Traveling is part of life in the NHL, but for the Nashville Predators, who just returned to Middle Tennessee following a five-game, 12-day road stretch, touching down at Nashville International Airport on Tuesday afternoon felt better than most instances.
“That was our fourth or fifth trip that long, and it’s good to get back home; you do one, it’s OK, you do your fifth one and you’re like, ‘all right it’s time to get back to our building and in front of our fans,’” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said Wednesday after practice at Centennial Sportsplex. “But in saying that, we have to keep things going the way we’ve been playing and take care of business at home.”
The Preds will have plenty of opportunities to collect points at home, with eight of their final 12 regular-season games set to take place within Bridgestone Arena, beginning Thursday night when the New York Islanders come to town. The Predators also know that sleeping in their own beds doesn’t guarantee two points, however.
“There’s still a lot of work to be done here at the end of the season and whether you’re winning on the road or losing on the road, none of it really matters,” Laviolette said. “Winning at home, losing at home, you have to show up every night and do the right things in order to win hockey games. Coming home and thinking things are going to happen because we’re in front of our fans and on home ice [won’t equate to wins]. We actually have to go out there and work for it and our guys have been pretty good with that.”
The Preds have points in six consecutive home games dating back to Feb. 15, including a 5-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 27. Nashville will also be looking to continue their stretch of recent success, including a franchise-record, 14-game point streak that came to an end last Saturday in Vancouver. A 3-2 win over Edmonton on Monday put the Preds back in the win column and paved the way for the final stretch of home contests, and the club won’t mind the familiar atmosphere once they take the ice on Broadway again.
“They’ll be fired up; they’re going to do what they normally do and get us going [to play],” forward Mike Fisher said of the fans. “We’ll want to have a great start. Sometimes when you come back from the road you can start a little slow, so that’s important. If they’re bringing it, we’ll be bringing it.”
Hats Off To You:
When James Neal recorded his sixth career hat trick on Monday night against Edmonton, he not only helped to secure a victory for the Predators, but he also ensured another addition to the team record books was necessary.
Neal’s three goals marked the fourth hat trick by a Preds player this season, a franchise record for the most hat tricks in a single campaign. In addition to Neal, Captain Shea Weber recorded his first career hat trick – and the first by a defenseman in team history – on Dec. 5 at Detroit. Filip Forsberg followed up with two natural hat tricks of his own, first on Feb. 23 at Toronto, and then again on Feb. 27 versus St. Louis.
It’s enjoyable to re-live those moments via the highlight film, but two men who were about as close as you can get – goaltenders Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton – have their own thoughts on their teammates’ triumphs.
“It kind of goes to a goaltending aspect too,” Hutton explained. “Me and Pekka both know the feeling, some nights you’re just feeling it, you’re seeing the puck well or whatever. I think the same thing goes for goal scorers, it’s like every time they have the puck, it just feels like they have a little more time. These guys are so accurate to begin with, when they have those kind of nights where they’re hitting their spot perfectly, sometimes you just have to tip your hat to them as the opposing goalie.”
“You’re always excited for your teammate when that happens,” Rinne said. “This year, Filip has two and then Weber and Neal have scored them. It’s always cool when someone gets a hat trick. It’s so hard to do in this League. Sometimes you don’t even realize how it goes, sometimes a guy goes through 15 games and has one goal and then they score three goals in one game. A game like Neal had in Edmonton, where all three of his goals were huge, that is special. As soon as [the Oilers] score the first goal, Neal came back on a breakaway and boom. Second period they score and 20 seconds later, he puts the puck top shelf, then the same thing in the third, when the timing is like that, it’s pretty cool.”
Preds Netminders Support Equipment Rule Changes:
After practice on Wednesday, both Predators netminders were resolute in their support of the likely changes to slim down goaltending equipment for the 2016-17 season. During the on-going General Manager Meetings in Boca Raton, Florida, the League and NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) have put forth plans to taper leg pads, pants and chest protectors to the actual size of a goalie.
Not only would the new pads be a truer representation of a goaltender’s size, but cracking down on the current rules could help to increase NHL-wide scoring.
“The only thing I want as a goalie is a level playing field, because right now, guys are abusing the rules,” Pekka Rinne said. “Guys make modifications to their gear after they receive it, and there are some guys who off the ice are 170 to 175 pounds and they look absolutely huge in net. So I think that’s the reason behind it.”
NHL Senior Director of Hockey Operations Kay Whitmore told NHL.com on Monday that many goalies in the League believe a “bigger gap between the greatest goalies in the League and the other guys” should exist, and the proposed pad changes would help in that regard. Cory Schneider (New Jersey), Braden Holtby (Washington) and Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota) are three current NHL goaltenders who have helped steer the discussion about the potential rule updates. Dubnyk said he and some other goalies were shown some of the new-look equipment during the All-Star Weekend in Nashville and liked what they saw.
“I think it’s great; I think it’s something that needs to happen,” Carter Hutton said of the equipment alterations. “For me not being the biggest guy in the League, you find ways to get by, but at the same time, I’m 6-foot-1, 200-pounds, you see some guys that are 6-foot-4, 170-pounds, some skinny guys, and they have pants that are bigger than mine. Sometimes it doesn’t make a lot of sense. I understand the length, but the width doesn’t make a lot of sense. They have big chest protectors too.
“I think that’s the biggest thing, we want to promote good athleticism. You want the best athlete to be able to come and shine through. I think they’re taking positive steps.”
Sportsnet is reporting fans may get a first look at the altered goalie gear as soon as the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, while NHL.com adds any netminder caught continuing to cheat the system will be slapped with a substantial fine. A player found breaking the equipment rules will be served a two-game suspension and a $25,000 fine.
“It should be more strict,” Hutton said. “I just think the net coverage is going to be the biggest thing. Guys just can’t sit there and block. You’re going to have to play a mobile game. For me and Pekka, it plays into our hands anyway. We try to be mobile, athletic and quick, and rely on our speed and footwork. We don’t wait for the puck to come to us a lot of times. It’s going to be interesting to see how it affects some guys, but I think it’s a positive step forward for the game.”
The Predators assigned forwards Gabriel Bourque (Injured Reserve, upper-body) and Eric Nystrom (Injured Reserve, broken foot) to Milwaukee of the AHL on Wednesday on Long-Term Injury Loans. Both are expected to dress for the Admirals this weekend when they host Charlotte on Friday and Saturday before traveling to Chicago on Sunday.
Shot of the Day: