Less than 24 hours after securing their League-leading 26th home victory of the campaign, the Nashville Predators were on the ice preparing for Thursday’s contest against Minnesota, with a 45-minute practice at Centennial Sportsplex.
With Tuesday’s 5-2 win over Colorado, the Preds tied an NHL record for the most wins by a team through its first 30 home games of the season (26-3-1). Six other clubs have achieved the feat, but only two have done so in the past 37 years (1995-96 and 2011-12 Red Wings).
No matter how it’s presented, the Predators are spectacular in their own barn. And even if the players can’t point to a single factor that’s led to their success on home ice, they’re certainly aware that the advantage is there night after night.
“We like playing at home of course, we love the atmosphere, it’s an electric building and things have really come together,” forward Matt Cullen said. “A lot of things have worked out well. We’ve played some really good hockey at home, and that’s something we need to continue to do as we get toward the end of the season and toward the playoffs. [Playing well at home is] going to be a big deal.”
The Wild come to town Thursday night for a nationally televised contest that’ll see the Preds face a Minnesota club that is doing all they can to maintain their current Wild Card spot. Nashville is 2-0-0 against the Wild this season, but that won’t make things any easier.
“They’re playing really well,” forward Mike Santorelli said of the Wild. “They have a really good string of wins together and their goaltender is playing unreal. We’ve got a tough task tomorrow.”
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Cullen, a former member of the Wild, said. “These guys are playing some really good hockey here out of the All-Star Break, and they’re right on the edge of the playoff spot there… We’re going to expect a big battle. They’re going to be ready to go, it’s a huge game for them, and it needs to be an important game for us.”
Combos & Pairings:
Defenseman Anton Volchenkov, currently on Injured Reserve with a lower-body injury, participated in today’s practice wearing a white, no-contact jersey. Defenseman Ryan Ellis, also on IR, practiced as well.
Here’s how the lines looked on Wednesday:
Forsberg – Ribeiro – Neal
Cullen – Fisher – Smith
Santorelli – Jarnkrok – Wilson
Nystrom – Gaustad – Bourque
Josi – Weber
Ekholm – Franson
Jones – Ellis (IR)
(Volchenkov, IR, rotated in and out.)
Sitting six points ahead of their closest challenger for first place in the NHL, the Predators aren’t necessarily fighting for their postseason lives, but that doesn’t mean they’re getting complacent. In fact, there’s a realization by the Preds that nearly every opponent at this point in the campaign has something to play for each game, and that keeps Nashville honest and focused on the little things.
“Ever since the All-Star Break, things are tightening up,” Santorelli said. “It’s more of a battle for sure, so each game is a tough one because every single point is so crucial to every single team. We’ve just got to keep bringing it every night.”
Seven of Nashville’s final 21 games come against teams in their own division, including the final four contests of the regular season. Although the Preds have been near - or at the top of - the standings for the duration of the season, there are still six-plus weeks to go, plenty of time for shift to occur. But if those inside the Predators room have anything to do with it, home-ice advantage in the postseason will soon be secured.
“We have to maintain that same level because otherwise, we’re going to end up on the wrong end of the scoreboard,” Cullen said. “At this point in the season, there are teams fighting and scrapping for a playoff spots. We’re fortunate to be where we are, but we’ve got to be playing with a high level of desperation and working our butts off every night. We need to continue to do that, and we expect that out of the other teams.”
Peter Laviolette on Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson adjusting to the Nashville lineup:
“[Tuesday] night, I thought, was their most impactful game. I think there’s always a little bit of a learning curve. The first game is tough, and those guys were certainly noticeable in Buffalo, but last night for me, they both played a game where they had an impact in the game. Santorelli, I think just his speed [is impressive], and he’s able to generate scoring chances. He fits into what we’re trying to do offensively. Then on the backend, I think just adding Franson to give some size and adding some depth to what we’re doing [is key], and I think both of them were real strong last night.”
Mike Santorelli on playing at Bridgestone Arena as a member of the home team again:
“It was awesome. The fans are great, and it was a great game. We played well and it’s nice to be back.”
Pekka Rinne on his new mask and its design:
“I don’t really help with the [design process] much. I just kind of give the artist free reign to do whatever. I have some input, but not a lot. It’s not a super personal design or something...I’ll probably wear it in a game soon.”
Anton Volchenkov, on if he has plans for his 33rd birthday Wednesday:
“No, after 30, it’s just another number [laughs].”
Shot of the Day: