Phil Housley knows Nashville is ready for a good time. At the very least, the Buffalo Sabres are in for a memorable experience.
The merging of a great team, enthusiastic fans and a party atmosphere has made Nashville's arena one of the places to be in the NHL. That's especially true on weekends, as Buffalo will learn when it visits the Predators on Saturday night.
"It's entertainment at its best," Housley said Friday. "It's really an experience for the fans, and it'll be a great experience for our players."
The Sabres' coach spent the previous four seasons as an assistant in Nashville. He saw Music City hit high notes last spring during a run to the Stanley Cup finals.
This will be Housley's first visit since leaving in June. It will be a lot more raucous than the Predators' 4-0 win in Buffalo on March 19.
"It will be a lot different," Housley said in KeyBank Center. "Saturday night in Nashville – any night, but mostly Saturday night – it's really a tough place to play, and the crowd will be roaring.
"It's one of the most entertaining places."
The Predators lead the NHL with 111 points from a 50-16-11 record. They are 27-8-4 at home, outscoring opponents, 135-98. Buffalo has just 179 goals total.
"It's going to be a good test for us," said goaltender Chad Johnson, who will start against the Predators. "If we all can collectively do our part and help each other out, we can win hockey games. I'm confident in the group when we play the right way. I don't think anyone's confident with the group when we're not playing the right way.
"It's a good challenge to really push ourselves and gain confidence for next year against a team like that. I'm looking forward to it."
For the first time since late January, center Ryan O'Reilly has gone three straight games without cracking the 20-minute mark. He's ninth among NHL forwards with an average of 20:45 per game.
The ice-time deduction began last Saturday during a 5-1 loss to the New York Rangers. Housley said the 15:53 showing was a result of the game getting out of hand.
O'Reilly's ice time of 14:54 on Monday in Toronto was punitive.
"I just didn't think his game was up to par," Housley said. "He's been a very consistent player for us throughout the year. In that particular game, I just didn't feel he had it."
O'Reilly had one goal and was minus-2 while skating 19:40 against Detroit on Thursday.
"He was back playing," Housley said, "and we'll be looking forward to a good effort."
Housley trotted out three new forward lines at practice. Casey Mittelstadt centered for left wing Evan Rodrigues and right wing Kyle Okposo. O'Reilly was in the middle of Scott Wilson and Sam Reinhart. Johan Larsson skated between Benoit Pouliot and Nick Baptiste. Jordan Nolan and Kyle Criscuolo served as the extras.
Only the trio of Jack Eichel centering for Zemgus Girgensons and Jason Pominville remained the same. Housley has liked Pominville's play.
"He's attacking the game," Housley said of the right winger, who had a slump of one goal in 34 games through the middle of the season. "When you go through those long droughts, you put a lot of pressure on yourself, then you start squeezing your sticks, then you stop moving your feet. I think he's back to moving his feet.
"He's getting on the forecheck. He's getting some good looks. Just hopefully one of those will drop soon just to get more of his confidence, but I think Jack and him have had some good chemistry throughout this year."