Author’s note: We’re trying out a new format for recaps for home games this season. With myself and Shaun Smith continuing to provide coverage from Bridgestone, we wanted to provide more in-depth coverage with more content: Clips from post-game media sessions, observations, breakdowns of player performance and more. However, in order to accomplish this - since both of us usually don’t get home until after 11 pm on game nights - we’ll be publishing the recap the following morning, rather than immediately following the games. If you like this new format (or don’t like it) please let us know in the comments - we want to ensure we’re providing you, the audience, the best coverage possible!
Preseason hockey usually means very little in the grand scheme of an NHL team’s upcoming season, but for the Nashville Predators, it was a glimpse into future - both for this season and General Manager David Poile’s “competitive rebuild” and seasons beyond. And while the remaining “stars” of the forward lineup, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Matt Duchene, did not play, we got a glimpse at the cornerstone of the franchise, goaltender Juuse Saros, the defensive leaders in Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm, and perhaps more interestingly, a healthy mix of the rookies and new acquisitions.
The 2021-22 version of the Nashville Predators hit the ice in Nashville last night, and for the first time, Coach John Hynes had a relatively “normal” offseason and training camp since he arrived in Music City.
“I think the training camps since I’ve been part of since we’ve been here have been COVID-restricted camps, and now you have a bigger player pool to see, evaluate, get to know, communicate with and instill the culture we want so that’s all positive,” Coach John Hynes remarked in the post-game media session. “The ability to play and test what you are doing versus others and how does it get exposed and what the positives are, but more important is the player evaluation.”
Fortunately for Coach Hynes, the matchup against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning provided a good look at the team in a variety of situations. With a large number of younger players in the lineup and a handful of veteran leadership providing stability, the team was able to take an early lead, withstand a comeback attempt early and play lock-down defense in a game full of penalties.
The hometown crowd wouldn’t have to wait long to see the hometown team light the siren. Defender Alexandre Carrier scored just 1:48 into the contest to give the Predators a lead that they would never relinquish.
After the game, Carrier spoke about his individual effort, but led off the post-game session by focusing on the team. “I think we gave a good effort - obviously it was a lot of penalties so it was hard to get a rhythm, but I think we battled hard,” referring to the combined twelve penalties called against both teams. When asked about his goal, Carrier downplayed the significance of the play. “It was a pass by [Tommy Novak], I was screaming; I was coming off the bench and it was my first shift I believe - so I was screaming for the pass. He made a nice pass, and I shot it as quick as I could, and it ended up going in.” Carrier would be named the game’s first star, but put a focus on the full team effort in every answer he gave.
A few minutes later, the first of the penalties was awarded: a trip called on Lightning forward Mathieu Jospeh on Tanner Jeannot. Since this wasn’t the full squad, the power play units were a mixture of old faces and new. The first unit had a slow start, but there were flashes by both units of much more effective passing, and the players were often deferring to a pass instead of a low-percentage shot from long distance - hopefully a sign of a shift in special teams philosophy by Coach John Hynes.
It wasn’t until the eight minute mark that Tampa Bay was able to record its first shot on goal, and Juuse Saros easily made the save in a night that was deceptively busy for the Predators’ new full-time goaltender. And while the Lightning started slow, there were plenty of mistakes in the first half of the period by both teams, including a number of giveaways by both teams in transition. The Predators would finish the period with less shot attempts at even strength than Tampa Bay (13-14), but both teams only managed five shots on goal - a clear sign that either the defenses were playing effectively, or much more likely, these players were still getting used to playing hockey again full-time with different linemates.
With under seven minutes remaining, the Predators would once again head to the power play after Nick Cousins was cross-checked by Boris Katchouk. Again, Nashville would only manage a couple of shots on goal, as the offense struggled to maintain possession, but forward Eeli Tolvanen provided the crowd with a spark with a hard shot that hit the post. The Predators would not score here, but managed to hold Tampa to only a few shots for the remainder of the period, and went into the locker with a 1-0 lead.
Just 25 seconds into the second period, Nashville would get a golden opportunity after a Luke Kunin takeaway led to a two-on-one. However, Mikael Granlund held the puck a little longer than necessary, and his shot would be blocked before getting to Lightning goaltender Brian Elliott. After the initial chance, the next three-and-a-half minutes would see more hits and turnovers than shots on goal (a single shot saved by Saros.)
The aforementioned penalty troubles would break the run of low-event hockey as Granlund would be called for holding right before the four minute mark of the period. Tampa’s power play would get three shot attempts in the first minute of the power play, but none reached Saros. However, the penalty killing unit would get another test halfway in, as Rocco Grimaldi would be called for slashing, giving the Lightning a minute of 5-on-3 play. Nashville would kill off the original penalty by Granlund, but with about 30 seconds remaining on Grimaldi’s slashing penalty, Nashville would extend Tampa’s power play as Eeli Tolvanen was called for tripping penalty against Ross Colton.
Luckily for the Predators, the defense and Saros would stand tall, and Nashville would end up killing all three of the eventual seven penalties that were called on them in the game. While Coach Hynes was likely not happy about the excess penalties the team would accrue, there was a silver lining. “We got a lot of work on special teams, especially the penalty kill. I think that’s a two-sided coin - I like that we got a lot of work and film to break down where we were exposed and Juuse had to stand tall, but we did get too many penalties, but we can address that,” Hynes noted, and if he wanted penalty kill work last night, he definitely got what he was looking for.
In fact, the next opportunity came a few minutes later halfway into the period as Luke Kunin would be called for slashing (a penalty the NHL has placed an emphasis on coming into the season) and Nashville would head to their fourth penalty kill of the game (and period). In the strongest penalty of the game so far, Nashville held the Bolts to only a single blocked shot attempt, and Carrier would get a solid shot on goal shorthanded. Shortly after the minute mark of the penalty, Gage Gonclaves would get called for holding against Dante Fabbro, sending the teams into 4 on 4 play. Nashville continued their dominant play with several shots on goal both before and after the Kunin penalty expired, but were unable to find the back of the net.
What the Predators were able to manage though was building momentum, as it didn’t take long for them to capitalize after both teams returned to full strength. Mathieu Olivier would tally the team’s second goal of the night, with assists from Michael McCarron and Matt Luff.
Despite the score, both teams would play the next three minutes without a single shot on goal, but the drought was ended when Tampa’s Boris Katchouk interfered with an Eeli Tolvanen pass in the defensive zone, and shot past an outstretched Juuse Saros who valiently attempted to make the save off the sudden turnover.
With the score at 2-1, the familiar feeling of a blown lead started to creep into the fans’ minds. However, the veterans on the team would rise to the occasion and provide Nashville with the spark to pull away from the Lightning once again. With under two minutes remaining, Nick Cousins took a gorgeous feed from Rocco Grimaldi to extend the lead back to two. The reeling Tampa Bay Lightning attempted to stem the bleeding and get out of the period as quickly as they could, but a cross-check drawn by Grimaldi led to yet another Predators power play, and Luke Kunin would quickly score, giving Nashville its first power play goal of the evening and a 4-1 lead heading into the 2nd intermission. The real highlight of the rapid-fire scoring outburst by Nashville, however, was the utter confusion by those streaming the game at home from the seemingly unexplained giant cookie in the corner of the stream (it was for a promotion where a Nashville goal in the final minutes of the 2nd would result in free cookies for those in attendance - the online stream was the feed from the Bridgestone jumbotron).
Soon after the third period puck drop, the hockey world decided to surprise us with what could be big news heading into the season (but let’s wait and see what happens to discuss.)
Nashville would start the period hot, outpacing the Lightning 3-0 in shots on goal in the first two minutes with good looks for Cody Glass, Philip Tomasino and Philippe Myers. Unfortunately, that momentum would grind to a halt as Mathieu Olivier would be called for holding Fredrik Claesson’s stick, and once again Nashville found themselves on the penalty kill. In maybe their best outing of the night, veterans Mattias Ekholm and Mark Borowiecki would prevent Tampa Bay from getting a clean look at Saros, each registering a block in high danger areas and killing off the penalty just five minutes into the period.
The teams would both pick up the pace. Both goaltenders saw quality attempts against for the next four minutes until Luke Kunin would be called for a two-minute boarding call. Upon replay in the arena, the hit looked a bit on the unnecessary side, which could merit a review by the Department of Player Safety, but there’s no telling.
