VandyRadio Sports Director Max Herz is a credentialed media member for the Nashville Predators. He co-hosts The Home Ice Advantage, an all-hockey radio show, with Cutler Klein Fridays at 5 PM on VandyRadio. Follow him on Twitter @MaxHerzTalks for Preds updates and inside access, and follow @VandyRadio for station updates and programming info.
Opening Night is rarely an occasion to take advantage of tired bodies, but that was the case for the 2015-16 Nashville Predators as the team won its season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes 2-1 at Bridgestone Arena.
With Nashville already up a goal 3:16 into the young season, Carolina defenseman James Wisniewski was hit awkwardly into the boards, suffering a left leg injury on his second shift with the team after being acquired from Anaheim this past June. At the first intermission, it was announced that Wisniewski would not return to the game after playing just 47 seconds. UPDATE: Wisniewski tore his ACL on the play and will miss six months, all but ending his regular season.
For 57 minutes, Hurricanes Head Coach Bill Peters was forced to proceed with just five defensemen. One of those five men left standing was 2015 5th overall pick Noah Hanifin, making his NHL debut. Starting D pairs went out the window and ice time was shuffled around in the season’s first period. The Predators took immediate advantage, dominating for 20 minutes.
“We talked about trying to play behind them,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said. “We talked about it before the game and we just wanted to continue to do that. You could tell that some of their guys were soaking up a lot of minutes and that’s when you want to try and skate them and make them do some extra work.”
Nashville took a 2-0 lead on Viktor Arvidsson’s first NHL goal 14 minutes after Wisniewski left the game. Along with Calle Jarnkrok, Arvidsson applied pressure to fellow rookie Hanifin as Seth Jones shot from the right point. The puck deflected off Jarnkrok’s stick, then grazed Arvidsson’s pant leg before sneaking under Cam Ward, giving Nashville a two goal cushion late in the first period. Nashville outshot Carolina 14-5 in the first, despite ultimately losing the shot battle 26-25.
“We had our game plan and we kept skating,” Arvidsson said. “Keep battling hard and get on pucks on their [defensemen]. I think we did a good job in the first period and I think we can do better over the whole game, but we got the win.”
Most affected by Wisniewski’s absence was Justin Faulk, who played more than half of the first period and nearly half of the second, a period which Carolina owned despite being held off the board. Faulk finished the night with 29:28 of ice time, which would’ve been his fourth highest total of the entire 2014-15 season.
“[We didn’t capitalize] as much as we would’ve liked in the second period,” Predators Coach Peter Laviolette said. “They drop down to five [defensemen], you’d like to get into the offensive zone more to grind them down and wear them down, and we didn’t. We ended up spending too much time in our end in the second. In the third period I thought we were able to come back and play.”
Those two first period goals held up, as Eric Staal’s 6-on-5 goal late in the third broke the shutout but wasn’t enough to force overtime. Nashville took the opener 2-1, with Arvidsson picking up the game-winner. The Predators host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers in their next game Saturday night at 6:00.