Face it, Preds fans… you’re on the national stage now. Barry Melrose says it’s the MOST entertaining place to see a game. He’s NEVER had more fun! They are all there, to a tee… every writer, announcer (save for the one moron from KDKA in Pittsburgh who tweeted that both Columbus and Washington were louder) EVERYONE is on the bandwagon du Nashville, and if the series goes back to Pittsburgh tied, no one will forget the devastating swing in momentum caused by the crowd’s insistence to set the Predators alarm clocks to WAKE UP at the beginning of period two in game three.
Sure Nashville outshot the Pens 12-6 in the opening frame, but it was Pittsburgh who seemed to have a lot of the momentum, and thank you Pekka Rinne for taking a page out of Archie Bell’s playbook, and “tightening up” after the goal by Jake Guentzel less than three minutes into the contest.
Speaking of Pekka, here’s your first shut up. OK, is everybody standing? If you thought Pekka Rinne would be Coach Laviolette‘s choice to start game three, SIT DOWN. Now, the rest of you, and there are quite a few… WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING? Forget the fact that you pay this guy 7.5M to stop pucks, and he has for over a decade. Forget the fact that your backup goaltender hasn’t seen actual game used rubber from the start of a game for about two months. Forget the fact that after the Chicago series, after the St. Louis series, and after the Anaheim series, one man consistently saved the bacon at the Monell’s buffet of Preds hockey life… that man is Pekka Rinne, and if you BELIEVED crap like “he can’t win against Pittsburgh, he’s NEVER won against Pittsburgh,” well, NOW he has. And, he will again. Maybe even three more times. Then how foolish will you have looked? Hell, how foolish do you look now? Juuse Saros is a hell of a prospect, but nothing more. You wouldn’t have been calling for Carter Hutton, or the guy who made the opening night roster as the backup goalie, who you ALL had faith in when he won the job (cough, Marek Mazanec)… Learn something about hockey culture. To a MAN in that dressing room from the Head Coach to the guy who picks up dirty socks and jock straps and throws ’em in the wash, PEKKA RINNE is the man called upon AT HOME to bring the cup closer to Nashville.
OK, you can all stand up again, start cheering. Let’s talk about faceoffs. Oooh, they’re so important, right? Who won faceoffs last night? Crosby (15 of 26), Cullen (12 of 20), Rowney (7 of 12) and, for the good guys? the number one faceoff man the entire night… for BOTH teams… COLTON IS A SISSONS! Yup 11 of 17, almost 65%… Fisher? 10 of 21, Jarnkrok 6 of 18. Throw in Malkin’s 2 of 9 and that’s where you can take advanced analytics and put them somewhere neatly besides the first four letters of that word. Out the door. Preds dominate the game and lose more faceoffs than they win… but the KEY wins. Ah, yes. Sissons is a monster, and will continue to be because he has great hockey lineage, and In the face of a debilitating injury to number one center Ryan Johansen, has stepped up and done a job that has produced goals, assists, faceoff wins, and solid work on the cycle, down low. Let’s hope George McPhee is busy watching Filip Forsberg and crying in Martin Erat‘s beer.
Let’s talk for a minute about James Neal. Some of you think I’m nuts when I say he will be exposed in the expansion draft, but the numbers indicate that it has to be that way. However, don’t think I don’t think that David Poile is doing some voodoo-magik to keep his team in tact. There will be some very tempting names on the Preds protected list, but while I wouldn’t expect to see any of the “high priced” Nashville forwards (Neal – 5m, Smith, Wilson – 4m) on the Knights opening night roster, I do think one of those three can easily be flipped for more assets come Entry Draft day. Neal, of course, is the juiciest proposition, but he has just the one year left on his deal, whereas Wilson and Smith each have a few. Then there’s that extra layer of Sissons, Watson and Aberg… tempting, no? I digress, but it had to have been sweet to get on the scoresheet last night with such a key goal. Neal is a solid weapon in the Preds arsenal, but each team, in the Stanley Cup finals, or not, does lose a player to Las Vegas, and the intrigue is building to a feverish crescendo.
Good to see Laviolette come to his senses and go with speed for game 3. The addition of Zolnierczyk and Parenteau didn’t tell a huge story in the box score, but their play was spirited and error free for the most part. Expect to see them remain in the lineup for game 4. Duh.
One guy I’m sorry hasn’t had a sniff is Miikka Salomaki. Chatting about him last night, as to his future with the Preds moving forward, I can only say that this injury year came at a tough time, with so many Preds forwards taking steps towards full time employment in the NHL. Not sure how it shakes out for 17-18, but you know Fiala will be ready for full time duty (when healthy) and a number of RFA’s should be tendered deals (Gaudreau, Aberg, Watson) and then, on top of that, throw in names like Kamenev, Trenin and even a potential surprise like Emil Pettersson… it’s going to be a very crowded camp with competition for the few spots remaining on the roster.
So, here we are, Nashville, center stage, and all the fan whining about poor officiating, Chicago bias, St. Louis bias, Anaheim bias, Pittsburgh bias, East coast bias, throw it all out the door or window. Put your catfish where your mouth is and EAT THIS ALL UP. Everyone loves Nashville. Hockey fans across North America… Hell, hockey fans around the WORLD have adopted our home team, and here’s the deal. They are HOCKEY fans, so this little town called Smashville is now unavoidably the place to be early in June as the 2016-17 season is winding down. Locally, we still have to endure the idiot behind me in Section 207 who yells “SHOOT IT” every time a Preds player has the puck in the offensive zone. We still have fans who think a rookie goalie should supersede a veteran at the most crucial time of our playoff lives, and just for good measure, we still have fans that believe Shea Weber > P.K. Subban (and I’m sure his breath is better, too) but ultimately we have been forced to grow up quickly and know that anything a bandwagon local doesn’t know about hockey, he or she makes up for it with an enthusiasm and an excitement that is so contagious that even Barry Melrose thinks this is the greatest place on earth. Today, it is! Go Preds!