So far, so good for the Nashville Predators. They've started the season with two straight wins and have looked good while doing it. Tonight, the Calgary Flames occupy the visitor's locker room, giving Nashville a good chance to add to their win total before hitting the road for games in Winnipeg and Chicago. It's not a guaranteed victory, but a rebuilding team projected to be in the bottom of the standings by year's end is an opportunity to hone the system while building up confidence for the fans.
The Calgary Flames
Last year was the first one of the Flames official rebuilding phase. Jarome Iginla didn't start the season in Calgary for the first time since the Mesozoic Era, and they fully expected to be bad. This was a change from the past five years when they expected to be kind of OK, but only managed to be not that great. The team finished at the bottom of the league, in company with noted horrifying clubs like Buffalo, Florida and Edmonton.
This year will be a step in the right direction, though the Flames still aren't expected to do much as far as the standings go.
Calgary brought in a few notable players, such as Devin Setoguchi, Mason Raymond and Brandon Bollig. The biggest free agent signing, though, was goaltender Jonas Hiller. The Swiss Olympian should give them a chance to win every night, even if their roster isn't the best on paper. This is the same team that's paying so many millions of dollars to Derek Engelland.
The good news is they have several talented youngsters already playing on the roster, with hopes that they will push them into contention in the next few years. Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau are the first to spring to mind. Let's also not forget the herculean defense of Marc Giordano. (Yes, he should have been nominated for the Norris.) All of these pieces may one day come into play, but it is not this day.
Based on Monday's morning skate, and the fact the team plays in Chicago tomorrow night, Karri Ramo is poised to get the start tonight. Ramo had the best statistical season of his limited NHL career last year, posting a .911 SV% with a 2.65 GAA in 40 games worth of work. He's already picked up a win for the Flames this season, which has been their only one so far.
In the prospects department, fourth-overall pick Sam Bennett won't be seeing NHL action anytime soon. Bennett is scheduled to undergo shoulder surgery this week, and will miss 4-6 months. Tough break.
The Nashville Predators
The elation in the hearts of Predators fans hasn't been felt in a few years. It's not just starting out 2-0, (though that's pretty freaking fantastic) it's that the team has looked like an entirely different entity in those games.
There's no such thing as an easy win in this league, and even though the Flames may not be pegged to have much success this season, they still shouldn't be taken lightly. Peter Laviolette said before the season started that he expected his team to take some time in the beginning of the season to truly master the system he's employing. Beating a club expected to have struggles will not only give the Predators confidence, it will reinforce the fact that they are playing the system the way it's supposed to be played. But that's putting the cart before the horse. One shift at a time; the Flames are a tough out.
James Neal is poised for a goal any minute now, and the line of Craig Smith, Derek Roy and Filip Forsberg is going to eat other teams alive, as long as they stick together. The return of Viktor Stalberg may lend to some shake ups (both in the top line and that awesome second) but we'll cross that bridge when we get there. For now, keep and eye on Neal. With the amount of shots he's machine gunning toward the net, a few of those are bound to go in sooner or later.
Nashville has a back-to-back this weekend, so expect Pekka Rinne in the net tonight and against Chicago. Rinne's gotten lost in the excitement of the new style of play, but has only allowed three goals on 38 shots. The fact that he's blended into the background so far this season means questions about his performance and health are getting closer and closer to being put to rest.
Reasons to Watch
It's another home game at Bridgestone Arena. Even though it's a Tuesday night game against a pretty awful Canadian team, fans seem to be flocking to 501 Broadway because of their new philosophy. Plus, you'll want to see if the first two games were flukes. Should they push the pace like they've been doing, it becomes a trend rather than an anomaly.
Wouldn't It Be Funny If
Eric Nystrom continues his torrid pace to start the season and scores another pants drink. Take that, Flames.
This is the first of six games this season that won't be televised locally. It's still ridiculous that that's even a possibility. You can tune into the game on 102.5, NHL Center Ice or Game Center Live. Better yet, pick up tickets for the game, come down to the arena and show the organization you still care about hockey.