BLUE JACKETS (0-0-0) at PREDATORS (0-0-0)
TV: Fox Sports Tennessee (Dish: 444/HD: 9514; Direct TV: 644/HD: 644-1 ; Comcast Nashville 1675; Comcast Chattanooga/Cleveland/Knoxville 401; Comcast Memphis 830; Charter Nashville 33/810; AT&T Nashville 724/1724)
Radio: Preds Radio Network Flagship - 102.5-FM The Game Radio Network; Network Affiliates
TONIGHT’S STORYLINES VS. COLUMBUS
The Predators commence the 2012-13 season against a team they’ve beaten 19 of the last 20 times they’ve met on Bridgestone Arena ice – the Central Division rival Columbus Blue Jackets. These teams last met on Jan. 23, 2012 in the Music City – and before that exactly one year ago today in Columbus (Jan. 19, 2012) – with Nashville winning both. The Preds went 5-0-1 against the Jackets a season ago, which included a couple of dramatic comebacks.
On Dec. 22, 2011 the Preds scored the game winner with just nine seconds left in regulation in a 6-5 win over Columbus at Bridgestone Arena. Nashville trailed by scores of 4-1 and 5-2 in that contest, marking one of two three-goal comebacks it had in 2011-12 (Jan. 31, 2011 at Minnesota). Nashville recorded five two-goal comebacks a season ago, including Dec. 8 against Columbus when the Predators overcame two-goal deficits twice, the last coming when they scored two extra-attacker goals in the final 1:36 of regulation to force overtime – where the Preds topped the Jackets 4-3.
Among players on this year’s team, Shea Weber led all skaters in points against Columbus in 2011-12, posting nine points (1g-8a) in six games. For his career, Nashville’s captain has 30 points (8g-22a) in 36 games against Columbus, including a career-high four points (1g-3a) on Oct. 18, 2008… Martin Erat has 50 points (15g-35a) in 54 career games against Columbus, the second-highest point total by a Predator against a single team in franchise history… David Legwand has 19 goals against Columbus, tied with his total against Chicago for the highest by a player against a single team in club history… Mike Fisher has eight points (6g-2a) in eight games against the Blue Jackets since joining the Preds… Pekka Rinne is 14-4-1 with a pair of shutouts against Columbus all-time, while Chris Mason has a 16-4-2 career record with a 2.05 goals-against average… Jonathon Blum - Made his NHL debut at Columbus on Feb. 22, 2011 and scored his first goal against the Blue Jackets on Feb. 27, 2011… Craig Smith - Made his NHL debut and scored his first career goal at Columbus on Oct. 7, 2011… Brandon Yip - Made his NHL debut Dec. 19, 2009 vs. Columbus.
PREPARED TO HIT THE GROUND RUNNING
The team that hits the ice for the Nashville Predators on Jan. 19 will look strikingly similar to the one that played in May 2012 when we last saw them. The team will only be implementing two players that weren’t in the organization in 2011-12 – Chris Mason, who is now in his third stint with the club after spending time with Nashville and Milwaukee from 1998-2002 and 2003-08, and Scott Hannan, a 13-year NHL veteran defenseman who has played more games than any NHL blueliner over the last 10 seasons and knows the League well.
A MODEL OF CONSISTENCY
The Predators are the only team in the Western Conference to advance to the second round in each of the past two seasons.
The team is one of just five to reach the postseason in seven of the last eight seasons and one of three to post 40-plus wins in seven consecutive seasons.
The Preds enter this season with the third-most home victories since the start of the 2005-06 campaign (181), and the fifth-most overall (320).
OLDER AND WISER
The past two seasons, the Predators have thrived despite being one of the League’s youngest teams. They ended the 2010-11 season as the youngest team in the National Hockey League, and began the 2011-12 season as the third-youngest team at 26 years, 5 months. This season, the average age will be more than two years higher at 28 years, 7 months. The addition of veterans Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad at last season’s trade deadline have them fully incorporated into the team’s culture and system, while putting Nashville in the middle of the pack in terms of average age.
BUILDING ON LAST SEASON’S MOMENTUM
Nashville finished the 2011-12 regular season ranked in the Top 10 of each of the following categories: points, goals for, goals against, power play and penalty kill. The Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks were the only other team to do so.
