The Nashville Predators are preparing for a run for their fourth playoff berth, but coach Barry Trotz was looking at an even brighter future a couple of more years down the road.
The Predators won their second preseason game, beating the Atlanta Thrashers in front of an announced crowd of 13,430 fans Thursday night at the Sommet Center. Veterans Jason Arnott, Vernon Fiddler, Marek Zidlicky and Ryan Suter scored, but it was the play of prospects like defenseman Alexander Sulzer, who scored the Predators’ fourth goal, that interested Trotz.
“I thought a lot of the young guys showed the substance of their game,” Trotz said. “Everybody got substantial ice time. I was fairly happy with some of the tactical and systems things that we did. I thought a lot of our offense came from a real good forecheck and stuff we did through the neutral zone. There was a good pace to the game.”
Trotz didn’t pinpoint one player, but he mentioned several of the youngsters.
“Cody Franson was getting shots through,” Trotz said. “Sulzer played a real hard game and defended hard. Pekka Rinne was under fire in goal when we took some penalties late. Josh Langfeld was throwing his body around and blocking shots. Mike Santorelli used his smarts and his quickness.
“That says a lot about how determined they are to make the team or get a high ranking and put themselves in a situation for a first call-up. There was something I liked about everybody.”
Arnott and J.P.Dumont were part of a line with Steve Sullivan last season. With Sullivan sidelined until Dec. 1 that wing spot is up for grabs. Fiddler played on the same line with Arnott and Dumont at various times last season, but he knows that the lines are not close to being set.
“There are little things you get out of these games that you appreciate throughout the year,” Fiddler said. “You want to have a feel for your linemates and teammates. It is a matter of playing together, but who knows what the line combinations will be.”
Arnott and Dumont clicked like old times with Dumont getting assists on the goals by Arnott and Fiddler.
“I’ve been waiting all summer to play with J.P. again,” Arnott said. “It was nice to work some give-and-goes and get our skating wings back. Now we are waiting for Sully to get back to get our line clicking again.
“Fids played well. He works hard. He is an up-and-down guy, an all-around type player. Anytime the puck gets in there deep we know he is going to be in there to get it. We know he is never going to quit on us.”
Dumont stresses this year’s team might not be as flashy, but it knows how to find a way to win, also a trait of last year’s team which set franchise records for wins (51), goals (272) and points (110).
“Last year we won sometimes just because our defense and goalie played well,” Dumont said. “This year all 20 guys who dress are going to have to play very hard. That will be something that the veteran guys we added like Greg de Vries, Radek Bonk and Martin Gelinas bring to this team. They lead by example. They work so hard that you want to follow them.”
The Predators are not expected to score as many goals as last season, so every one they score in the preseason is a confidence builder, even if they come in front of a 20-year-old goaltender prospect, Ondrej Pavelec, and a defensive unit that included only one player who wore a Thrashers jersey last season.
“It’s definitely nice to score goals whether you are an old veteran or rookie,” Arnott said. “It is a big confidence booster.”
The Predators visit the Carolina Hurricanes tonight at 6. They return home Saturday for a rematch with the Hurricanes at 7.
SURPRISE CROWD: The crowd was at regular season form and both the number of fans in attendance and their enthusiasm surprised some of the Predators players.
“The crowd was into it and they were loud,” said Arnott, who received an enthusiastic ovation when he was announced as team captain. “It was nice to be home. We didn’t know how many fans would come out on a Thursday night.”
Dumont said it has been a tough summer for the players, the organization and the fans.
“The fans don’t want to lose their team,” Dumont said. “They showed that tonight.”