Last season, the Predators dominated the eight-game series with the Blackhawks six games to two. No one in the Nashville locker room expects this season's Chicago club to roll over quite so easily.
Tonight's visitors have been bolstered by solid additions like Martin Havlat, Michael Handzus and Bryan Smolinski, and its young core will likely not look as inexperienced after a year of seasoning. Goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, who missed a number of games last season with injuries, returns healthy and always commands respect between the pipes.
The Predators have made some changes of their own since the conclusion of the 2005-06 campaign. Forwards Jason Arnott, Josef Vasicek and J.P. Dumont are each expected to make their Predators debut tonight. Arnott and Vasicek bring considerable size to the center position for Nashville and should create space for skilled wingers like Paul Kariya, Steve Sullivan, Martin Erat and Dumont. Team speed should once again be a strength for Nashville, a club that promises to have one of the most potent power plays in the league.
A variety of activities will accompany tonight's game, including the return of original Predators captain Tom Fitzgerald for the ceremonial drop of the first puck. All fans in attendance will receive a long-sleeved Predators t-shirt, courtesy of First Tennessee and FSN South.
The Gaylord Entertainment Center will be abuzz with festivities on the plaza from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m., with inflatable games, the interactive CMT Cross Country Experience and appearances by GNASH and the Nashville Predators Dancers. There will also be live music from The Lost Trailers.
Following the game, a selection of fans drawn at random will be invited to the ice to win the Predators game-worn jerseys, right off the players’ backs. (To register for the shirts-off-their-backs promotion, fans will need to fill out and turn in the entry form located inside their Predators Press game program.) One lucky fan will also win a trip to Chicago to watch the Predators take on the Blackhawks on January 5 at the United Center--airfare, hotel and game tickets included.