So far, so good.
Let it never be said that I’m silly enough to believe that three ‘practice’ games does a season make, but the initial triumvirate of preseason contests for the 2009-2010 Nashville Predators have had a very different feel to me than those in seasons past.
This most recent Saturday night at the Sommet Center, the Columbus Blue Jackets appeared poised to saddle the Preds with their first loss of the preseason.
While the home crowd never likes to see their warriors go down to defeat, the reasonable Preds fan would likely have understood the team experiencing an off night, playing their third game in as many days. Considering these were the first three games of the preseason schedule, and especially considering the game played the previous evening was on the road in Raleigh, NC., I’m sure nobody would hold a less-than-perfect performance against the Predators.
As for me, given that Nashville was coming off two very well-played victories, I certainly wasn’t happy when the Jackets pulled ahead 2-0 midway into the second period, but I wasn’t going to let it ruin my night. And quite frankly, I don’t believe Barry Trotz or anyone else would have lost much sleep had the Preds not pulled this one out of the fire.
But pull it out of the fire they did, scoring a pair of late goals, including the game winner, a power-play marker with just 23 seconds left on the clock, to defeat Columbus 3-2.
They weren’t satisfied to let even this preseason contest against a division rival slip away. The Jackets didn’t give this one away, the Preds took it.
Eye of the tiger, baby…eye of the tiger.
In the brief past that this organization has been a legitimate playoff contender, Nashville has fielded some talented teams, but some that have that have left a little to be desired in the heart department. Not intentionally, mind you, but rather, experientially, in my opinion.
This team seems different to me — perhaps different from all the rest.
The high-scoring Predators teams of 2005-06 and 2006-07 could put the biscuit in the basket, but come playoff time, just couldn’t bring home the bacon. There are a number of reasons for that, not the least of which was the talent of their playoff foe in both instances: the San Jose Sharks. But there was something else they lacked, I believed: desperation.
Desperation of an order only acquired through the loss of position they experienced last season when they missed the playoffs for the first time in five years. It was more than just being forced to hit the golf course earlier than they wanted; it was a death grip shaking about the shoulders; a wakeup call; a slit in the safety net that had kept a small-market team that’s been on financial thin ice to begin with above reproach as a legitimate entity.
The detractors of Nashville’s NHL worthiness can crow all they want to no effect as long as the team is successful — and success in the NHL means nothing less than making it to the post season. But as the Preds slipped out of that fragile post-season fraternity, we saw, read, and heard the floodgates of circumspection swinging wide open again this off-season.
Whether real or contrived — the urgency to get back to the playoffs brings to this upcoming NHL slate a poignancy that I believe this franchise has never before felt. A story someone shared with me on Saturday night has convinced me of that fact.
J.P.’s Game Face
In our season seats up in Section 329, we’ve enjoyed some pretty good neighbors over the past nine years. One couple, who sit directly behind us, have been particularly good folks to know. They moved to Nashville from the Hartford, CT area years ago. They’re lifetime hockey fans and have been season ticket holders with the Preds from Day One.
Dave & Kim are a hoot, with great hockey smarts and a sense of humor to match. Unfortunately, however, we never see much of Dave anymore, although Kim is in her seat for every game. Dave’s in the building, just not in his seat. Three seasons ago, he applied for and got a job with the NHL as one of the Predators’ Game Officials. So now he’s taking in the game from a slightly different vantage point: the Scorer’s table or as one of the Penalty Box officials.
At the game Saturday night, Kim leaned in to tell my wife and me an interesting story her husband Dave experienced a couple nights earlier.
Following rookie defenseman Cody Franson’s fight with an Atlanta player in Thursday night’s Exhibition opener, instead of going to the penalty box he was bleeding a bit and was sent to the dressing room to have it dealt with. J.P. Dumont was sent out to serve Franson’s time in the Sin Bin.
Our friend Dave was working the Preds’ Penalty Box that game and being the personable guy he is, began making small talk with Dumont. Now anyone who knows J.P. knows that he’s a genuinely nice guy. He’s no prima donna, nor would he bristle at the notion of chewing the fat with a penalty box official, particularly Dave, who all the players know and are familiar with.
But when Dave asked J.P., “How was your summer,” Dumont curtly replied, “Too f***ing long. We need to score some goals this season!”
Combine the sheer will they exerted to come back from a two-goal deficit Saturday night, and yeah, I’d say the Preds are dialed in for this season like no other.
To say a franchise is ‘at a crossroads’ is about as hackneyed a concept as there is in sports, however there seems to be an urgency about this team as the season opener approaches. It’s a different kind of urgency for a different kind of Predators team.
The fact of the matter is that the Predators are not fighting for their solvency or continued residence here in Music City — that’s a dead argument for now. Rather, the question this 2009-2010 club (and the Predators organization as a whole) must answer is, “is it working?”
Is the plan that the tag-team of David Poille and Barry Trotz have devised and adhered to so patiently over the past eleven seasons actually working? Is this the year that we truly see the harvest of all those wonderfully-cultivated prospects the system has been developing since 2003, the year generally credited as the true birth of the Predators player development system?
The defensive corps’ development has been well noted. Will this season be the coming-out party for some of Nashville’s offensive prospects as well? Will Mike Santorelli and Cal O’Reilly, perhaps even Nick Spalling, and Colin Wilson, truly take their games to the next level?
With what we’re seeing right now with the development and depth of the Predators organization, and the confidence that management is showing by giving them a chance to prove themselves, I for one would have to say, ‘yes — yes it is.’
So far, anyway…
Summer sucks. Drop the Puck.
Go get ‘em, Tiger.