Nashville, TN -- Although it came down to the wire late, the Nashville Predators buckled down and captured their first two points of the season with a 2-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. Defenseman Seth Jones collected two assists while both Craig Smith and Viktor Arvidsson -- the latter scoring his first career goal -- notched the markers for Nashville.
Carry the Puck, Carry the Play
If you're a fan of possession-based metrics in the NHL, then you absolutely had a field day during the first period of Nashville's opening game against the Hurricanes.
Not only did it take Carolina over six minutes to register its first shot of the game -- a period where the Hurricanes only finished with five total shots on net -- but the Predators hardly allowed any sustained opportunities in their own zone.
"It was a great start," said forward Craig Smith. "I thought we were moving our feet. We were playing with some tenacity. The shots on the board showed that, but our attempts as well. Our mindset was to get moving in straight lines and shoot the puck. I thought we did a great job."
Nashville became increasingly better throughout last season quickly forcing the puck out of the defensive zone and translating it into an offensive chance. However, as the game progressed, the tables turned and the opposing team tended to find more opportunities heading their way.
Obviously, it would be great if the Predators have "fixed the glitch" when it comes to playing sixty full minutes of hockey at the same pace, but Carolina found ways to fight back throughout the course of the night. It's not 100 percent yet, but it still seems much better than last season already.
"It happened to us last year too," said captain Shea Weber. "We need to continue to work on that. It's hard. You ask a lot of teams, it's tough. You get the lead and you want to just protect it, but at the same time you remain successful doing the things we did in the first. We got to continue to do that."
Carolina quite literally flipped the tables on the Predators during the second period and late in the third. Unfortunately, this is a mirror image of Nashville's performance later in the season last year and throughout its first round series against Chicago.
Of anything I witnessed tonight, this is the one critical pain point that needs to be addressed quickly.
Power Play Looking Sharp
One of Nashville's biggest issues last season was the lack of power play conversions throughout the 2014-15 season. Throughout the preseason, they vowed to correct the issues once the year began.
Smith converted the first power play chance of the season for the Predators while the remainder of their units blitzed the Hurricanes on their other two opportunities throughout the evening.
"We got some good work this week and I thought it kind of opened up a few options," said Smith. "I thought we did a good job of utilizing it. We had a lot of shots. Breakouts were great at times and we were able to get in and establish some zone time. As long as you're getting in, getting shots and some good looks, eventually they're going to go [in]."
While I continue to stress that this is only through one game of the season, the Predators definitely look very improved on how they've approached the power play and their ability to not only cycle the puck, but put quality chances towards the net.
"It was good, there was some good things," said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette. "Just gaining the zone on entry sometimes is difficult. To get a goal early on there was real important for us."
Nashville ended up with nine shots on the power play against the Hurricanes on Thursday night. They only scored on one of the three chances, but it remains very promising to see that level of on-ice participation early in the season.
Solid Season Opener for the Second Year in a Row
Last year, Nashville began the season at home and left the building with a 3-2 win against the Ottawa Senators. Tonight was a solid dose in nearly the same with the Predators earning a 2-1 win against Carolina.
It's hard to really get a good feel of how a season will go based on just 60 minutes of hockey, but preliminary observations of this Predators team lead me to believe that Nashville could be a very productive -- and very defensively stingy team -- throughout the season.
Carolina was able to put 26 shots on net, however I would venture to guess that less than half of those shots were truly quality scoring chances against Rinne.
All three times that the Predators were on the penalty kill, they were able to escape with minimal damage in their own zone.
The one thing that really stuck to me, though, was whatever Seth Jones has been doing during the offseason to prepare has worked. In a most outstanding way.
There are clear times you can tell when a player has made the proverbial leap to a different level in their game. Throughout the entire contest against the Hurricanes, Jones was head and shoulders one of the best defensemen on the ice for both teams.
And his coaches took notice.
"You expect players to get more experienced, they mature, they get older, they get stronger and their role increases," said Laviolette. "I thought he was real good for us."
Jones had a fairly successful freshman season, but took a noticeable drop last year. The Predators knew when they drafted him fourth overall in 2013 that he would be a special player for their organization. This could be his year.
Seth Jones, Nashville Predators -- Two assists on the night for Jones and a fantastic game in terms of puck possession and hockey intelligence. Jones looked like the true second coming of Ryan Suter for their opening night victory against the Hurricanes.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators -- While he ultimately didn't get the shutout against Carolina, Rinne still looked very impressive on the night. 25 saves on 26 shots for the 2-1 victory
Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville Predators -- From the point, to the stick of his line partner, off his body and in the net. That's surely a memorable way for Arvidsson to record his first career NHL goal.