The Nashville Predators (33-23-5) return from the Olympic break to face the Edmonton Oilers (19-36-6) in the newly named Bridgestone Arena tonight at 7 p.m. CST.
In many ways this game is similar to a start of a season as you have had six (now seven) players coming off an intense Olympic experience and the rest off of "Spring Break."
Basically, it is a "new" team coming back together for the first time. The Olympic experience changed the ones that were there while the others checked out from hockey for a few days. Therefore it is difficult to impart trends from before the break to tonight's game.
To complicate things, the two squads pulled of a trade yesterday where the Preds received Denis Grebeshkov in exchange for a second round pick in this summers NHL Entry Draft. Also, Ryan Jones was place on waivers this morning so he will not be a part of the team tonight.
The latest word from John Glennon at the morning skate is that Grebeshkov may or may not play due to immigration issues. If he doesn't, Franson will be the sixth defenseman. Also, as a reminder, Dan Hamhuis is still a Predator as I write and is expected to play tonight.
The Predators also practiced with the retro line of Arnott, Dumont, and Sullivan on Monday so again, this is like a return to the start of the season. Glennon list the lines as follows:
Belak will be a scratch as will a couple of defensman.
The recently re-signed Pekka Rinne (20-12-4, 2.80, .902) will be in net for the Preds while Edmonton will start Jeff Deslauriers (12-21-3, 3.19, .900).
Predator's Keys to the Game
Don't Start the Second Half with a "Trap" Game...
As hard as it is to imagine, this game has all the makings of a "trap" game even though the Preds haven't played in two weeks. Edmonton has been horrible and the Preds have a long string of games coming up against Western Conference contenders that will be key to a successful Pred's run for the playoffs.
The Preds were very mediocre against other poor team like Carolina and Toronto before the break and I'm sure the Oliers will be charged up to leave the pre-break horror story behind and will want to play at least .500 for the rest of the season. The Preds can not overlook the intensity that they will bring.
The Olympics Are Over...
The Predators will have seven players in the locker room tonight who have excelled on the world stage over the last two weeks. Weber and Suter have been treated as near immortal by the press which is not something they have not seen in Nashville. There will be big doings with the medals which will bring further distractions.
All of them need to put the Olympic experience behind them and be ready to show up and play as Nashville Predators, not as a national hero. I hope that Suter and Weber do find the level of intense play that we saw in the tournament back to the rink with them.
Pekka, It's Your Time...
The Predators have opened the wallet and clearly made Pekka Rinne their number one goalie for at least the next two years. Pekka admitted that it does bring additional pressure and that he embraces the challenge. Therefore, we need to see the Pekka of last year going full out for the better part of the next 21 games. He needs to reclaim ownership of the net.
He should be pushed by Dan Ellis who now knows that he has 21 games to play for a new contract where he can get a shot at being a number one goalie.
The Preds play the Kings at home on Thursday and the Wings on Friday in Detroit before returning home for a Sunday afternoon game against Vancouver. It doesn't get any easier after that so basically every game is a playoff game from here on out.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass