We've all been waiting and now it's time to see if last year's team was a Cody Hodgson and a Barret Jackman away from making a deep playoff run (with Kevin Fiala and Steve Moses waiting in the wings). So many story lines from this off-season will re-surface on opening night: is Shea Weber fully healed? What will the third line look like? Does Forsberg regress? Do Wilson and Smith respond to their contracts with career years? Does Neal become a consistent go-to goal scorer? Which of the young guys will have the most impact and play the most minutes? It may only take the first 60 minutes to get answers to some of those questions.
Simply getting back to the Bridge and experiencing Smashville in all its glory will be nice. I caught a pre-season game and saw some of the new improvements. The jury is still out on the concessions changes ("Should I have BURGER or TACO or PIZZA?") but hey, it's all still reheated Aramark or Sysco delivery truck food that anyone who's drunk will enjoy.
So go to the game tonight. It's hockey and it's here.
*The #1 most anticipated date is December 18th, duh.
The Carolina Hurricanes
Finishing dead-last in the Metro Division last year may not have been a surprise to most, but their anemic offense probably was. The Canes only managed 2.23 GF/GP, good for 4th worst in the entire league. With the likes of Jordan and Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm, and Alexander Semin, one would have expected better. Both Skinner and Jordan Staal battled injuries and Semin was simply terrible, unable to repeat even an average production total from his two previous seasons with Carolina. The Canes will need the young-guns to grow and produce as expected if they want to emerge from the NHL scoring offense cellar.
Defensively, the Hurricanes weren't awful, considering their piece-meal defensive setup. Aging, average vets like Tim Gleason, Ron Hainsey, and John-Michael Liles joined with young guys like Ryan Murphy and Justin Faulk to maintain a 2.67 GA/GP, good for 18th in the league. Behind them, Cam Ward, now 31, did his best... matching his career average, with a .910 save % and a .540 QS%. Bottom line is that this team just wasn't built to compete in a tough division and was over-matched night after night.
So what's changed? Well, not much. They added Eddie Lack (even signed him to an extension) to support the aging Cam Ward. They made a decent trade in mid-September, getting Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom from Chicago and didn't have to give up much. That should help their depth issues in case more injuries arise. The only way this team competes for a playoff spot is if Skinner returns to dominant 30-goal form and they can improve enough defensively to remain competitive in some tough Eastern Conference games.
The Nashville Predators
Well, by this point you probably know the deal. Last year's squad returns to the ice with the additions of Cody Hodgson and Barret Jackman and the subtraction of Joker 1 and Joker 2. Wilson, Smith, Fisher, and Ribeiro received extensions/contracts. There was fruit-basket turnover with the folks from Milwaukee plus the new rookies. In the end, Austin Watson and Viktor Arvidsson beat them all out for those final roster spots. Who knows how long the other young guys will stew in the minors (it will likely be a nice, rolling boil for Steve Moses and Kevin Fiala) but we will probably see them at some point in the 2015-16 season. For now, here is a likely opening night lineup:
Forsberg - Ribeiro - Neal
Wilson - Fisher - Smith
Arvidsson - Hodgson - Jarnkrok
Nystrom - Gaustad -
Josi - Weber
Jackman - Jones
Ekholm - Ellis
Looks a lot like last year, right? A team that finished 14th in the league in scoring a year ago at 2.76 GF/GP returns with a sophomore Filip Forsberg, a healthy defense and goaltender, and the prime years of some All-Star caliber players like James Neal, Colin Wilson, and Craig Smith.
However, let's not forget Laviolette's tendency for surprise. Last year, he rolled Gabriel Bourque on the top line with Neal and Ribeiro on opening night. Forsberg was inexplicably peeled away from Neal-Ribs late in the season. Expect something weird to happen at some point tonight. Hodgson on the PP1 unit? Arvidsson replacing Neal on the top line for some minutes? Ellis and Weber pairing? Who knows.
Reasons To Watch
- You'll want to see the new guys of course, to see what they can bring. It won't take long, there are only three of them. Look for Arvidsson to make an impact on the 3rd line with Hodgson and Jarnkrok, as he will be expected to provide the goals while the other two possess the puck.
- Catch a sneak peak of that new "Revenge of the Calder" flick, starring Filip Forsberg.
- The new lighting at the Bridgestone is pretty neat. If you are a long time visitor, you'll notice. Everything has a nice glow.
- See if the Preds can finally contain Jeff Skinner. He has 10 points (5g, 5a) in 7 career games vs. the Preds. He wasn't the same player last year, but he always manages to do well vs. the Preds.
These guys are so happy that the home-opener is finally here. Yes, they also have Twizzlers, roller skates, and great dance moves, but they are clearly so stoked about the Preds. You can just tell.
The Important Details
All games televised this year! Wooooo! This one will be on FS-TN and the puck drops at 7 p.m. Nashville time.
I for one am very excited about the 102.5 radio broadcasts this year. Pete Weber jumps back over for primary radio duties with Brent Peterson (and occasionally Chris Mason) providing color. Pete's radio broadcasts were how I took in most of the early years of the Predators, as most of the games were not televised back then (or at least not for me). He's as quality as you can get when it comes to hockey on the radio.