Sullivan's fast start still ranks as most impressive Predators' debut

Monday, February 14, 2011 at 8:42pm

It’s a pretty safe bet that anyone who followed the Nashville Predators at the time has not forgotten Steve Sullivan’s debut with the team.

It is worth remembering at present, though, given that it happened nearly seven years ago to the day (Feb. 18, 2004) and against the same opponent (San Jose) the Predators will play Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena (faceoff is 7 p.m.), in the second game since the team’s latest trade, which brought Mike Fisher to town.

“For me to come in here and have the fairy tale-like start that I got was surreal,” Sullivan said. “It was hard to believe. It was huge for me. You couldn’t write that script.”

Sullivan had three goals and an assist in a 7-3 victory at home over the Sharks. He followed that with six more points over the next two games and became the second Nashville player ever named the NHL’s Offensive Player of the Week.

More importantly, the Predators won six of their first nine and earned points in 17 of the 24 games (11 victories) that followed the deal with Chicago, which cost Nashville a pair of second round draft picks. That finish was enough for them to end up eighth in the Western Conference standings and to earn their first playoff berth.

The hope is that Fisher, acquired from Ottawa for this year’s first-round draft choice and a conditional 2012 pick, has a similar impact over the final 27 games of this season and helps the franchise accomplish something it never has, which is to win at least one round of the postseason.

“When a guy is a really good fit, [the players] are excited,” coach Barry Trotz said. “They’re excited about adding anybody, but when you know and they feel it’s the right fit, guys are excited and they’re happy.

“[Sullivan] came in and had the initial impact, but sometimes some of the deals you make … don’t work out.”

Peter Forsberg (acquired Feb. 15, 2007, from Philadelphia for Scottie Upshall, Ryan Parent and first- and third-round draft picks) was the most high-profile late-season addition in franchise history, but he did not have the desired impact.

Forsberg had 15 points (two goals, 13 assists) in 17 games but also missed eight contests due to injury. He added two goals and four assists in first-round playoff loss to San Jose.

“We gave up a lot to get him … but I have never regretted trading for Peter Forsberg,” General Manager David Poile said. “That had to be one of the most exciting times in the history of our franchise.”

Conversely, a year later the acquisition of Jan Hlavac (acquired Feb. 26, 2008, from Tampa Bay for a seventh-round draft pick) barely made a ripple around the league or within the organization when it happened.

Hlavac had almost as many assists (10) in 18 games with Nashville as he did in 62 games for the Lightning (13). The Predators won half of their remaining games and qualified for the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

“What a great pickup he was,” Trotz said. “He played great for us. We didn’t know much about Jan Hlavac coming in here, but he fit in seamlessly.”

Fisher’s first impression was a decidedly positive one. He had one assist, won 12 of 16 faceoffs and contributed in all situations during Saturday’s 5-3 victory over Colorado.

Those were exactly the things the Predators looked for when they acquired him.

“Sometimes you try to do something and correct an area, and it changes the personality of your team,” Trotz said. “So you try to find people who will fit in and be the right type of people on and off the ice for you.

“… What I saw in just one game is that’s the type of player I remember. I’ve been a Mike Fisher fan, if you will, as a coach and I’m pretty familiar with his game.”

Seven years ago, Sullivan was added to provide a boost to the offense. Fueled by his fast start, he finished with 30 points (nine goals, 21 assists), which in just 24 games made him the team’s ninth-leading scorer.

“They had brought me in to be an offensive player and to help score some goals, so you feel a little bit of pressure to try to fulfill the expectations,” Sullivan said. “I think that the guys knew what to expect of my game. What I did in those first [three games], it was uncommon. I hadn’t really done stretches of games like that. They knew I was playing a little bit over my head, but it was great.

“I really don’t know why it happened. It was almost like the perfect storm.”

Briefly


• Marcel Goc and Marek Svatos both practiced with the team Monday.

Trotz said Goc would play against San Jose and that Svatos had a chance to be in the lineup as well. Goc sat out Saturday after getting hurt in the previous game at Detroit. Svatos has not played since Jan. 13 and had minor knee surgery a little more than a week after that.

“It doesn’t matter what time of the season it is, every time you get injured it’s bad for you,” Goc said. “So yeah, I’m kind of happy that I’m back.”

• The Predators will give away prizes, including the use of a suite, to their social media followers beginning next week.

Anyone who follows the team on Facebook or Twitter will receive updates on how to win when the giveaways commence.