It seems fitting that the Predators would mark the 1000th game milestone by playing the Montreal Canadiens, who holds the mark for the team that has been in operation continuously the longest, having passed the century mark in years in 2009. The Habs predate the NHL by eight years, as the league was formed in 1917.
The Predators have a much shorter history, starting operations in 1997 and playing their first game the following year. There have been plenty of ups and downs for the team, both on and off the ice. The early teams admittedly has a serious lack of talent compared to the rest of the league.
Predators GM, David Poile, started with the most unlikely coach for an expansion team, Barry Trotz, who had never coached in the NHL. Poile had a five year plan to make the playoffs, that involved growing the team through the draft and adding a few key veterans when needed.
His five year plan took six years as the Predators made the playoffs for the first time in the 2003-2004 season. After the lock-out year in 2004-05, the Predators have made the playoffs every year except one, playing hockey "The Predator Way".
David Poile's initial plan has not changed much with the current 23-man roster being filled with 15 players that were drafted by the Preds and played their whole career in the Preds' system. The Preds are loaded with prospects in Milwaukee and other developmental systems.
Poile and Trotz's relationship goes back to 1988 when Poile was the GM of the Washington Capitals and Trotz was hired as a full-time scout for the Caps. They have not strayed far from each other since.
Another constant over the years is the broadcast team of Pete Weber and Terry Crisp who were brought in to make hockey fun for the nontraditional market and teach the game to a fan-base that was far more familiar with sports involving pigskin, horsehide, and fast cars. They succeeded and have become a mainstay in the fabric of Nashville as they celebrate their own 1000th game.
Finally, one thing that has not changed is the passion of the Smashville fan-base. Since day one, when Mark Hollingsworth and his rowdy band in the Cellblock of section 303 taught Music City that "you suck" was an acceptable salute to enemy forces in a public place.
So tonight, when all the ceremonies are complete at approximately 6:20 p.m., the puck will drop at center ice at the Bridgestone Arena to a packed house with three of the biggest stars in the game today wearing Predator gold.
Pekka Rinne, Shea Weber, and Ryan Suter are lifetime Preds and are a far cry from the roster of October 10, 1998 when the squad included Jay More,Bob Boughner, Jamie Heward, John Slaney, J.J. Daigneault, Joel Bouchard, Darren Turcotte, Patric Kjellberg, Brad Smyth, Patrick Cote, Andrew Brunette, Tom Fitzgerald, Greg Johnson, Blair Atcheynum, Scott Walker, Sergei Krivokrasov, Denny Lambert, Jeff Nelson, Mike Dunham, and Eric Fichaud.
As for tonight's game on the ice, the Predators (8-5-2) are riding a hot streak coming off a successful 3-1-1 road trip that was capped off by a 4-2 win in Anaheim on Thursday. Montreal (6-7-2) also won on Thursday in Phoenix, 3-2 in overtime.
It appears that the showdown of top goalies Pekka Rinne (8-4-2, 2.30, .929) and Carey Price (6-6-2, 2.49, .905) will not happen as it is reported that Peter Budaj (0-1-0, 2.03, .925) will be in net for Montreal. Budaj has had success against the Preds going 6-5-0, 2.44, .920 against Nashville in his career.
The Habs are led in scoring by Tomas Plekanec (4g, 10a), Max Pacioretty (6g, 5a) and Brian Gionta (4g, 6a). Travis Moen and the injured Andrei Kostitsyn also have five goals.
The line of rookie Craig Smith (7g, 7a), Patric Hornqvist (7g, 4a), and Colin Wilson (3g, 6a) combined for eight points (3g, 5a) in the last outing and are making up for the loss of the injured David Legwand (5g, 9a).
After tonight's game, the Predators will get Sunday off and return to the ice on Monday to prepare for Tuesday's visit from the star-studded Washington Capitals.
Other previews come from Ryan Porth, Amanda Dipaolo, Robby Stanley, Dirk Hoag, The Tennessean, and Predators.com. Ryan Porth also has an audio clip with Mike Fisher discussing tonight's opponent.
The other side of the story comes from All Habs, Habs Inside/Out, The Montreal Gazette, Faceoff, HabsWorld, Dennis Kane, Eyes on the Prize, and Habs-Rants.
The game notes for tonight's contest can be found here.
A few tickets remain and you can go here for POTG discount tickets for Saturdays' game as well as all remaining games and use the offer code preds. There will also be plenty of other activities surrounding the game. Go here for the details.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass