Laviolette had to get loud and bang on the boards to call his timeout Thursday

By Jim Diamond

Following Thursday’s morning skate, Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette mentioned that he would like to clean up some things in terms of the penalties his team took in Tuesday night’s shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes. The Predators were whistled for five penalties in the game, four of which happened in the offensive zone.

Laviolette’s team did cut down on the number of penalties Thursday night against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, with Mattias Ekholm’s holding penalty at 13:07 of the second period representing the only time the Predators were shorthanded in the game.

With Ekholm in the box, Laviolette sent out forwards Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom along with defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi. And for the next two minutes, the highly-skilled Blackhawks worked the puck around the Nashville zone. Chicago put three shots on Pekka Rinne, had two missed shots, and another two attempts blocked.

Since it was the second period, the Predators on the ice were a long way away from the team bench. And since they were unable to clear the puck, those same four skaters remained on the ice for the entirety of the power play and then some. After Ekholm was liberated, the puck remained in the Nashville zone, and the Blackhawks managed another shot on goal and another blocked attempt before the Predators were able to finally ice the puck.

“That was huge,” Nystrom said. “That was one of those shifts, they were shooting some pucks, but I thought we kept them to the outside for the most part. Anytime you get stuck out there for that length of time, it’s exhausting. The legs were burning. I’ve had worse ones than that though. Penalty killing is tiring, that’s just straight stopping and starting, but I’ve had some two minute shifts where they were really peppering. That one wasn’t the worst, but it was tough and then there was an icing, so we had to stay out there.”

The big PK ignited a loud ovation from the standing-room only Bridgestone Arena crowd, so much so that it almost hurt the team. Laviolette fully intended to use his only timeout of the game at that point, but he wanted to wait as long as possible to signal it, giving the fatigued foursome plus Ekholm some time to rest. The only problem for Laviolette was that he had trouble getting the attention of the officials.

“I was buying more time and then I couldn’t get him back, it was loud,” Laviolette said. “I didn’t want him to get too far away and then blow me off, but I was waiting to buy a little bit more time. They were tanked, so I figured any second we could get, but he didn’t look at me too long because we couldn’t change, really just kind of a gaze and went on his way and I was like ‘Oh oh,’ so we had to get him back to the bench. It was good. It was enough to get those guys a quick breath.”

Since the NHL implemented the rule that teams that ice the puck can’t change, officials rarely look to the offending team’s bench. With a raucous crowd and no officials looking toward the Nashville bench, Laviolette had to get creative, so he jumped down from his perch behind the bench and hammered on the boards with his fist loudly enough to garner the attention of someone with the authority to grant him the one timeout he had at his disposal.

Less than a minute after play resumed, fresh Predator bodies finally came onto the ice and James Neal scored his second of three goals in the game.

“It was a big kill, but for the team to respond with a goal, that feels really nice for the guys who were out there killing,” Nystrom said.

Nystrom, Gaustad, Weber, and Josi were all credited with a robust shift of 2:19 in the penalty kill plus the additional time.

Early results very positive for Mike Ribeiro

By Jim Diamond

Mike Ribeiro’s exit from Phoenix was quick and unpleasant.

Prior to last season, the talented center inked a 4-year, $22 million deal with the then Phoenix Coyotes. After just one season in the desert, the team decided to buy out the remaining years of his contract, making him a free agent.

Following the buyout, stories emerged of personal problems that manifested themselves into being professional ones, causing Ribeiro problems with the team – reportedly being late for practice, late for the team bus, and even a shouting match with team head coach Dave Tippett.

Well into the free agency period, the Predators took a chance and signed Ribeiro to a one-year deal at just north of $1 million. With everyone calling it a last chance for him, Ribeiro has taken care of his off-ice issues and so far on-ice, the team’s top center looks to be on top of his game.

Against the Coyotes Tuesday night, Ribeiro scored once and added an assist. Not expected to score a ton of goals, he is tied for the team lead in that category with three. His five points also are tied for the best on the Predators so far on the young season.

Sure his goal Tuesday night was one he freely admitted to scoring while he attempted and fanned on a pass, but when things are going right for you, pucks like that go into the net.

Nashville brought him here mostly for his playmaking ability and he did just that on James Neal’s game-tying goal at 8:03 of the third.

Former Predator Martin Erat’s power play goal just 21 seconds earlier gave Arizona a lead, but Ribeiro found Neal in the left circle with a drop pass that the sniper buried behind Arizona goaltender Devan Dubnyk, another former, albeit very briefly, Predator.

Under terms of his buyout with the Coyotes per Cap Geek, he will receive $1,944,444 per season through the 2019-20. With his $1,050,000 salary with the Predators and based on an approximately 180 day season, he receives $10,802.46 from Arizona for each in-season day and $5,833.33 from the Predators.

Asked if he felt pressure to contribute in a game in which he was being paid by both teams, Ribeiro said the thought never crossed his mind.

“Yeah, I didn’t think about that,” he said. “I’m really focused on playing games. The salary comes with the job. It’s not something I was thinking about. I’m thinking about my game more than the salary.”

Following his media availability, Ribeiro walked down the hallway from the Predators dressing room toward the one for Arizona. There he greeted some former teammates and Coyotes staffers. Soon thereafter, Tippett emerged from the Arizona room to greet Ribeiro. The two shared a warm handshake and a long conversation.

Ribeiro is just six games into his “last chance” season here in Nashville. The early returns are very positive, both on the ice, and probably more importantly, off of it as well.

All-Star Game a product of many who took a chance on Nashville

By Jim Diamond

 

When the official announcement that Nashville will host the 2016 All-Star Game was made Friday morning at Bridgestone Arena, it was the culmination of many years of gambles that many people took on the city of Nashville and on the Predators as well.

Several of those people were sitting on the dais in the newly-christened Lexus Lounge on the arena’s event level during the announcement. One of the first to speak was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who awarded Nashville a conditional franchise back in 1997.

Bettman has been the NHL’s top man since 1993, when the league consisted of 24 teams. Under his guidance, the league has expanded to 30 teams, some in markets not previously viewed as ones people would consider hockey hotbeds.

During Bettman’s tenure, teams based in warmer locales like Dallas, Texas, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Anaheim and Los Angeles, California have all won the Stanley Cup.

When he was introduced Friday, many in attendance applauded Bettman. That kind of a response was in stark contrast to the type he usually receives in many NHL cities, where boos often rain down upon the man who has overseen multiple lockouts, including one that saw an entire season cancelled.

“Don’t stop, I’m not used to that,” Bettman joked to the cheering crowd.

Asked Friday if he will look back on Nashville as one of his prouder achievements when his tenure as commissioner eventually comes to an end, Bettman deflected any attention away from himself.

“I’m not one who looks back,” Bettman said. “We always believed that this would be a great place for NHL hockey and we believe that has been the case.”

Not all of Bettman’s gambles have paid off though. Atlanta was awarded an expansion franchise at the same time Nashville was, and the Thrashers began play a season after the Predators. Numerous factors contributed to the demise of Atlanta and their eventual move to Winnipeg, including poor on-ice results as well as ownership woes. The league had to take over the troubled then Phoenix Coyotes, where again, ownership issues and poor attendance plagued the team.

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Paul Gaustad goes low to win a faceoff. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Paul Gaustad dominates in the faceoff circle, picks up two assists, and grabs a present for his coach

By Jim Diamond

Midway through the third period holding a one-goal lead, and with a faceoff in the defensive zone, who to send out to take that draw was almost a no-brainer for new Predators head coach Peter Laviolette.

Known as one of the NHL’s best in the faceoff circle, Paul Gaustad is often called upon to take draws in the shadow of his own net, and more often than not, telling him he is up is the right call.

But in Thursday night’s season opener, Gaustad did more than just win the defensive zone faceoff. Just a few seconds after winning it and then a turnover forced by Filip Forsberg, Gaustad was carrying the puck into the Ottawa zone on what was basically a 2-on-0 with linemate Eric Nystrom. Gaustad sent a pass from the right side across the low slot to Nystrom, who made no mistake in recording his first goal of the season.

“Filip did a good job of creating the turnover and that’s where it started really,” Gaustad said. “Bobby really got a step on the guy. He made a great shot to put it in too.”

Gaustad was fourth-best in the NHL in faceoff win percentage last season at 58, and his picked right back up Thursday, winning 14 of 17 for a bawdy 82% success rate.

All but two of Gaustad’s Thursday night faceoffs came in the defensive zone. Winning 12 of 15 draws backed up in your own end is pretty impressive.

“Like tonight, he was taking all of the really big faceoffs,” Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “It was really nice to see Goose get rewarded. He does a lot of dirty work. He kills penalties, takes the most important faceoffs, and those other stuff that a lot of people don’t notice, but to us, he is a really important player.”

Nystrom often gets the calls alongside Gaustad for the defensive zone draws, but he knows his center’s abilities mean they can go from defense to offense very quickly.

“I know exactly where to go because I know he is going to win it a lot of the time,” Nystrom said. “That’s huge having the confidence in your centerman to win faceoffs because that is starting with the puck. There is nothing more frustrating when you have faceoffs and you are losing them constantly and you are chasing the puck. That’s what he does and that’s what he is great at.”

Less than a minute and a half before Nystrom’s goal, Gaustad picked up the secondary assist on Shea Weber’s first goal of the season.

After the game, Laviolette deflected any attention away from his first win at the helm of the Predators.

“Honestly, I’m happy for the guys and I’m happy for Nashville and the fans,” he said. “You want to come to your home opener and be successful for everybody. It’s a special night because it’s the first game, it’s in our building, there’s new players here; there’s a lot of new players, not just a new coach. There’s lots of people that were added.”

Gaustad’s only offensive zone faceoff came with just over 10 seconds remaining in the third and the Predators protecting their 3-2 lead. He won that one and Ottawa eventually tried a Hail Mary shot at the end that sailed wide. As the final horn sounded, the puck ricocheted off the end boards and drifted toward center ice. The Nashville players emptied off the bench onto the ice to congratulate Rinne on the win. Gaustad followed the puck, picked it up with his glove, and then joined the celebration.

The puck was for Laviolette. While the coach didn’t want any of the attention of the win on himself, Gaustad made sure he had a reminder of the milestone event.

“Yeah, that was the first win as a team and as a unit that we are building here,” Gaustad said. “It was important for us to get that first win and that puck.”

David Legwand almost makes a return to the Nashville penalty box

By Jim Diamond

So when you play nearly 1,000 games for a single team, half of them in the same building, you kind of get into some routines, like say, which penalty box to go in after you are called for an infraction.

Coincidentally enough, that’s exactly what happened Thursday night when longtime Predator David Legwand was sent off for a tripping penalty at 14:30 of the second period.

After 956 regular season games played in a Predator uniform, Legwand was sent to the Detroit Red Wings in a deadline day deal that saw Calle Jarnkrok and a draft pick come Nashville’s way. In the offseason, Legwand signed with the Senators, Nashville’s 2014-15 season-opening opponent.

Playing his first-ever road game in Nashville, Legwand was having a few words of disagreement with referee Kelly Sutherland on his way toward the penalty box. He skated over the red line and actually got both feet into the Nashville penalty box and had to be directed away by the penalty box attendant.

Courtesy: On The Forecheckhttp://twitpic.com/ecks5m

“Yes, it’s tough going to one for 15 years and then you’ve got to go to the other one,” Legwand said after the game. “It’s over and done with. I’m happy that it’s over and done with and I move forward.”

It was a warm welcome back to Nashville for Legwand. At the first media timeout, the Predators played a nice tribute video and then showed him on the Megatron as he was about to take the ensuing faceoff while he received a standing ovation from the Bridgestone Arena faithful.

Pekka Rinne focuses as the play is up ice. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Now healthy, Pekka Rinne expects to play a lot in 2014-15

By Jim Diamond

When Barry Trotz was the head coach of the Predators, one of his go-to phrases when talking about the team’s goaltending was that he was going to ride Pekka Rinne “like Seabiscuit.” Prior to each season Trotz and goaltending coach Mitch Korn had a plan for the number of games their team’s top netminder was going to play, but circumstances often dictated a change to that schedule.

Now under the direction of new head coach Peter Laviolette, the Predators begin their 2014-15 season Thursday night at home against the visiting Ottawa Senators. Following the team’s Tuesday afternoon practice at Bridgestone Arena, Laviolette said that there is no master plan in place as to how he will use his goaltenders in his first season at the helm in Nashville.

“I think it usually develops as the season goes on,” he said. “You can have a plan I think at the start of the year, but depending on where you are at in the standings and goalie being hot, I think it always changes a little bit.”

After the conclusion of the 2012-13 season, Rinne had surgery on his left hip. He worked hard to get ready for the start of last season and was between the pipes when the puck dropped for the team’s first game Oct. 3.

Fewer than three weeks later, Rinne fell ill and was hospitalized the morning after Nashville’s Oct. 22 at Minnesota. Rinne had developed a dangerous E. coli infection in that same left hip. The repair of and recovery from that infection kept Rinne out of the lineup until early March. The 6’5” Finn missed 51 games.

Now healthy, Rinne is looking forward to getting back to the form where his coach wants him in the game each night.

“Personally, I expect myself to play a lot of games and stay healthy,” Rinne said. “To me, I am just going to focus on starting the season well and keep it going after that. Obviously anytime I feel like I am on top of my game, I want to play every night.”

After a lockout shortened the 2012-13 season to just 48 games and the Winter Olympics compacted last season’s schedule, the 2014-15 season will have a feeling of normalcy to the players and coaches. Rinne wants to get back to the form that made him a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist in 2011 and 2012. In 2011, he finished fourth in the voting for the Hart Trophy, given to the league’s most valuable player.

“I’m excited about this year since for the first time in a couple of years, it is going to be a normal season, a normal schedule,” Rinne said. “It is not going to be so random as the last couple of years; the lockout year and the Olympic year.”

When Laviolette wants to give Rinne a rest, he will turn to Carter Hutton, who is entering his second full NHL season. Prior to last season, Hutton had one game of NHL action on his resume, and with being Rinne’s backup, he wasn’t expecting to see a lot of playing time last season. All of that changed with Rinne’s hip infection.

“Mitch and Barry kind of put a number on how many games I was going to play and what they expected and needed from me,” Hutton said. “Things changed with Pekks going down, obviously I was seeing a lot more action. It was kind of a whirlwind for my first NHL season, but I think it helped me develop. I learned a lot and learned different experiences at this level.”

After a strong start, Hutton hit a rough patch. He worked through that tough stretch and finished the season with 20 wins, including seven in his last nine decisions. That performance was good enough to earn him a new two-year, $1.45 million contract in the offseason.

“Coming into this year, just continue to be good when I am called upon, win my games,” Hutton said. “That’s what it’s about winning hockey games in this league. No matter who is going, me or Pekka, this team is going to give us a good chance to win.”

The Predators finished just three points out of eighth place in the Western Conference last season. With all of the changes made behind the bench and up front with the forwards, the team hopes to add some more scoring punch in 2014-15. Combine those changes with a healthy Rinne and a more experienced Hutton in goal, Nashville hopes to end their two-year playoff absence.

