The Nashville Predators came out of the Olympic break with a new defenseman and two Olympic medalists. All three were factors in the team’s first game in more than two weeks, though ultimately visiting Edmonton played the biggest role.
The Oilers’ Jason Strudwick knocked in the game-winning goal off his skate early in the third period, which was enough to lift the Predators to a 4-3 victory in front of 15,682 at the Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday night.
After Edmonton’s Marc Pouliot had scorched a shot past winning goalie Pekka Rinne to tie the game at 3-3 with 17:06 remaining, the Predators had the puck bounce their way. Just five minutes into the final period, Nashville captain Jason Arnott was credited with his 15th goal of the season goal as a centering pass from behind the Oilers’ net snuck in off Strudwick’s skate, slipping past by goalie Jeff Deslauriers.
“It has been tough and it hasn’t been going in the way that we’ve wanted it to,” Arnott said, not letting an Olympic break dig up memories of an early February scoring drought. “But we’ll take the two points.”
Newest Preds defenseman Denis Grebeshkov stole the show and was awarded the first star of the game in his Nashville debut.
Grebeshkov, who was traded from Edmonton on Monday night for a second-round draft pick in the upcoming draft in June, made a quick impression of coach Barry Trotz and his new teammates by getting a goal — his seventh of the season, which tied a career-high — and an assist in the first period.
“I couldn’t have wished for a better start,” said Grebeshkov, who represented Team Russia in the Olympics. “I thought it was going to be weird (playing against his former team) but at the same time it turns out not at all. That felt like a practice out there because you are always practicing against those guys.”
After Edmonton jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a Mike Comrie goal less than seven minutes into the game, Nashville and Grebeshkov responded.
First, Grebeshkov assisted Colin Wilson, who scored on a slapshot with 7:46 to go in the period. Then Grebeshkov netted his first goal as a Predator just two minutes later when after receiving a pass from David Legwand, he waited for a window to open up and fired a shot through traffic and past Deslauriers.
“He was instrumental in the first two goals,” Trotz said of Grebeshkov. “He was really good.”
After the Oilers tied the contest a little more than midway through the second period the Predators’ two Olympic medalists hooked up during a power play to regain the lead.
Canadian gold medalist and Olympic All-Star Shea Weber took a pass from American Ryan Suter just underneath the blue line and slapped it past Deslauriers with 4:48 left in the second period. After competing in the gold-medal game Sunday in Vancouver, both players didn’t get into Nashville until late Monday night and missed the morning skate session Tuesday.
“It was a rough day and night but it worked out all right for us,” said Suter. “(The Olympics) was a great time — the greatest two weeks of my life.”
Rinne closed the game out by saving 11 shots in the third period and 22 for the night as the Predators picked up their third win in four games and now have 73 points, which keeps them in seventh place in the Western Conference standings.
• The Grebeshkov trade is not being taken well in Edmonton as fans have been firing criticisms toward the Oilers front office since it was announced.
Grebeshkov had six goals and 13 assists but a plus-minus of 16 before the trade. And he was coming off a solid season — he had career-highs in goals (7) and points (39) last season.
You can read more about the Oilers fans displeasure here.
• The Predators finished the season series against the Oilers winning three of four. In fact, Nashville is 14-2-0 against Edmonton dating back to the beginning of the 2006-07 season.
On their home ice, the Predators have won eight of nine against the Oilers since Nov. 8, 2005. The lone loss during that stretch came earlier this season. Edmonton won 6-1 on Oct. 12, scoring four goals in the first period.
• The Predators played their first game at recently renamed Bridgestone Arena, formerly the Sommet Center. The Nashville-based Bridgestone Americas signed a five-year deal for the naming rights and more than a 1,000 employees of the company were on hand Tuesday night as the new arena logo was unveiled.