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A Strong Start in Smashville

By @brandon_felder

The Nashville Predators have begun the 2015-2016 campaign and it’s going quite well. The Predators began their season off at home against the Carolina Hurricanes. A fantastic start saw Craig Smith tally on the PP just 2:23 into the year. Later just before the 1st period concluded rookie Victor Arvidsson had a puck bounce off his stomach and in for his 1st career goal. Side note, his reaction on the bench was such a great moment to see. The next 2 periods were not what Pred fans were hoping for considering the strong start. It’s fortunate that the Preds opened with a lesser quality Eastern Conference team or things could have been turned. Ultimately the Canes did pot a puck behind Pekka Rinne while on the 6 on 5 advantage with Cam Ward with 1:40 left, but the Preds buckled down and held onto the 2-1 opening night victory.

Saturday was our first taste of “Golden Saturday’s” in Smashville. There also happened to be an opponent with a very highly touted prospect names Connor McDavid. I can confirm by games end the Preds’ Victor Arvidsson still had a rookie points lead over McDavid. The Preds took the ice in a controversial Gold helmet and then fashioned a shutout of the Oilers. 2-0 victory after Craig Smith opened scoring yet again (this time in the 2nd period) and sophomore Filip Forsberg netted his 1st goal of the year with just under 7 minutes left in the game. A hat tip to former UAH Charger and now starting goaltender in Edmonton Cam Talbot. He played very well and gave the Oilers a chance all night. Ultimately it was an ImPEKKAble performance from Rinne who notched his 1st shutout.

A very good start to the year as the Preds are 2-0 and will now head out on the Eastern Conference road.

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Felder’s Fantastic Five:

Respond or react using the #PredsItC5 – Side note is that regardless of the current stats and feelings, know the season has just begun so we are dealing with small sample sizes for the good and bad things.

1. Balanced Defense - One could argue the Preds have the best D-corp in the NHL. The start to this year helps their case. Not only are they keeping opponents routinely off the scoreboard, but they are contributing offensively as usual. Opening night the Preds managed 25 shots on goal. Of those 25 the D accounted for 9. Then against EDM the Preds had 26 shots on goal. This time the D had 12 for themselves. Some quick math says that of the Preds 51 shots on goal this year 21 are from the D. I like that output so far even if it hasn’t resulted in a goal just yet. Seth Jones has 2 assists and Ryan Ellis has 1. Overall the work of the D on both ends of the ice have created an early balance that I think will pay dividends in the long run.

2. Bringing out the Physicality - Everyone knows that the Preds want to play with speed and pace. Some would say the Preds lacked some toughness last season. That was one reason Barret Jackman was brought in. With that said, I like that the Preds can dial up some physical play when it slows the opponent. The game against Edmonton was a perfect example of this. The Oilers had plenty of speed, but one way to slow them down is simply finish checks and deliver hits wherever possible. Nashville registered 27 hits that night compared to the Oilers 13. It’s a subtle thing that gets overlooked but the flexibility to counter the opponent even in style can go a long way to a Division crown.

3. Special Teams Spark - The early results are a positive in this department. The penalty killers have not given up a goal yet and considering that the Preds have taken 8 penalties thats a good start. Over 16 minutes of penalty killing the opponent has also only managed 8 shots. I’d take a shot per 2 minutes the rest of the year if possible. The other side of the special teams coin is the power play. They started the season off 1 for 1 with the Craig Smith tally on Opening Night. They have 11 shots on goal (9 from the CAR game alone!) and have had just 5 total powerplays with just under 9:30 of PP time on ice.

4. The System is fully in place - For me part of the early success this year could be attributed to the fact that many of these players were with the Preds last year. This means they already know the Lavy System and the expectations that come with that. Chemistry is a thing talked often about in sports, but I also believe stability of systems and players can be undervalued. The execution as the season goes on should only get sharper until the fatigue sets in. One thing to keep watch of is how opponents game plan to stop the system. We’ve yet to see high quality competition in this young season so I am looking forward to some taller tests to measure truly how good this Preds team is.

5. The Man known as Rinne - There was a moment not too long ago when some questioned how well Peks would do this season. We won’t dive into that pre-season game other than to say that many players don’t care about pre-season and the results if their spot is secure. Pekka has come out of the gates ready to rock and roll. Already 1 shutout and if not for some defensive breakdowns on the 6 on 5 (when will they fix this issue by the way?) he could have started off with a clean slate through 2 games. It’s early yet but if Pekka does keep up to his usual tricks this could be a special season. Not to stir the pot too much but I do think even this early in the year you can get Pekka some rest. As you’ll see in my Week Ahead preview below, I would love to see Carter Hutton on Tuesday night in New Jersey. I’m trying to keep the long-term view for Pekka at the forefront of mind. After hearing Greg on PredNeck Nation radio last week and his belief that Rinne needs to play in around 60 games, you have to get Hutton in some games with higher probabilities to win. That’s why despite Rinne’s shutout I would really like to see Carter for the first time against the Devils. I doubt that happens but just wanted to share a radical idea with you.

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3 Stars of the Week:

1. Craig Smith– 2 goals and 3 shots on goal.

2. Pekka Rinne – 57 shots against and just 1 goal given up.

3. Seth Jones – 2 assists, +3, and 4 shots on goal.

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Goalie Grade:

Pekka Rinne – A – The only way Peks could be better is if he found a way to stop the 6 on 5 goal against Carolina. Very solid start to the year for Peks, and a lot of credit to him for the shutout against EDM because they were pressing for awhile. Rinne carried the day and showed why he is likely to be a Vezina finalist again this season.

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Perilous Prediction – The Perilous Prediction is back again this year. Why? Because I find them fun to think outside the box of traditional win or loss predictions. To start the season off I’m going to guess the PK units keep it going and give up 0 PP goals on the week.

Join in with your own Perilous Prediction by using the #PredsItCPP

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The Week Ahead – The week ahead features 3 road games, all against Eastern Conference teams with my favorite start time of 6 pm puck drop.

Tuesday will see the New Jersey Devils. Offense is the expected achilles heel for the Devils this year. Through 2 games they have actually matched goals scored with the Preds. Even so, the Devils are 0-2 after losses to Winnipeg (3-1) and Washington (5-3). The game could serve as a good jumping off point for the Preds offense. That said, the Preds never seem to just dominate NJ. This game will be at 6 PM CST start. I may be crazy but I would like to see Carter Hutton get the start. I know Peks had a shutout but I’m trying to keep a long-term view on things even this early. Looking at the opponent this seems like a great situational start for Huts to build some confidence, and get one of those 15 starts that Peks won’t get to have a better chance at 2 points.

The next East coast game is in the New York Islanders new building in Brooklyn. I don’t know if you’ve seen the news stories but you should take a look at how quite a few seats are not exactly hockey friendly in their new barn. The Islanders remain one of those Eastern teams I enjoy watching. They have a good mix of talents on offense and defense. Their season is off to a mixed start (1-2) but then again it’s not easy when you play the Stanley Cup Champs in a home and home series. There first win was a solid victory over Winnipeg in a Canadian Thanksgiving mid-day special. This is the game mostly likely to cause the Preds problems. Count me as one who would like to see this one get to that new 3 on 3 OT. Would be a heck of a 5 minutes. A 6 PM CST start in what I would classify as the game of the week for the Preds.

Saturday wraps up the road trip in Ottawa. The Senators were a surprised East playoff team that thrived from great young goaltending and forwards. The Sens started the year within their Division, going 2-1 (loss to MTL) and taking care of business against the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. Truthfully I am worried that goaltending plagues the Preds offense. Craig Anderson is a quality net-minder and I expect by this point of the week there could be drop off in Nashville’s play. Again a wonderful 6 PM start.

My #PredsItCWAP is the Preds go 2-0-1 for a 5 point week.

Feel free to add your own prediction for the week at #PredsItCWAP.

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Thanks for reading PredNeckNation. Want to talk hockey on Twitter? Follow me @brandon_felder and don’t be shy to join in the chatter. Remember it’s a year long conversation using the #PredsItC.

Also, this season for any game I’m watching live I will be using Periscope to do Intermission chats. If you’d like to see what that looks like you can go search BJFelder on YouTube to see the videos posted from the Saturday night game against Edmonton. This upcoming week I know I will be watching live for Tuesday against the Devils. I will not be able to see the Thursday game. I am hoping to catch the Saturday game live. Please join in and talk some hockey with there if you’d like to ask questions about the game live or just hear some analysis that is not driven by Willy and Stu. Really hope you will consider joining me there.

Till the next time, take care and #WeWantWeber.

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