The Nashville Predators left yesterday on a two game road trip to Columbus and St.Louis which is not that unusual. It is different in that the Preds are starting with back to backs on an opening weekend against two teams that want to move past Nashville in the standings this season. The Preds have never opened against the rival Blue Jackets.
Columbus appears fortified and ready to play. In the offseason, they picked up Jeff Carter, Vinny Prospal, and James Wisniewski (who is currently suspended). They are also banking on Steve Mason rebounding to play like he did as a rookie when he won the Calder Trophy.
...And, as always, they hate the Predators.
Columbus has viewed Barry Trotz and the Predators as "The Evil Empire" and tried to make the likable Preds into a villain from the South. The Preds are not "evil" even though Trotz admitted that he scared children occasionally last year.
The Blue Jackets and Preds have had a bitter rivalry where Nashville has frustrated Columbus, more often than not over recent seasons. Since 2006-07 the Preds are 10-5-1 at Nationwide Arena. Games have been close, with seven of the last eleven meetings going to overtime or a shootout.
While the Preds are not evil, they are consistent. The Preds bring the same game every year with solid goaltending, a strong defense, and just enough offense to win.
This year may be different. Granted, it was the preseason, but the Preds averaged over three goals per game and were over 21% on the power play. Since the start of camp, Trotz and company have emphasized shooting the puck.
The difference is that younger players have infiltrated the team that don't understand a "pass first" mentality.
The Predators are very young and extremely deep with up to 30 players that are perceived by management as NHL ready. Seventeen of the 25 players on the opening day roster were drafted and developed by the Preds and understand the system well.
Last week, before the final cuts, I asked Barry Trotz about this year's team and the depth players that could play in the NHL. "I don't know if it's the best squad we've had in camp. In terms of overall work ethic, I can say that (it is). In terms of overall talent and skill, we've had teams that had more skill at times, but they weren't better teams."
Trotz laid out the plan,"We want to be hard to play against and harder to beat. That's the way we're going to have to be. The Western Conference is so tough. Everybody has gotten better by adding pieces."
"We've gotten better in a more quiet way. Craig Smith will be able to help us. The young defensemen will be able to help us as they mature. I don't think we have ever had goaltending like we have with Peks and Lindy so we are ready for the long haul."
"It's not going to be easy. Hopefully, we'll add Mike Fisher and Frankie Bouillon to the fold and we'll be in good shape. We're pretty deep."
That's the "Predator Way." It's never easy, and other teams always wonder why they lost after the game. It's time to drop the puck and play some Predator hockey.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass