They started off the New Year with a commanding victory in Music City, but the first road trip of 2019 has arrived quickly for the Nashville Predators, a season-long, six-game excursion that takes them north.
The Preds are in search of some points away from home, and they reversed their road woes with a 6-3 triumph in Washington D.C. on New Year's Eve. Now, they'll have a half-dozen opponents standing in their way over the next 10 days.
Detroit, Montreal, Toronto, Chicago, Columbus and Carolina have filled the itinerary, an yours truly is lucky enough to be there every step of the way. So, with that in mind - and thanks to our friends at the Renaissance Nashville Hotel - enjoy a look at the Predators travels as seen from a travelling scribe.
First on the docket was a visit to Detroit for a Friday-night meeting with the Red Wings. After practicing in Nashville on Thursday morning, the Preds headed to the airport to jet off to Michigan.
The Preds earned just a single point in the standings with a 4-3 overtime loss to the Red Wings, but less than an hour after the final horn sounded, the team was on a bus to the airport with a flight to Quebec on the docket. A date with the Montreal Canadiens awaited on the second half of the back-to-back set, and after arriving to the hotel a little before 2 a.m. ET, it was time to rest up for a Saturday-night tilt at the Bell Centre.
Montreal is always one of my favorite road stops. Playing there on the second half of a back-to-back is a bit of a bummer since it doesn't allow more time to explore the city, but a trip to the Bell Centre - especially on a Saturday night - is always a treat. It's been said that hockey is a religion in Montreal, and the energy in the building is palpable all night long.
I had three of the aforementioned hot dogs, almost as many goals as the Predators scored against the Canadiens, to rebound from the previous night in Detroit. Craig Smith potted two of the four to earn a 4-1 win over the Habs, and as I interviewed the Preds winger following the game, he had a hot dog in hand, a well-earned treat for a night's work in Montreal.
After everything was packed up once more, it was back to the airport, this time to the province of Ontario and the city of Toronto for a day off in yet another one of the best road cities in the NHL.
One of the top perks of being on the road is you're almost always guaranteed to have a day off following a back-to-back. When that day off comes in a city like Toronto, that's about as good as it gets.
Referred to by many as the center of the hockey universe, Toronto is home to the Hockey Hall of Fame, a must-see for any fan of the game. Naturally, I decided to spend my afternoon here, the fourth time I've had the pleasure of making a stop. About 90 minutes of my visit consisted of watching a fantastic film on the 100-year history of the NHL, in addition to trying reliving my street hockey days and playing goalie in the interactive zone. There was plenty of sightseeing in between, including the Esso Great Hall, the spot where all of hockey's magnificent trophies reside.
With the start of another work week came another game day, this time against the Maple Leafs. The day began with a morning skate at Scotiabank Arena, home of the Maple Leafs, another one of those buildings players love the chance to perform in while on the road.
Just like they did in Montreal, the Preds scored four once more, but this time around, they didn't allow a single strike to the Leafs. Pekka Rinne made 18 saves to record the shutout to give the Predators five out of a possible six points on the road thus far. With the excursion now halfway complete, it was off to Chicago, yet another one of the top road cities in the NHL.
With four out of a possible five points to this juncture, the Preds received another well-earned day off in Chicago, allowing me to get some sleep, catch up on some work during the day and save up for deep dish that night. Call me a tourist, but if we're in Chicago the night before a game, a trip to a deep-dish pizza establishment is always on the docket. Pepperoni, fork and knife, three slices if I'm feeling adventurous. And then, there was another game to play.
After he returned to the lineup in Toronto, Filip Forsberg played the role of hero against the Blackhawks by scoring two goals - including the winner in overtime - to give the Preds their third-straight win in what was turning out to be a highly successful trip. Now, it was off to Columbus to play the second back-to-back set of the week.
Even in their fifth game in the last seven days, the Predators still collected a point in the standings with a 4-3 OT loss to the Blue Jackets. Through five games, Nashville had eight of a possible 10 points, still a success while away from home. Speaking of home, with the sixth and final game of the trip not scheduled until Sunday afternoon in Carolina, the Preds didn't miss a chance to get back to Nashville for some much needed rest and relaxation - and for yours truly, laundry sessions.
As a few of us said with the journey winding down, you know it's a long trip when you come home and it's still not finished yet. I don't think any of us could ever recall a road trip that saw five games played, then allowed a chance to get back to Nashville before heading back out to finish it off. But, as Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette would say, those were the cards we were dealt, and there was one more flight left, this time to Raleigh, North Carolina, for a Sunday afternoon tilt against the Hurricanes.
Laviolette, as well as Preds Associate Head Coach Kevin McCarthy, enjoyed success when they were in charge of the Hurricanes back in the mid-2000s, including a Stanley Cup championship with the Canes in 2005. It's always fun to walk through time in the press box at PNC Arena and look at all of the team photos that hang in the hallway, going all the way back to the franchise's time in Hartford, Connecticut.
Although the trip didn't finish the way the team would have liked, it's fair to say there was still a sense of accomplishment with points in five out of six games away from home. There was also excitement as well to not only get back to Bridgestone Arena, but also just to be back in Nashville with family and friends, another road trip in the midst of the grind of the NHL season now complete.