Predators open new season in a new way

Thursday, October 6, 2011 at 11:27pm

The Nashville Predators will open the 2011-12 season in a way they have opened no other — two road games on consecutive days.

Veteran forward Jerred Smithson, for one, wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I think it’s great, I really do,” Smithson said. “I’m a big fan of starting the season on the road. A lot of times you just go out there and you don’t have to worry about tickets, who’s coming and pleasing our crowd. We can just go out, put the work boots on and do it the hard way.”

The 82-game slate begins Friday at Columbus (6 p.m.) and continues Saturday at St. Louis (7 p.m.). The home opener is not until next Thursday, when the Phoenix Coyotes come to town.

It is the fifth time overall, but just the second in the last eight seasons, that the Predators begin with a back-to-back set. In three of the previous four, the first game was on the road followed by one at home. The fourth was in 2000-01, when Nashville opened against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Japan. Officially, one was a home game and the other was a road game.

In none of those instances did the team come away with a pair of victories.

“I don’t know if you like it or not, … you have to deal with it,” coach Barry Trotz said.  “It’s what the schedule presents so let’s get at it and deal with it right off the bat.”

The stakes are only heightened by the fact that both teams also play in the Central Division, considered by many to be among the most competitive in the league this season. Plus, each is the home opener for that respective team.

“I guess there’s not much more worse environments you can go into than a couple of home openers, division games,” captain Shea Weber said. “It’s going to be a good test for us. So we’re excited to see how we can get going here.”

Nashville was 20-18-3 on the road last season, just the third time in franchise history it won at least 20 times away from home.

It also was an NHL-best 7-1-0 overall in the preseason.

“I mean, the results were good as far as our record but I think we can still do a lot better,” Weber said. “It’s only going to get harder as this regular season starts and goes on.

“It’s a whole other situation with it being home openers. They’re going to be fired up. They’re going to want to come out flying. We have to match that and exceed that and make sure we’re playing our style of game.”

“It’s going to be rowdy,” Smithson said. “The fans are going to be excited and they’re going to want to get their teams going. We know that going in.”

Along the way, they might even get to know one another a bit better.

“You get out on the road and you get to know your teammates — you go out to dinner before and you really start that bonding,” Smithson said. “I think that’s really important and I’m really looking forward to these next two days.”

Briefly

• Goalie Pekka Rinne did not practice Thursday after he took ill a night earlier. The situation was not expected to have an impact on his status for this weekend’s games.

“He should be fine for [Friday],” Trotz said. “It’s only the flu. … He just got a little sick [Thursday] night and didn’t have great energy [Friday]. So I said, ‘No sense in tiring you out.’ I’m fine with him not practicing.”

Trotz said that even before Rinne’s illness, he and his staff had no set plans on whether or not to divide the first two games between Rinne and Anders Lindback or give them both to Rinne.

“To be honest, we didn’t have a plan,” Trotz said. “We were just going to react to what we thought was the right thing to do based on the games. … That really hasn’t changed.”

• Trotz said he would announce Friday morning his choice to serve as alternate captain for the coming season. That spot opened when veteran forward Steve Sullivan was not re-signed during the offseason.

Weber and Ryan Suter will be captain and alternate captain, respectively, for the second consecutive season.

“I do a little bit of homework and I do solicit some people, but I don’t leave it up to just a popularity vote,” Trotz said. “To me, that’s not what it’s about. To me, it’s about more than that.”