to give Nashville their first lead of the trip. Minutes later, it was Bitetto again, this time finding Pontus Aberg all alone in the slot, and Aberg snapped a shot into the twine for a 2-0 lead.

That was enough for goaltenders Juuse Saros and Mark Visentin to combine to allow just one goal on the evening to the Panthers, sealing the victory and giving the Preds a split at the BB&T Center.

"Overall, for a first preseason game, I was impressed with our structure the way all of us came together for the first time playing with each other," center Ryan Johansen said. "At both ends of the ice, we made a lot of good decisions with the puck. We got away from it a bit there in the second, but got back to it in the third again, and I like the way we played a north-south game and kept the puck moving forward and played hard."

The Preds are back on the ice on Wednesday at Centennial Sportsplex as training camp continues, and goaltender Pekka Rinne is expected to join his teammates for the first time this season after returning from the World Cup of Hockey.

Nashville then travels to Columbus on Thursday night before returning home to host Tampa Bay on Saturday at Bridgestone Arena in conjunction with the annual Skate of the Union address.

See an abbreviated box score from game one here, and one from game two here.

A schedule for the annual Skate of the Union on Oct. 1 is available here.

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