For the first time in 10 days, the Nashville Predators were back in familiar surroundings.
The club returned to Tennessee in the early Friday morning hours, fresh off of a 3-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild to close out their four-game road trip, which took them to California before finishing in the midwest. The Preds collected points in three of four contests, five out of a possible eight points, and a satisfying feeling heading into a five-game home stand in Music City.
“To go in [to Minnesota] last night and play in a tough game where they hadn’t lost at home, to walk away with the win there, I thought that was a good way to end the trip,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said Friday at Centennial Sportsplex after an off-ice team workout and meeting. “You come out with a winning record on a tough trip, a long trip, and now we get back home here where we want to be.”
The gritty win against the Wild saw forward Cody Hodgson collect his first goal of the season and first as a member of the Preds, which also turned out to be the game-winning tally. Not only was Hodgson pleased to get on the scoresheet, he was still admiring the gutty efforts of his teammates down the stretch against Minnesota.
Included in those efforts was that of center Paul Gaustad, who blocked a slap shot up high on a late penalty kill, only to return moments later to win a number of key faceoffs in the final minutes.
“He was really impressive last night to take it in the face, but also just the amount of draws that he won at the end of the game; crucial, big draws that just didn’t seem to faze him at all,” Hodgson said of Gaustad. “The other team was trying to do everything they could to neutralize him, but he just kept winning. I was really impressed with that.”
“You are just hoping for the best when you see that happen,” Laviolette said of Gaustad’s shot block. “Somehow he makes it back before we have to kill the next penalty [and he’s] out for the next faceoff. The side of his face is swollen out and it just shows a lot about his toughness and what he brings to the team and why he’s so valuable to the group.”
Thursday’s meeting with the Wild was Nashville’s first Central Division matchup of the season, and they’ll do it again on Saturday when they host the St. Louis Blues. Seemingly the League’s most competitive division year after year, the Preds are well aware of the challenge that awaits against a 9-3-1 St. Louis squad.
“We talked about it, the games against Minnesota and Winnipeg, Chicago, St. Louis, all of them, Dallas, they’re not going to be easy,” Laviolette said. “They’re just important games. Every division win that you can put in the books is a real good win because it keeps the other team from getting some points. You’re going to have to be good in your division record in order to make the playoffs.”
Saturday’s get together comes with some increased importance for Preds defenseman Barret Jackman, who skated for the Blues for his entire NHL career prior to signing in Nashville during the offseason. The blueliner is looking forward to the chance to not only say hello, but to collect two points against his former mates.
“I’ve already gotten text messages from a bunch of them saying they’re looking forward to it and we’ll say hi, but I’ll try and run them through the boards and play them tough,” Jackman quipped. “I think it’s going to be exciting. I’ve played these guys hard in practice for many years and the way my game is, it’s not going to change at all. Just the history that I have with a lot of the guys in that locker room, it’s going to be exciting to play against them and size myself up in a game against them.”