The Nashville Predators activated James Neal off injured reserve Tuesday, in advance of their game against the Canucks at Bridgestone.
Neal, who missed the last five games with an upper-body ailment, looks as though he’ll return on a line with Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson, as opposed to a top-line role with Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro (Craig Smith, who sits third on the team with 12 goals, will play there instead.)
Regardless of where he plays, Neal is a welcome addition to the lineup — just ask his head coach, Peter Laviolette.
“It’s good to get him back on the ice,” Laviolette said, per The Tennessean. “He’s a heavy player that can provide a lot of offense, and when he is out of the lineup, you really miss a guy like that.”
Neal will look to rediscover the form he had prior to getting hurt; he had five points in his last six games, which included a two-goal outing against Chicago on Dec. 29.
The Nashville Predators have activated forwards Matt Cullen and Taylor Beck off injured reserve, and reassigned Miikka Salomaki to Milwaukee in the American Hockey League, the club announced Friday.
Cullen hasn’t played since Dec. 27 due to an upper-body injury and Beck has been out since Dec. 30 due to illness, according to The Tennessean. Their activation comes a day after James Neal and Eric Nystrom were put on injured reserve.
In 28 games with the Predators this season, Beck has four goals and eight points. The 38-year-old Cullen has four goals and nine points in 25 games.
Meanwhile, the Predators are one of the hottest teams in the National Hockey League, vaulting themselves into top spot in the league standings after an overtime win on Thursday and a record of 7-1-2 in their last 10 games.
Nashville’s forward depth is about to get its biggest test of the season.
On Thursday, the club placed wingers James Neal — who’s missed the last three games with a lower-body injury — and Eric Nystrom on injured reserve, recalling forward Miikka Salomaki from AHL Milwaukee to fill the void.
Neal, who sits second on the team in goals (13), hasn’t played since a 3-2 win over St. Louis on Dec. 30 — a game in which he scored twice. Nystrom, who has nine points in 39 games this year, played 12:50 in Tuesday’s win over Carolina and assisted on Roman Josi’s game-winner in the third period, so it’s unclear exactly what’s ailing him at the moment.
As for Salomaki, he was taken in the second round (52nd overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, but has yet to make his big league debut. The Finnish forward has 16 points in 26 games for Milwaukee this season, and finished fifth among AHL rookies in scoring last year with 50 points.
As mentioned above, the Neal/Nystrom injuries really thin out Nashville’s forward group. During the morning skate in advance of tonight’s tilt versus Dallas, Craig Smith took Neal’s spot on the top line next to Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro, while Salomaki skated on a wing with Calle Jarnkrok and Olli Jokinen.
Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher and Mark Arcobello also rushed together, as did Gabriel Bourque, Paul Gaustad and Viktor Stalberg.
Two more players have been fined $2,000 by the NHL for diving, and they are Detroit’s Gustav Nyquist and Florida’s Vincent Trocheck.
Nyquist and Trocheck join Nashville’s James Neal, who last month became the first player to receive supplemental discipline as part of the league’s crackdown on embellishment.
According to the NHL, Nyquist was first issued a warning following an embellishment “incident” in New Jersey on Nov. 28. His second citation, which earned him the fine, came Dec. 29 in Boston when Bruins forward Chris Kelly was called for tripping at 15:55 of the second period.
Trocheck earning his warning Dec. 12 in Detroit and his fine Jan. 4 in Washington when Capitals d-man Brooks Orpik was called for slashing at 11:04 of the third period.
Nashville Predators GM David Poile’s unusual longevity came into the spotlight on Dec. 16 when he oversaw his team’s 3-2 shootout victory over Boston. It was 1,171st win as a general manager, which gave him sole claim on second place on the NHL’s all-time list, behind only Rangers GM Glen Sather (1,278 wins).
“It’s one of those things later on when you’re retired and look back on your career, it’s going to be very meaningful because it’s guys like Glen Sather, Harry Sinden and Cliff Fletcher,” Poile told the Tennessean. “It’s a pretty nice accomplishment that certainly reflects longevity for sure, obviously with a lot of good coaches and a lot of good players.”
Poile, who served as the Washington Capitals general manager before coming to Nashville, has managed to turn the Predators into a team that’s able to compete on a budget. From 2003-04 through 2011-12, the Predators made the playoffs in seven out of eight campaigns, although they never advanced beyond the second round.
They also haven’t made the postseason since, which prompted Poile to fire long-time bench boss Barry Trotz and replace him with Peter Laviolette. Poile also attempted to address the team’s offensive shortcomings by bringing Mike Ribeiro, James Neal, and Derek Roy on board. Combined with the emergence of Calder Trophy frontrunner Filip Forsberg and Nashville has been respectable enough offensively to allow its superior defense and goaltending to win games. The Predators entered the break with a 22-9-2 record.