Weber Returns…and So Does The Rivalry With The Dallas Stars

Nashville Predators Captain, defenseman Shea Weber returns to the ice tonight against the Dallas Stars at Bridgestone Arena, two weeks after being sidelined with a concussion from a hit by Dallas defenseman, Mark Fistric. The game is the first meeting between the two impending division-mates since Weber’s  injury. (Photo: Danny Murphy/Icon SMI)

He’s not dead, and they ARE stronger.
We’re all familiar with the old saying, ‘that which does not kill me can only make me stonger.’ Well, in the case of the Nashville Predators, that well-worn phrase has played itself out to be true.

Few observers believed that the Preds could tread water for long in the NHL’s ultra-competitive Western Conference without the leadership and the scoring prowess of their captain, Shea Weber, who went down with a concussion 13 days ago in a game at American Airlines Center in Dallas, placing him on the shelf for four games. In the process, the Dallas Stars handed Nashville a 6-3 loss that was all kinds of ugly on multiple fronts for Predators fans.

Nevertheless, the team has persevered, fashioning a 3-1-0 record in Weber’s absence and has actually improved their conference standing. They currently occupy the seventh spot in the pecking order as opposed to the eighth place position they held on December 23rd, following the aforementioned loss to the Stars.

In a real showcase of his own considerable talents, Weber’s blueline partner, Ryan Suter placed the Predators on his back, defensively, over the two week span of Weber’s absence from the lineup, working hard to shore up what had been an overtly porous shots-against allowance by the team all season long. The Preds, after an initial 4-1 toe-stub versus the Detroit Red Wings in their first game without the Captain, have allowed less than two goals per game over the three successive victories since, which includes a pair of shootout wins.

And while it’s great to see the team deal with adversity in such a positive manner, no one in their right mind would assert that Nashville is a more effective team without their 6’4” 234-pound defensive superstar on the ice.

The fact that he’s back in time for the rematch with Dallas makes it even better.

Kharma = Beoch
In the previous meeting, Dallas defenseman Mark Fistric leveled the normally strong-on-his-skates Weber with a forearm shiver to the head that has placed Webs on the shelf for four games. The play materialized with 1:40 to go in the third period, as Weber sough to retrieve a puck sent across from behind the net, along the boards near the right circle. He there received a relatively light check from Dallas forward Eric Nystrom, which momentarily turned Weber into the boards. As Weber turned his head back to relocate the puck near his feet, Fistric strode in from along the goal line to plant the hit on the unsuspecting Predators captain.

The league determined that the hit was enough of a ‘hockey play’ to absolve Fistric of any supplementary discipline, despite what most other observers have regarded as otherwise damning video evidence.

Tonight’s game will be the Stars’ first appearance of the season in Nashville; it will also be the teams’ first meeting since Weber’s injury, and not-so-coincidentally, the Captain’s first game back on the ice.

Weber was cleared by the league to play this morning after skating with the team in practice for the past few days. It will be interesting to see if any kind of revenge is on the mind of Head Coach Barry Trotz; but one thing is for certain; Webs would not be in the lineup if he wasn’t in a position to play all-out. And as The Tennesseean’s Josh Cooper tweeted this morning, it might behoove Mister Fistric to wear his big boy pants to the rink tonight.

Rippin’ off that ol’ band-aid?
Interesting thing about the ebb-and-flow of rivalries; sometimes they’re active and angry; sometimes their more passive and based mostly on past occurrances. At times they can go rather dormant, depending on the current circumstances of the respective combatants.

As in the Preds’ dealings with the St. Louis Blues, their battles with Dallas have evolved from the early days of the franchise until now, with the Stars being the merciless aggressors in the pre-lockout years, and Nashville evolving to a point of more than holding their own in recent years, as Dallas has experienced ownership issues and the growing pains associated with the franchise’s return to prominence.

One thing doesn’t appear to have ever changed, however. Dallas always believes they are the better team, and that there is little reason to ever lose to Nashville. At least that’s what their fans and media seem to think, apparently. And while a little we’ve-won-a-Cup-before bravado is certainly understandable, I believe the only reason that there isn’t more of an active hatred between the two franchises is that they play in different divisions, they’ve never met in the playoffs, and whatever in-season clashes they’ve had in recent years have been fairly free of controversy — that is, since Mike Modano’s heinous two-handed slash of Jordin Tootoo in a game here in March of 2007 (…and to be fair, Toots had overstepped the bounds of hockey sense with his head-punch of Stephane Robidas in the previous play; but the fact is, Modano received only a minor penalty for his retaliatory action, enraging the Nashville faithful even further against one of the United States’ all-time great home-grown hockey players).

Things like that can linger. Who knows what may become of the Fistric-Weber circumstance?

To be sure, there has never been any love lost between the two franchises, but now that Preds fans don’t have Modano to make fun of anymore, could Fistric’s hit become the new bone the Preds will have to pick with the Stars, or will the team just let it go? If it’s the former, beyond the understandable avarice that Preds fans have built up over the years for the lack of respect displayed by the Dallas print and electronic media, as well as that of their teams on the ice, unpleasantries may well be taken to a new level — particularly in view of the fact that the Stars will become an intra-division opponent as of next season when the NHL re-aligns to accommodate the relocation of the former Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg.

There will soon be much more at stake in meetings between the two franchises, and just as hostilities among current Central Division rivals, Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago, and Columbus have all reached a particularly acrid level, a rivalry with a few more teeth such as that of the Stars should make for even more entertaining hockey going forward.

It should be interesting to see what develops, long term, but I believe the future of the Dallas-Nashville rivalry begins tonight.


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