There is no better way to prepare for a homecoming than with a pep rally.
Basically that’s what the Nashville Predators staged Friday with a 6-0 victory over Edmonton Oilers.
With goals from five different players and Pekka Rinne’s league-leading fourth shutout of the season, the Predators gave the 24th consecutive sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena plenty of reasons to cheer, not to mention to look forward to Saturday when Ryan Suter makes his return as a member of the Minnesota Wild.
“Obviously, a couple guys in here still talk to Sutes and he’s a little nervous coming back,” center David Legwand said. “But it’s something that he has to do. He chose to go to a different place. So he’s going to get to come in here [Saturday] and play.”
Suter, the team’s first-round pick in 2003 and second all-time in games played by a Nashville defenseman, has not been back since he stunned franchise officials last July with his decision to accept a free agent offer from the Wild.
The Predators had been gone since Feb. 25 and in the interim endured a disastrous three-game road trip through California that dropped them from the top eight in the Western Conference standings.
Quickly, though, they returned to their traditional style of aggressive forechecking, hard skating and the reliable goaltending of Rinne. They matched their season-high for goals scored with two in each period and outshot the Oilers by 10. Rinne broke a three-way tie for the NHL’s shutout lead with 24 saves, including one on a shorthanded breakaway when the score was still 0-0.
“There was some urgency in our game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “More than anything there was some joy. Right from the get-go they were determined.”
Also much like a pep rally, the contest was an opportunity for the franchise to introduce its new players to the faithful. Forwards Bobby Butler and Zach Boychuk and defenseman Victor Bartley each made their debuts for Nashville, which had lost five of its previous six and had been held to one goal or less in each of those defeats.
Colin Wilson was the de facto yell leader as he set a career-high with four points (two goals, two assists).
“I know I’m always excited when I’m playing with new players or get to see new players,” Wilson said. “I think everybody had that feeling of ‘Let’s kind of show them the atmosphere we want to have.
“They came in and our first practice was us getting ripped by a lot of people. So I’m sure it was a tough atmosphere for them. It was good to get this one and get a good feeling.”
Butler did not have a point but drew three penalties against the Oilers – a slash in the first, a trip in the second and a roughing in the third. Nashville converted two of the three into goals (the first and the last). It was the first time since Jan. 21 the power play scored more than once.
In his first NHL game Bartley was third among Predators defensemen in ice time with 19:15.
Boychuk had a game-high four shots and scored the fourth goal when he redirected a Shea Weber pass past Yann Danis, the second Oilers goalie.
“Coming to a new team and meeting some new faces you definitely want to show your stuff early,” Boychuk said. “The team played well [Friday] night and we’ll see if we can get another one [Saturday].”
In that one, though, the focus will shift from several new faces to one familiar one.
And chances are the crowd won’t stick to cheers. There’s likely to be plenty of boos as well.
“I think people will be interested to see Sutes come back,” Legwand said. “He left on his own terms and did what he wanted to do. We’ll see if they welcome him with open arms. Obviously he left [but] he did amazing things for the organization and the community.
“It will be different to see.”