The 2010/2011 schedule is out and fans throughout the league are dissecting every nuance. Who travels the most and which team has the most back-to-back games? When are (insert team) coming to town? Dirk Hoag’s “Super Schedule”, at On the Forecheck, has an amazing breakdown of every team’s schedule.
For the Nashville Predators, it is a safe bet that any game against Detroit or Chicago will result in a war on the ice. However, not all games are equal and not all rivalries carry the same weight. Throughout the season, emotions run high, and teams not considered a rivalry become a rival due to the actions on the ice. Think Dallas Stars and Mike Modano/Jordin Tootoo.
Today we look at 10 games that will inspire Pred Nation. Some of the games are our natural rivalry games (Columbus, Detroit, and Chicago). Others are emotional games for returning players Florida (Volkoun), Vancouver (Hamhuis). There is even a mystery game for readers to debate.
1) Anaheim Ducks – October 9th – Opening Night
The first home game of the season is always an emotional game for hockey fans. It represents the return of normalcy in the world. Hockey is back and all of the other sporting events take a back seat. Every team has the same record and has a chance at the playoffs. Fans have their first opportunity to see the new faces on the team, worry about the impact of the players who left, and wonder…Will this be the year? For the Nashville Predators, Sergei Kostitsyn and Matthew Lombardi have their first opportunity to display their offensive skills. What better way to start the year off than a game against the Ducks, a team that never has a problem dropping the gloves.
2) Washington Capitals – October 16th – Ovechkin
This is the same as Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, or Mario Lemieux coming to town. Anytime the best player in the game is in town, the opportunity to witness history is always a possibility. Alexander Ovechkin is more than a prolific goal scorer. He is the most dynamic, skilled, and recognizable player in the world. He has moves that other players dreamt about when they were 5 years old. Ovechkin also brings with him a physical game that occasionally crosses the line (think Brian Campbell). This game also represents the first true test of the season against a top caliber team. Pred Nation will have an early understanding of how the 2010/2011 Predators rank against the elite competition in the league after this game.
3) Chicago Blackhawks – November 13th – Stanley Cup Champions 1st Visit
This game has it all. Chicago brings in superstars like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, and Duncan Keith. They are a division rival that just happens to be the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. Hockey players have long memories. Rest assured Nashville remembers the playoff series that slipped away. Yes, Chicago won the Stanley Cup; however, Nashville knows they let the series slip away by allowing Chicago to tie the game with 13 seconds left in game #5. While it is impossible to predict what would have happened if Nashville had won that game, it doesn’t take the sting away from those players returning in 2010.
4) Florida Panthers – December 11th – Vokoun Returns
The Florida Panthers haven’t fielded a competitive team in a number of years; however, the return of Tomas Vokoun always stirs emotion throughout Pred Nation. Vokoun was the heart and soul of the Nashville Predators as they gained prominence before the lockout. His outstanding play between the pipes, combined with his impact in the locker room and the community explain why he is still one of the most popular players ever to wear a Predators Jersey. While Pred Nation will root against him, they will always remember his contributions to the organization and the professionalism with which he played. A class act in every way!
5) San Jose Sharks – December 15th – Sharks 1st Visit
For the Nashville Predators, there is probably no team in the NHL more disliked than the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks have a way of ripping the heart out of Pred Nation. While not a division rival, the sharks represent everything Nashville is not. San Jose spends near the salary cap, brings in superstar free agents, and surrounds their superstars with goons who drop the gloves at every chance. The only bright spot is that San Jose has had almost as much playoff futility as the Nashville Predators. After losing to the Sharks in the playoffs in 2006 and 2007, the emotional dislike continues.
6) Columbus Blue Jackets – January 2nd – Jackets 1st Visit
Every team needs a whipping post. You know. The teams that you beat up on every chance you get. For the Nashville Predators, no other team has suffered at the hands of a Barry Trotz coached team like Columbus. Nashville has a 40-16-1 record against the Blue Jackets over the last 12 years and has not lost a home game in the last 14 games(4/3/2006). With such a history of futility, it is only natural that Columbus has resorted to dropping the gloves a few times in the hopes of gaining a moral victory. Unfortunately, they have rarely succeeded in that arena either as Jordin Tootoo has more than dominated the fights.
7) Detroit Red Wings – February 5th – The Dreaded Wings + Mike Modano
Ever since the departure of Chris Chelios, the Nashville v. Detroit rivalry has missed something. The games remained exciting, but there wasn’t that one player Pred Nation loved to hate. Well, 2010 changes that. With the signing of Mike Modano by the Red Wings, the fun and games will return. Modano, you remember, had a little tiff with Jordin Tootoo that resulted in a Stephane Robidas pummeling. Ever since that game, Dallas moved up on the list of teams Pred Nation circled on their calendar. With Modano now with Detroit, the boys up in the Cell Block will surely give him a warm welcome.
8 ) Vancouver Canucks – February 17th – Target on Hamhuis
If there was one game this season I wouldn’t miss for all the money in the world, it is the return of Dan Hamhuis. Forget about the past rivalries, fights, and cheap shots that Vancouver is famous for initiating. This game is all about Dan Hamhuis. Drafted by Nashville, developed by Nashville, and given an opportunity to play the game he loves by Nashville. Hamhuis, who was an integral part of the organization for the last 6 years, and part of the reason Nashville failed to achieve success in the post season, developed amnesia upon signing a free agent contract with Vancouver and suddenly felt compelled to bash Nashville. While his comments were subtle, they were a slap in the face to Predator fans who had supported him. Whether Hamhuis’ words were taken out of context is not the issue. That he was outspoken about his feelings is. When compared to how former players, like Tomas Vokoun and Dan Ellis, talked of the organization, you realize the line that Hamhuis crossed. Will Jordin Tootoo or Shea Weber take offense to Hamhuis’ words and ‘welcome him back to Nashville?” Most likely not, however, a fight or two is not out of the ordinary between the two teams. Moreover, Vancouver represents one of the most talented teams in the league and 2 points against a top conference opponent ensures an exciting game.
9) Columbus Blue Jackets – April 8th – Last Game of Season
The red headed stepchild returns. Much like the first game of the season, the last game represents both excitement and misery. The Stanley Cup playoffs are just around the corner and the most exciting time in sports is about to begin. If you are lucky enough to be one of the 16 teams heading into the post season, the ups and down of the 82 game season suddenly disappear. A new season is about to begin. For the remainder of the league, fans are left wondering what could have been. The last game of the season in Nashville is emotional either way. It usually represents a critical game that impacts making the playoffs, or more recently, which seed the team receives. Pred Nation is accustomed to the annual “shirts off our backs” tribute from the team as a gesture of appreciation to their fans. It also represents the last time fan favorites may play in a Predators uniform due to impeding free agency or retirement.
10) TBD – What exactly is the “To Be Determined” game?
It is that one game of the season the becomes a must see game based on the results of previous games. Maybe it results from a cheap shot or boarding penalty earlier in the season. Maybe it results in a teammate’s injury. Or is it the game down the stretch that influences the playoffs? In reality, it is every game because in hockey, every game matters.
About the Author
Written by Mark Jasper