Gabriel Bourque, Jordin Tootoo, Paul Gaustad

Predators win big one in home ice chase against Red Wings


If the playoffs began right at this moment, the Nashville Predators would hold a crucial home-ice advantage over the Detroit Red Wings in an intriguing playoff match. Both teams still have four games to go, but Nashville made something of a statement in beating them 4-1 in Detroit.

The biggest span came in the second period when the Predators took a 2-0 lead despite an 18-7 shot disadvantage. Pekka Rinne (31 out of 32 saves) was the biggest star of that period and the game, yet one could say that Alexander Radulov’s goal ranks as the most ominous sign for a Red Wings team that isn’t very happy to see him back in the NHL.

Naturally, a one-point lead isn’t perfectly safe for the Predators, even if the Red Wings have been struggling lately. Fortunes can turn on a dime during the stretch run, as just about every part of the NHL’s playoff race has shown us.

Let’s take a look at the two teams’ final four games, then:

Predators’ remaining schedule

Saturday: vs. Chicago
April 3: vs. Minnesota
April 5: vs. Dallas
April 7: at Colorado

Red Wings’ remaining schedule

Sunday: vs. Florida
April 4: at St. Louis
April 5: vs. New Jersey
April 7: vs. Chicago

The Florida Panthers already revealed that a team’s “on paper” schedule only matters so much, but it would appear that Nashville faces a slightly easier road to the fourth seed. All four of Detroit’s opponents are likely to be in the playoffs and while the Devils might not have much to play for, the Panthers will be desperate and the two Central opponents would likely love to hand it to the team that has beguiled the entire division for its entire existence. Back-to-back games can’t help an older Red Wings team’s cause, either.

That’s not to say that it’s a cakewalk for the Predators, though. Both teams enjoy three of their last four contests at home, which likely is a bigger factor for the more home-dependent Red Wings. As much as those Central teams would like to “stick it” to Detroit, the Stars and Avalanche are likely to be desperate at the end of this season (unless Colorado ends up getting booted altogether).

A banner night for Predators franchise

It’s quite the way for Nashville head coach Barry Trotz to get his 500th career win – all with the Predators. The Associated Press frames what this win means for Trotz and Nashville’s distinguished GM David Poile.

Trotz is the fifth coach to win 500 games with one franchise, joining the New York Islanders’ Al Arbour, Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, Chicago’s Billy Reay and Montreal’s Toe Blake.

Predators general manager David Poile, whose savvy drafting has helped the smaller-market franchise consistently win, is the first NHL general manager to win 500 games with two teams. He helped the Washington Capitals win 594 games from 1982-97 before getting the Predators ready for the 1998-99 season, their debut in the league.

It’s the kind of franchise-building that should create a blueprint for future(?) expansion teams and makes for a worrisome opponent for the mighty Red Wings.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and, subsequently, the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado