In his first game as the team’s uncontested number-one goaltender, Chris Mason pitched a 35-save shutout, and newly named captain Jason Arnott tallied the young season’s first two goals as the Nashville Predators topped the Colorado Avalanche, 4-0, in the 2007-08 season opener in front of 16,363 at the Sommet Center Thursday night.
“We stuck to our team play and system for all 60 minutes, and
Jason Arnott, J.P.Dumont and Ryan Suter celebrate the Preds second goal of the game. (AP Photo)
that is what got us the victory,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “All the things that we preached in training camp – hard work, the system, everyone pulling together – it all came together tonight.”
The J.P. Dumont-Jason Arnott-Vernon Fiddler line provided three of the game’s four goals, but all four of the Predators line combinations seemed to find chemistry, each one contributing in a different way in the win.
The power play may have faltered during the preseason, but Nashville capitalized on the first man-advantage that actually counted, scoring the first goal of the season with Colorado’s John-Michael Liles in the box at 4:31 of the first. It was Arnott who did the honors, blistering a one-timer from the middle of the left face-off circle. Marek Zidlicky, manning the point, set him up with a cross-ice pass and Ryan Suter picked up the secondary helper.
“It is a relief to get it going right out of the gate,” Arnott said. “You hear a lot about our team not scoring as many goals this year, but we have guys that can score. It has to be a combination of everybody, it has to be a team effort and it was tonight.”
Mason made one of several circus stops on the night at 8:13 of the first to keep it a 1-0 lead. Breaking in on a 2-on-1, the Preds netminder stoned the NHL’s ninth all-time leading scorer, Joe Sakic, with a cross-crease dive that deflected the puck wide.
“To be honest, I was ready for the shot not the pass, and Sakic got the pass right on his tape,” Mason said. “I got caught kind of flat footed, and the only thing I could do was dive – I was just lucky to get it.”
Nashville used its grit to take a 2-0 lead, with Jason Arnott once again utilizing a quick one-timer to solve Colorado goalie Peter Budaj. This time, Dumont and Fiddler set the marker up by tangling up the Avalanche defense behind the net. The tandem worked several give-and-goes until Dumont hit Arnott with a seeing-eye pass across the crease. The goal came at 14:25 of the opening frame, and was Arnott’s 700th career NHL point. In 893 career games, the Collingwood, Ont., native has 305 goals and 395 assists.
Jason Arnott tallied the first two goals of the Preds 2007-08 campaign (AP Photo/Frederick Breedon)
“It was definitely important to get those two goals early because you could see our team relax a little bit,” Mason said. “We kind of fed off that and played our game.”
A battle won along the boards enabled the Preds to take a commanding three-goal lead with just 1:45 expired in the second period. David Legwand won the initial fight for the puck, and poked it to linemate Martin Erat. With all eyes on the puck, Erat found an unmarked Dan Hamhuis across the zone. The d-man narrowly snuck a shot by Budaj’s outstretched toe and into the back of the net.
Following the goal, the Avs seemed to find their skating legs, and it was Mason who was forced to deal with the new-found spunk. Colorado crowded his crease and pelted him with shots – outshooting Nashville 12-2 during an eight-minute stretch of the second. Nashville neutralized things as the period came to a close, and were poised for a strong final 20 minutes.
The response came by way of a howitzer by newcomer Greg de Vries, and a redirect by Dumont, to not only give Nashville a 4-0 lead at 4:14 of the third, but to chase Budaj from the Colorado net. Fiddler was untouched by the opposition, positioning himself as a screen in front of Budaj, and de Vries rifled a slap shot from just inside the blue line that was tipped by Nashville’s No. 71 over the goalie’s outstretch glove. Fiddler collected his second assist of the night on the goal.
“We scored goals off transition, we got mucking goals, and we got goals from creating traffic in front of the net,” Trotz said. “If we are going to be successful, that is how we are going to have to score.”
Budaj’s pulling made way for Tyler Weiman, who made his NHL debut in relief.
The icing on the cake was narrowly missed with five-and-a-half minutes remaining when Hamhuis sent Arnott in for what could have been the hat-trick clinching goal. Arnott missed the net by inches with a quick wrist shot from right in front.
Mason continued to come up clutch in the closing minutes of regulation. The Avalanche shot from every possible angle and pounded Mason with rebounds, but the Red Deer, Alberta native was never caught out of position, shutting the door whenever he was called upon.
“Chris is not only an outstanding person, but an outstanding goaltender,” Trotz said. “We had no doubts since we made Chris number one that he was up to it. Chris will tell you he played a good game, but he will deflect a lot of the credit and tell you it was a team effort. Really, it was – we don’t leave anyone behind.”
Nashville finished the night with 32 shots on goal and went 1-for-4 on the power play, while Colorado was blanked on three man-advantage opportunities.
The Predators return to action this Saturday at 7 p.m. when the Dallas Stars visit the Sommet Center. Tickets are still available by calling (615) 770-PUCK, logging onto either nashvillepredators.com or ticketmaster.com, and by visiting the Sommet Center box office. The game will be preceded on FSN South a 30-minute “Predators Game Night” show, and is available the radio dial at WRLT Lightning 100.1 FM.
Game notes: For Mason, the shutout was the ninth of his career, moving him into sole possession of second on the team’s all-time list. It was also the first shutout in a season opener in franchise history…Nashville has a 4-5-0 record in season openers with and even 24 goals both for and against. That includes an even 3-3-0 mark at home…The Preds take a one-game lead in the four-game season series between the two squads. The teams split the series 2-2-0 last season, and Nashville is 13-14-6 all-time against the Avs…Ryan Suter led the team with 25:01 played, and Greg Zanon paced the squad with six blocked shots…Colorado was playing in its second contest in as many games after opening its season with a 4-3 rout of Dallas thanks to a hat trick by sophomore Paul Stastny and three assists by former Predator Andrew Brunette…Ville Koistinen and Darcy Hordichuk were healthy scratches for Nashville, while Colorado scratched Jeff Finger and Scott Parker.
1 - 0 NSH
2 - 0 NSH
3 - 0 NSH
Greg De Vries
4 - 0 NSH
Greg De Vries
Interference - Goalkeeper