Nino Niederreiter fires Nashville Predators by Sharks in Prague
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC — The Nashville Predators were undefeated as they ventured to Europe to start their season.
They will come back the same way.
Two goals from Nino Niederreiter propelled his new team to a 3-2 victory Saturday at the O2 Arena, capping a two-game season-opening sweep over the San Jose Sharks in the NHL World Series.
It was not easy in the second game. The Predators, who weren’t trailing on Friday, trailed by one goal in each of the first two periods on Saturday. Still, they ended up picking up a win in a game in which the Sharks had a 33-18 shots lead, taking control with three scores in the second period. Two of them belonged to Niederreiter – and the other to Filip Forsberg, his first of the season.
Backup goaltender Kevin Lankinen earned his first regular-season win for the Predators, making 31 saves and holding on after the Sharks retired their goaltender with 2:28 left for a feverish late attempt to force overtime.
Nino’s Quick Start
Niederreiter’s signing as a free agent by the Predators last offseason couldn’t have looked better after the first two games. Niederreiter was the team’s best forward in Prague, scoring three times and playing on a productive second line, RyNo (credit Predators team site author Emma Lingan for this nickname).
For his first goal in Game 2, Niederreiter grabbed a rebound after a fine set-up from Ryan Johansen (Roman Josi also got an assist). The third forward on the line, Kiefer Sherwood, had two points on Friday to become the first star of Game 1.
On the second day in a row, each team named a replacement goaltender: Lankinen for the Predators and Kaapo Kahkonen for the Sharks.
An offseason signing, Lankinen beat Connor Ingram – who made the trip to Europe but was pulled for both games – for the backup keeper spot in the preseason.
“Lankinen had a really good camp,” Predators coach John Hynes said before Saturday’s game. “He came and played well. … It’s important for us to give him a game. We think he deserved it.
In addition to the goalie change, the Predators placed defenseman Jeremy Lauzon for Game 2 in place of Mark Borowiecki. Otherwise, they made no further changes to the roster for Game 1.
More for Tanner Jeannot
After playing well on the power play in the final exhibition in Nashville, Tanner Jeannot was part of the Predators’ second power-play unit in every game in Prague. It’s an interesting opportunity for a young player who has continued to develop his attacking game – and perhaps his role as well.
Jeannot was joined on the second unit by Niederreiter, Eeli Tolvanen, Cody Glass and Alexandre Carrier. The first unit in Prague continued to be occupied by Forsberg, Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund, Johansen and Josi.
Luke Kunin says hello
The Sharks’ first goal was scored by former Predators player Luke Kunin, who was traded last offseason to San Jose.
Kunin scored 23 goals over the past two seasons for the Predators after being traded to Nashville from Minnesota.
“Home” and “away” matches
Each of the NHL teams was compensated for missing a regular season home game following that series in Prague. The Predators were technically the home team for Friday’s game before wearing their white road jerseys for the rematch.
What came with that accolade was the audio-visual element – for example, they played the ominous “Fang Fingers” music from Bridgestone Arena when the Predators went on the power play on Friday, then the “Jaws” theme when the Sharks l did on Saturday. Tim McGraw still played after goals both nights.
Host the Preds
It’s been an exciting week for Martin Bakula, a former pro player from the Czech Republic who is now the Predators’ scout in his home country. Bakula resides in Prague and was able to host his organization again for these NHL Global Series games.
“It’s very special,” Bakula said ahead of Saturday’s game. “I still can’t believe this is happening.”
The backup goaltender for the Predators last season, David Rittich, hails from the Czech Republic. The current squad doesn’t have a Czech player on the list.
Meanwhile, the Sharks have two Czech players, including Prague native Tomas Hertl. It means the local support at the O2 Arena has been with the Sharks, which Bakula thought was coming. He said Predators assistant general manager Brian Poile asked him before games what he expected from the crowd.
“I said it would be 30-40 for us and 60-70 for San Jose, just because of Hertl,” Bakula said. “He’s the local guy. A very nice guy, an excellent guy. Everyone loves him. It was good for him to play here. But I was very happy to see our fans wearing the gold jerseys. You can’t miss them in the stands. I think they did a really good job being loud.
this and that
Former Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne made the trip with the team to Europe, although he remained largely on the sidelines while attending games. He had an unplanned appearance on the big screen during the Anthems in Bern. Rinne officially joined the Preds this preseason as a “special alumni advisor” and was occasionally on the ice in Nashville during training camp practices. … The on-ice reviews for those games weren’t great, perhaps because the O2 Arena ended up being terribly hot both nights. It wasn’t the usual cool temperature you would normally find in a hockey arena. In addition, the net on the right side of the ice was easily dislodged in both games. … The Predators will spend one more night together in Europe before an early morning flight from Prague to Nashville. They are scheduled for a return Sunday in the middle of the afternoon.
Contact Tennessean sports columnist Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.