The Preds posted the League’s fifth-highest point total (104) and tied with Vancouver and Philadelphia for third in regulation/overtime victories (43)
Nashville ranked eighth in goals per game (2.83) and tied for eighth in goals against average (2.50) in 2011-12. Only Boston, Detroit and Vancouver ranked among the League’s Top 10 in both goals for and goals against.
The Predators were one of just three teams to rank in the League’s Top 10 in both power-play percentage (first) and penalty kill percentage (10th) during the 2011-12 campaign. Vancouver and Pittsburgh were the only other teams to rank in the Top 10 in both categories. Prior to 2011-12, Nashville had never ranked higher than 10th in power-play efficiency, while the PK finished in the Top 10 for the eighth time in the last 12 seasons. Nashville’s special teams finished a +15 in 2011-12, compared to +3 the season prior.
SUCCESS AGAINST THE CENTRAL
This season’s 48-game schedule configuration calls for the Predators to play two Central Division opponents five times (Columbus and Chicago), two Central Division opponents four times (Detroit and St. Louis), and all other Western Conference teams three times each. A season ago, the Preds had the second-best intra-conference record, going 40-19-5 against the West versus 8-7-3 against the Eastern Conference. More importantly, Nashville posted a 16-5-3 (.729) against the Central Division, which along with the Atlantic, became the first two divisions to have four teams reach the 100-point plateau since the NHL went to its current format for the 1993-94 season. That was good for the third-best intra-divisional winning percentage behind Boston (19-4-1, .813) and Vancouver (18-5-1, .771), each of whom were the lone 100-point teams in the Northeast and Northwest Divisions, respectively.
LOCKING UP THE CORE
An eventful summer of 2012 has the Predators’ top players locked up long term. Captain Shea Weber – arguably the League’s top defenseman and runner-up for the Norris Trophy each of the last two seasons – is under contract for the next 14 seasons, while goaltender Pekka Rinne – a back-to-back Vezina Trophy finalist – is locked down for the next seven seasons. Key core players like Colin Wilson, David Legwand, Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn, Kevin Klein, Hal Gill and Paul Gaustad are all at least under contract for two more seasons.
MIKE FISHER, THE 2012 NHL FOUNDATION AWARD WINNER
Since the Predators last played, they had their second-ever NHL award winner. Center Mike Fisher was the recipient of the 2012 NHL Foundation Award which “recognizes an NHL player who applies the core values of hockey – commitment, perseverance and teamwork – to enrich the lives of people in his community.” The NHL Foundation presented $25,000 to Room In The Inn, a full-service homeless facility located a few blocks from Bridgestone Arena, in honor of Fisher’s award.
Since coming to Nashville in February 2011, Fisher has developed strong relationships with a number of non-profit organizations: Room In the Inn, Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and Cottage Cove Urban Ministries, a Nashville based non-profit organization that serves inner city youth. Fisher donated $40,000 to Cottage Cove to purchase a van for the youth center and renovate their music room. He has not only given additional financial contributions and made unannounced visits but has also purchased tickets for the Fisher’s Friends ticket program for youth organizations. In September 2011, Fisher released Defender of Faith: The Mike Fisher Story, a book highlighting his faith journey that was written for 9-11 year olds. All sales benefit World Vision, with autographed copies at Bridgestone Arena raising money for Room In the Inn. Fisher and his wife also are seen at various charity fundraisers in the Middle Tennessee area, including events for The Peterson Foundation for Parkinson’s and Rocketown and he is an annual participant in the Garth Brooks Teammates for Kids Foundation program.
ON THE FARM
The Milwaukee Admirals – under new head coach Dean Evason – got off to a bit of a slow start in 2012-13, posting a 6-8-2 record in their first 16 games before finding a new gear just after American Thanksgiving. Since Nov. 24, the Ads are 11-6-4, moving them into second place in the Midwest Division. The young squad, which has seen 11 rookies suit up for them this season, is being paced offensively by second-year pro Taylor Beck with 26 points (6g-20a) in 31 games. In the goals department, 2010 first-round pick Austin Watson has carried the momentum of a successful junior career to the American League and both leads the team and is tied for fourth among rookies in the category (13). Victor Bartley is leading the way on the blue line with 19 points (6g-13a), earning him a recall to Nashville for this past week’s training camp. Milwaukee kicks off a two-game weekend set at Abbotsford on Saturday night after getting nearly an entire week of rest – the team last played Sunday versus Peoria.