It’s almost like the NHL planned for a Nashville-Pittsburgh matchup at the beginning of the new season to observe how the Predators handle the reigning champions.
Time to panic? Nope. Time to overreact to every little play? Yep, that’s what the hockey world does best.
Opening night against Boston was a little rough and uninspiring. The chemistry was off, the passes were sloppy, there was no speed from anyone except Viktor Arvidsson, and the defense looked discombobulated. Rinne made incredible saves, but alas, no win for the Preds. A strong showing from the Predators tonight will confirm that last season was no fluke and prove that they mean business in their quest to return to the Final.
The Bad Guys
The main question surrounding the Penguins is whether they can three-peat. They haven’t had the best start to the season. While the entire season is up for grabs in early October, some key pieces are missing from the championship squad of last June.
Missing are Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cullen, and the ever-lovable Mark-Andre Fleury. Losing these players does not necessarily spell demise for the Penguins, but Pittsburgh’s depth will have to step up to fill the void...especially on defense.
Kris Letang is finally back on the ice after his season-ending surgery last spring, and Matt Murray will be shouldering the load in net. Backing up Murray is Antti Niemi, an interesting goalie addition coming over from the Dallas Stars.
The most interesting off-season acquisition by Pittsburgh was the addition of tough-guy Ryan Reaves from St. Louis in exchange for a first-round draft pick and young center Oskar Sundqvist. The Penguins were looking for some muscle to protect their stars, and they certainly got what they “needed” in Reaves.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are arguably the league’s best 1-2 punch, and head coach Mike Sullivan has a knack for distributing his talent equally. Rumors have circulated about Pittsburgh seeking a third-line center, but no major moves have been made. Finally, young stars like Jake Guentzel and Connor Sheary will look to take another step in their career.
Overall, I have nothing nice to say about Pittsburgh and I’m sure they’ve taken over as the most-hated team for many Predators fans.
The Good Guys
The Nashville Predators and their fans probably want to forget their performances during the Final in Pittsburgh. The bright spot from the games in PIttsburgh is the guy who was ejected from the arena for throwing a catfish on the ice, perhaps establishing the catfish as the most formidable instrument of crime ever seen on ice. The boys in gold will be looking to exact some revenge on Pittsburgh tonight.
Even without James Neal, Mike Fisher, and various depth players, the Predators enter the 2017-2018 season with the highest expectations in team history. Confidence is high. Against a powerhouse team like Pittsburgh, each player has to step up and make things happen.
Some 5-on-5 time will help knock the rust off. Thursday’s game involved special teams units for nearly half of the game.
As many folks have noted, a relatively turbulent beginning to last season caused much concern for Predators fans and analysts. The beginning of this season matters. It’s absolutely crucial that the Predators establish their style of play early and begin to develop chemistry within the lines as soon as possible. Plus...Chicago managed to hang 10 goals on the Penguins on Thursday. Let’s add more heat.
The defending Cup champions will be an excellent test. For the second outing of this two-game road trip, the Predators should have more than sufficient motivation to collect a win in the Steel City.
Memories and Feelings
The last meeting between these clubs ended in handshakes and heartbreak. It also ended with the girl in the row behind me hysterically bawling her eyes out as the Penguins celebrated on the ice. She wasn’t the only one in tears.
However, it’s a new season. Aside from catfish, I suppose one of the best things to come out of the Final was PK Subban’s explanation of trash talk with Crosby.
Packing note: bring Listerine to games in Pittsburgh.
Reasons to Watch
- Will a catfish appear on PPG ice tonight?
- Which young Predator will begin to make a name for himself?
- It’s obvious there will be some tension between these players. Fisticuffs? Ideally not from McLeod, but here’s hoping.
- I am fairly positive I’m not the only Nashville fan who wants to see the Predators smash the Penguins tonight. The image of Sidney Crosby lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup in Bridgestone Arena is a bitter memory many of us want to forget.
- The new road jerseys are way better than the new home jerseys.
- These handsome guys are just fun to watch.
- As Ryan Johansen said, it’s time for the next step. Facing the Penguins early in the season is definitely a step forward.
Tonight’s Theme Song
This should be obvious from the title above, but tonight’s theme song is Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” There is no love.
An alternate theme song from Sir Elton would be “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, for reasons I don’t need to discuss.
How to Watch
Tonight’s game will be on Fox Sports-Tennessee, with the radio broadcast available on 102.5 The Game. NHL Network will also be broadcasting tonight’s game, but I’d rather hear Willy and Chris call the game alongside the awesome Predators broadcast team. (#firemikemilbury)
Puck drop is at 6 pm Central.