At long last, the Nashville Predators kick off their regular season against the Anaheim Ducks tonight at Bridgestone Arena. Much time has been spent and much ink has been spilled over the Predators' Game 5 collapse; subsequent series loss, and all the things that came after - the Dan Ellis, Jason Arnott, and Dan Hamhuis trades; the Matthew Lombardi acquisition, and the naming of Shea Weber team captain.
Tonight, though, 2009-10 is a thing of the past. No more what could have beens - only what can be. For the Nashville Predators, the quest for the 2010-11 Stanley Cup begins now.
As in any sport and with any season, the team is best served by getting started on the right track. Nashville can do this by correcting the single biggest flaw from last year - their power play.
I was able to attend practice yesterday, and quite a bit of time was spent working on the man advantage. A couple things to look out for is the addition of Kevin Klein to the 2nd power play unit as opposed to Steve Sullivan, and Cal O'Reilly's PP opportunities. O'Reilly looked very good centering a unit in practice, setting up several nice plays that ended up in goals. The team seemed to be moving their feet better, and there was less space between the five skaters which allowed for more accurate passes.
Shane O'Brien arrived in time for practice, and I'm guessing that he'll start tonight alongside Cody Franson. He was paired with him during practice, and spent an extended period of time afterwards talking to first Franson and then Coach Trotz.
This time, there's no doubt as to who will be between the pipes - as Kevin Allen of USA Today said on Twitter, the Preds are going with their short goalie tonight. Pekka Rinne has as firm a hold on the number one job as anyone in the NHL, and now its his responsibility to move from above-average to elite.
Rookie Anders Lindback will start the season on the bench.
Here are the lines from practice (and the last preseason game), which we can safely assume will remain the same tonight.
Nashville Predators Injuries
To get a proper read on the Ducks; I spoke with Arthur, managing editor of SBN's Ducks blog Anaheim Calling. Keep in mind that they'll be breaking in a pretty green defense, with Cam Fowler, Luca Sbisa, Andy Sutton, Paul Mara, and Toni Lydman all new to the squad.
The Ducks had a tough preseason, getting outshot by a margin over the century mark.There wasn't much in terms of competition on theblueline, but an injury to Toni Lydman prevented the Ducks' new 3MM/yr. defenseman from ever taking the ice. Cam Fowler has looked good in his stead, and so has fellow young defenseman Luca Sbisa, but without Lydman and with the decision to send Cam Fowler down without tolling a year on his Entry Level Contract still pending, Anaheim's corps is even more of a question mark than people anticipated.At forward, the Bobby Ryan: Second Line Center experiment has been put on hold. However, he may still have to battle Matt Beleskey to get back to the left wing spot on the top line. Beleskey is just a better match right now for what Getzlaf and Perry want in a linemate. It's going to be a lot of line shuffling-- it always is with Anaheim --but it's a dangerous group if it can find a groove.
The Ducks aren't the most sportsmanlike of teams - they took forty-six penalty minutes against the Red Wings, including two fights and two game misconducts. Don't be surprised if O'Brien gets in some extracurricular work in his debut. Whatever you think of the new acquisition, its refreshing to have someone besides Shea Weber who can drop the gloves with bigger players and play hockey.
In Jonas Hiller, Anaheim also boasts one of the league's premier young goalies. Hiller and Rinne could well represent the next wave of Vezina contenders. Hiller started last night, however, so its unclear which one of Anaheim's netminders will get the call.
Here's how the Ducks lined up against Detroit last night (which, quite frankly, did not go well), with the exception of now injured Andy Sutton, who broke his thumb in a fight against Ruslan Salei last night.
Anaheim Ducks Injuries
Ryan Getzlaf has established himself as one of the elite centers in the NHL, and is expected to carry the Ducks to whatever success they have this season. David Legwand's job is to hold down the fort against the other team's top line, allowing the rest of the Preds to feast on lesser opposition.
The last time these two teams met (March 12, 2010), the Predators rebounded from the San Jose Debacle with a 1-0 win and Pekka Rinne started an amazing run of play which saw him register 4 shutouts in 6 games:
While the Anaheim Ducks employ a comparable goaltender and an undoubtedly better top line, the Preds surpass them in both depth and defensive capability. Nashville needs to play their game, which is make few mistakes, work hard, and score some dirty goals. New captain, new players, and a new season - combine those factors with an angry team and raucous opening night crowd, and I'm looking at a 4-2 victory and Frosties for everyone.
In the end, though, you can only analyze for so long. At some point, it's time for the rubber to meet the road. I don't know about you, but I'm a little tired of all the talk. The boys are back. Let's play hockey.