Yet another Nashville penalty kill, and this time, the defense struggled to keep the Lightning at Bay (Tampa Bay? Nobody?). But in what could’ve been the most important stretch of a seemingly meaningless preseason game, Saros came up big. Saros excelled last season in a feature role, but didn’t quite reach that “elite” level due to an extremely poor penalty kill performance. Saros weathered multiple shot attempts from the crease — deftly rebounding, saving, or redirecting pucks from an impatient Tampa Bay team. Carrier, Grimaldi, Tomasino and Hynes all mentioned Saros’ performance in the post-game press conference, and for good reason. Saros was incredibly solid (despite allowing a goal off of a deep defensive turnover and relatively low shot volume.) The majority of the forwards who played Saturday night are all fighting roster battles of their own, and having great goaltending allowed them to push past mistakes and play solid hockey. In all, Nashville was able to block two attempts, while Saros made five saves in rapid fashion.
As is true Nashville Predator fashion, the team was able to regain steam after watching their netminder make save after save, and got a variety of looks against a reeling Tampa desperately trying to make this a game. After Taylor Raddysh was called for a high-stick on Grimaldi with nine minutes remaining, the (well-rested) Nashville power play wasted no time making Tampa pay.
A gorgeous stretch pass by Carrier would spring rookie and former first round pick Philip Tomasino to a Nashville goal less than ten seconds into the power play. Carrier and Cousins assists gave both two point nights.
“It was incredible. I don’t know how many fans were there tonight but it was pretty cool to be in front of all of them,” Tomasino said regarding how atmosphere of Bridgestone Arena energized him late in the game. “When you’re on the ice, it’s a lot different. It gives you such an energy. It was a lot of fun for me - it was a great play by [Carrier] and it was a pretty easy tap-in”. The rookie saw an accelerated development last year with COVID-19 cancelling the CHL season last year, and responded with a stellar effort in the AHL for Nashville’s temporary affiliate Chicago Wolves. Tomasino mentioned that his time last season “was huge. It was a great opportunity to compete against stronger guys, and gave me a good focus towards making the roster this year.”
The Lightning valiantly kept up the fight down 5-1, and had a glimmer of hope when Nashville’s Philippe Myers would be called for their seventh penalty of the night. The penalty kill answered the call, severely limiting Tampa’s chances. A late game push by Rocco Grimaldi would result in the final goal of the 6-1 Predators win.
Since it was a preseason game, the teams opted to have a shootout following the game no matter the score. Both teams would be stopped on their first two shots of the extra frame before Grimaldi would score in the third round of the shootout to put a nice bow on the night.
Three Stars of the Night
First star: Alexandre Carrier - well deserved recognition for a complete game on both ends of the ice for the longtime Milwaukee Admiral. Carrier has a strong chance to make the opening roster and performed well late last season, especially with Roman Josi.
Second star: Nick Cousins - Cousins was all over the ice Saturday night, resulting in a game-leading three points for the second year Predator (1 goal, 2 assists). Cousins’s play last season as a middle-six forward surprised many, and play like this could make him an important piece to replace the departed Calle Jarnkrok.
Third star: Rocco Grimaldi - Grimaldi had a consistent and impressive night despite the penalty, and his efforts showed on both the film and analytically. Not to mention his continued improvement in transition. Grimaldi was able to easily enter the offensive zone on several occasions against Tampa Bay, allowing him to setup shots against or drop passes to players like Roman Josi and Eeli Tolvanen. A good sign for a player who saw the last part of the season last year from the bench.
Postgame Media Session
Nashville defender Alexandre Carrier:
Alexandre Carrier: "I heard Tomasino right behind screaming, like, 'Hey! Hey!' And so I just gave it to him and he scored, so it was cool." pic.twitter.com/w4mUV4S4Mj— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) October 3, 2021
Nashville forwards Rocco Grimaldi and Philip Tomasino:
Hear from Rocco Grimaldi and Philip Tomasino after tonight's 6-1 victory over the Lightning ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/dfpyYylMcP— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) October 3, 2021
Head Coach John Hynes
Coach Hynes: "First and foremost, it was nice to play a home game, and the crowd was good. They really cheered the guys on, and it was nice to be back in Bridgestone again for a new year." pic.twitter.com/tQdbJg6d7m— Nashville Predators (@PredsNHL) October 3, 2021
We’re still in the preseason, and some changes behind the curtain at the NHL means I’ve got some work to do to get the game charts up and running again. Look to this space for a breakdown of both the scoresheet and what the analytics had to say for the Nashville Predators this season.