Roman Josi carries the puck up ice. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Weber: Josi has ‘a fire to win’

By Jim Diamond

After Monday’s surprise on-ice altercation between Craig Smith and Roman Josi, team captain Shea Weber was asked about his defensive partner uncharacteristically dropping his gloves and fighting.

“He’s a real thumping machine out there,” Weber joked.

But then Weber continued his thought, switching from humorous to serious.

“He’s competitive,” he said. “As much as he doesn’t take penalties or do anything stupid, he’s got a fire to win and he’s going to battle out there in any situation.”

Weber is right about Josi’s discipline. In 72 games played in 2013-14, the Swiss-born blueliner was whistled for just 18 penalty minutes. In 172 career NHL games, Josi has only 40 PIMs.

Josi, 24, missed 10 games last season but was still 22nd overall in the NHL in 2013-14 in total time on ice, playing just over 1,902 minutes. Josi was fifth in the NHL in average time on ice per game last season at 26:25, trailing Weber by 29 seconds.

Weber is the person most qualified to speak about Josi’s effectiveness since when one is on the ice, the other is almost always just a few feet away from him. Last season, when Josi was on the ice, Weber was right there with him 83.8% of the time.

With a lot of the other Predators defensemen playing sheltered minutes last season, Josi and Weber drew the tough assignments, often playing against opponents’ top-offensive lines as evidenced by being the only two Nashville defensemen with positive Quality of Competition numbers.

The team’s top defensive pairing also began a lot of their shifts in the shadow of their own goal. Josi started in the offensive zone just 44.2% of the time, while Weber was even lower at 43.7%.

As surprising as it was for Josi to drop the gloves with a teammate in practice, perhaps it was a sign that the still young defenseman is developing more of a physical edge to his game.

Roman Josi skates back hard to retrieve a puck on a Nashville power play. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Craig Smith and Roman Josi drop the gloves and fight in Monday’s practice

By Jim Diamond

Quick, name two Nashville Predators you would least expect to drop the gloves and fight.

Were Roman Josi and Craig Smith on your list?

Well that’s exactly what happened Monday afternoon at Centennial Sportsplex as the Predators went through practice. During a battle drill, something the team has done a lot of in this training camp, emotions boiled over and Smith and Josi fought in front of the net.

That’s right, the Bern Brawler against the Madison Marauder mano a mano. According to hockeyfights.com, neither player has an NHL fight under their belts. It started out as one of those situations where everyone wondered if they were serious, and as it turns out, they were serious.

When asked about the fight, Smith channeled his inner Bill Belichick at the start of his media availability.

“It was a good practice,” Smith said. “We got some things accomplished and we are getting better.”

Pushed further, he opened up a little more.

“It’s our team,” he said. “Every day we are going to skate together and we’re going to be battling. We are battling hard. I thought we did a good job at getting as close to game-like as possible and ready to go Thursday.”

Training camp skirmishes between teammates are nothing new. In a not so long ago era, players would state their case for making the team based upon how tough they were, and in an attempt to showcase what they had, they would take on any and all teammates. There’s also the fact that after playing against one another for more than two weeks, one extra cross-check here or there could be the final straw in one player having enough of the other.

After the two went to the ice, several others stepped in to break up the fisticuffs.

“We battled and yeah, it was just intense, I guess intensity in practice,” Josi said.

Asked if they two had talked it out yet, Josi said, “We didn’t talk about it and I don’t know if we will, so we will see.”

It’s nothing to worry about according to the head coach.

“It was competitive,” Peter Laviolette said. “It happens. Guys are battling out there. We’re past it, over it.”

While they like to see the intensity that was displayed, some of the peacemakers were worried about two of the team’s star players going at it.

“You don’t want to hurt your own teammates,” Eric Nystrom said. “Sometimes you just have to go in there and calm some guys down, but this is not a lighthearted game. It’s intense and guys are competing hard and trying to impress the new coach and get ready for games. That stuff happens. I like the intensity, but I don’t like seeing those two guys doing that just because we need them. You’ve got to channel it and save it for the other team.”

