The 2017-2018 NHL campaign is underway and has seen some very surprising starts. The Colorado Avalanche, who had a historically awful season last year, are currently 4-3-0 and third in the Central division standings. The Toronto Maple Leafs are enjoying a 6-1-0 record at the top of the Atlantic division with their young star Auston Matthews leading the charge. The brand new expansion team, the Vegas Golden Knights, had an incredible start to the season, outlasting the other 30 NHL teams as undefeated until their unlucky Oct. 13 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. One aspect of their game that has Nashville Predators fans cringing in chagrin is the performance of former player James Neal, who has six goals in six games. Neal was lost over the summer in the expansion draft after being left unprotected and in light of Neal’s recent success, that decision by General Manager David Poile is under question; however, assumptions this early in the season are typically contradicted by later performance.
The Nashville Predators had a bit of a rocky start to the season as new teammates Nick Bonino and Scott Hartnell adjust to their new club. This is Hartnell’s second round with the Predators after being traded to Philadelphia in 2007, then to Columbus in 2014, and returning to Nashville with a one-year contract. Hartnell has provided an important net front presence that the Predators have been lacking since trading Patric Hornqvist to the Pittsburgh Penguins and it has made a great impact on Nashville’s offensive game. Filip Forsberg’s play has also helped the Predators find early success; the Swedish forward earned his 200th assist in their game against Colorado and already has five goals, four of which have been on the power play. The power play has been one of the aspects of the Predators’ game that has been frustrating to watch in years past, but Forsberg’s hot start in that department has fans hopeful that the trend will continue.
While the team has started to gain momentum, it has not been without adversity and controversy. Following a loss in Boston, they lost their chance for Stanley Cup Final redemption against the Pittsburgh Penguins, losing 4-0 in Pittsburgh. The home opener against the Philadelphia Flyers was a dramatic affair involving Nashville losing a 3-0 lead and coming back to win 6-5 in regulation. Their next game against the Dallas Stars was a clean win and featured rookie Samuel Girard scoring his first NHL goal in front of his family and earning first star of the game. The team then traveled to Chicago to face the Blackhawks for the first time since the historical sweep during the playoffs. The game was by far Nashville’s most complete game, battling for the full 60 minutes against an aggressive team in a hostile environment. Controversy struck when Matt Irwin was stranded without his stick in front of Pekka Rinne after it had been thrown away by Chicago’s Ryan Hartman and with virtually no opposition, Patrick Sharp shot the puck past Rinne. Traditionally, the thrown stick would have resulted in a penalty, but the fatal miss by the referees led to a tied game near the end of the third period. An additional missed call in the over time portion had Predators fans unhappy after Patrick Kane quite literally piggybacked Filip Forsberg and moments later, Forsberg would leave Brandon Saad wide open goal side, resulting in an infuriating loss. Nashville will have its next shot at Chicago at United Center on Oct. 27.
Former Predators player Colin Wilson returned to Bridgestone Arena earlier this week on Tuesday with his new club, the Colorado Avalanche. This game also saw the return of new captain, Roman Josi, who gave the Predators a 2-1 lead in the second period. The offense didn’t stop there, however, with Colton Sissons providing the third goal. Predators fans were stunned after Sissons was sent to the penalty box immediately following the goal on a charging call. Replays of the shot show Sissons being thrust forward by a check from Matt Duchene, but the referees deemed it Sissons fault and Nashville was forced to kill off the penalty. The Predators held the lead through the third period and adding a goal off the stick of Austin Watson, his first of the season.
The Predators faceoff tonight against the Flyers in Philadelphia, who will be looking to get even after Nashville’s 6-5 victory last week.