National Hockey League

Duchene, Predators aim to keep rolling vs. Red Wings

nhl2RED WINGS (0-0-0) AT PREDATORS (1-0-0)
8 p.m. ET; FS-TN, FS-D, NHL.TV

Matt Duchene’s first game with the Nashville Predators turned out better than anticipated, as he collected three assists in a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Thursday.

Duchene and the Predators will try to keep the good vibes going when they host the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

The high-scoring center joined the Predators this summer on a seven-year, $56 million contract. He notched a combined 31 goals and 39 assists while playing for Ottawa and Columbus last season.

“I had high expectations, I came in kind of trying to stay even-keeled, but it’s blown my expectations out of the water,” Duchene told the team’s website. “I haven’t even gotten to do a quarter of what I wanted to do around the city yet.

“But as a team, this is the exact team that I wanted to come and join. This decision to come here was hockey first all the way, and that was so much fun for me to go out and play with the team (Thursday).”

The Predators scored four goals in the third period to win their 10th home opener in 13 seasons. They’ll remain at home for the next three games.

“Even when we were down 2-1, I don’t think we ever thought we weren’t going to win the game,” Duchene said. “I thought from start to finish we were the better team. They had a good little push there in the second, a couple tough bounces off the ref’s skate, off my skate, but I thought we stuck with it.”

The Predators won the Central Division last season but a lack of overall scoring punch sealed their doom in the playoffs. They were bounced in the opening round by Dallas. Their goals on opening night came from five different scorers.

“There’s no denying that it’s always big, the first game of the season,” goalie Pekka Rinne told the team’s website. “Mentally, and just confidence-wise, it’s always a big game. You don’t want to go down 0-1 to start the season, and I thought that we handled it really well after being down 2-1 and finding our way back.”

The Red Wings didn’t make the playoffs last season but they defeated the Predators in both meetings, posting a 4-3 overtime win at home and a 3-2 victory in Nashville.

Detroit, which will be making its season debut, hasn’t played since its preseason finale a week ago. That’s given coach Jeff Blashill plenty of time to prepare his team for back-to-back games against Nashville and Dallas (on Sunday).

“This gives us four practices before we play for real,” Blashill said.

Blashill is banking on improved special teams to get the storied franchise back into the postseason. They were 19th on the power play (18.1 percent success rate) and 28th on the penalty kill (77.1) last season.

“I hope we can be top 10. I don’t think it takes that much to get into that top 10,” Blashill said of the power play. “The other part of it is the number of power-play goals is important, not just the percentage. To do that you have to draw more penalties.

“For us to increase scoring, we have to get ourselves into the top 10 on the power play, and ultimately to decrease scoring (by opponents) we have to get ourselves into the top half of the league in that penalty kill.”

— Field Level Media

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