They won’t see another team until the team’s season opener Thursday night when Ottawa comes to town.

Taylor Beck skates away from the stick check of Jared Boll. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

No Predators placed on waiver wire Monday

By Jim Diamond

With no Nashville Predators placed on the waiver wire Monday, the team, barring any trades or waiver claims, will reduce its current roster of 25 to the opening night maximum of 23 or fewer through the use of Injured Reserve or by sending a waiver-exempt player or players to the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.

The team’s current roster is as follows:

Forwards (16): Taylor Beck, Gabriel Bourque, Rich Clune, Matt Cullen, Mike Fisher, Filip Forsberg, Paul Gaustad, Calle Jarnkrok, Olli Jokinen, James Neal, Eric Nystrom, Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy, Craig Smith, Viktor Stalberg, and Colin Wilson.

Defensemen (7): Victor Bartley, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones, Roman Josi, Anton Volchenkov and Shea Weber.

Goaltenders (2): Carter Hutton and Pekka Rinne.

The team appears set at defense and in goal, so the subtractions will come at forward.

Opening day rosters need to be set by 4:00 p.m. Central Time Tuesday. Since the waiver process takes 24 hours, a player can’t be placed on waivers after Monday in an effort to get the opening night roster to 23 or fewer players.

Fisher is still recovering from an Achilles injury sustained in offseason training, so he will be placed on Injured Reserve, leaving the Predators the need to make at least one more roster adjustment. Cullen and Stalberg have both missed significant time in training camp with injuries, making both candidates to join Fisher on IR to start the season.

Of the 25 players still in camp, only Forsberg, Jarnkrok, and Jones are exempt from waivers.

It is unlikely to occur, but should the Predators choose to claim a player or players who were placed on waivers Monday, they would need to factor the number of players claimed into getting their roster to 23.

The Predators play their first regular season game Thursday night at Bridgestone Arena against the visiting Ottawa Senators.

Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg play street hockey with some kids in Franklin. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg host surprise street hockey game in Franklin

By Jim Diamond

As part of their annual community relations day, Nashville Predators players and staffers made many different stops at several area locations Thursday.

With a van load of street hockey gear and players Mattias Ekholm and Filip Forsberg in tow, they turned a cul-de-sac in the Cheswicke Farm subdivision of Franklin into a street hockey rink for close to 50 young players. All equipment used at the visit was donated through the NHL Street program and the Nashville Predators Street Pride program.

Growing up in Sweden, the players said that they enjoyed playing road hockey when they had the chance.

“It feels like yesterday almost, (but) it’s probably been 15 years since I did it now,” Ekholm said. “Great times, awesome place here, a lot of kids, and it was a lot of fun.”

Ekholm sported a backwards Philadelphia Phillies baseball cap Thursday afternoon.

With unseasonably warm temperatures reaching the high 80s and wearing their Predators gold jerseys, the players got quite a workout running around with the kids for an hour.

“It was really hot out there, so I got really sweaty out there. It will be a good shower when I get back,” Forsberg said. “There are a lot of Preds fans all over the Nashville area. We really enjoy doing this.”

Just 20-years-old, Forsberg is not that far removed from his days of playing street hockey as a kid.

Even after a tough two-hour long practice with their teammates earlier in the day Thursday, Ekholm and Forsberg still had plenty of energy to run around and play with the large gathering of kids.

“You are fortunate to do what you do all day,” Ekholm said. “Spend an hour out here is great for us just giving back and being around kids and get the energy from them. It’s awesome.”

After the street hockey ended, the players sat down to sign autographs and pose for pictures with the kids and many of the parents as well, not stopping until all had their time with the pair of Swedes.

The Predators should be applauded for both the number and the frequency of the charitable and community appearances that they make all over the Nashville area each year. The Predators introduce their players to the community relations side of being a professional athlete from the start of their time in Nashville, which for many is the annual development camp held right after the NHL’s Entry Draft.