By Amanda DiPaolo
David Legwand returned to the lineup and Marek Svatos debuted in it as the Predators snapped their five-game losing skid against the Wild on Friday night, improving their record to 3-0 for games played on New Year’s Eve.
Pekka Rinne was in goal for Nashville making 22 saves on 23 shots, picking up his first win in six starts to improve to 9-10-4 on the season. Rinne’s former teammate in Finland, Niklas Backstrom was the losing goaltender for the Wild. Nashville had 34 shots on goal.
The Predators opened scoring at 4:23 into the first period on a delayed penalty call. Shane O’Brien passed the puck to Cody Franson at the blue line, where Franson’s wrister beat Backstrom. Nick Spaling provided a screen in front of the net.
Legwand picked up two assists in his first game back from injury. Playing on a newly formed line with Colin Wilson and the newest Predator Marek Svatos, Legwand and his teammates worked well together and generated some offensive spark missing in Nashville’s game as of late. Svatos played 9:59 minutes of ice time in his first game since leaving the KHL. Legwand played 15:50 in his first game back. Expect both of those total ice times to increase as each player returns to proper form.
With Nashville up 1-0, the Predators would be called for the first of four penalties. Nashville would not allow a power play goal.
Just over a minute after the Predators scored, Wilson was called for delay of game for putting the puck over the boards with 5:32 off the clock. At first no penalty was called but Wild captain Mikko Koivu convinced the referees that Wilson had earned a two minute break in the sin bin.
The Wild were unable to put any pucks past Rinne in the first but they were not without their chances. At the halfway point of the first, Predators defenseman, Kevin Klein, over skated the puck directly in front of Rinne, leaving Marty Havlat alone in the slot. Minnesota’s leading scorer, and habitual Predator killer, Havlat was stopped by Rinne’s left pad.
The Wild again almost tied the game with 5:14 left to play in the opening period. Pierre-Marc Bouchard had Rinne beat but was in turn beaten by the post.
The Predators had one power play opportunity in the game and it came with only 4:35 left to play in the first period. Brad Staubitz was called for hooking Patric Hornqvist. Nashville was unable to capitalize on the man advantage.
The second period’s highlights included three minor penalties taken by Nashville, as well as Hornqvist scoring his ninth goal of the season.
Marcel Goc was called for tripping Koivu with 15:39 left in the middle frame. Nashville’s penalty kill was strong and clearly benefited from the return of Legwand to the lineup, seeing 3:20 of short-handed ice time.
Hornqvist made it a 2-0 game when he deflected a Shea Weber snap shot from the point through Backstrom’s 5-hole with just under 10 minutes to go in the second period. JP Dumont and Cal O’Reilly worked the boards to keep the play in the Minnesota zone, getting Weber the puck.
Nashville picked up its third penalty of the game when Nick Spaling was called for delay of game for shooting the puck over the boards in the defensive zone with 4:50 left to play in the second period. The Wild had their fourth man advantage of the game in the third when Svatos picked up his first minor penalty as a Predator. He was sent to the box for hooking Chuck Kobasew. Again, Nashville’s penalty killers remained strong and proved why the Predators are one of the top ten teams on the penalty kill.
The third period saw a flurry of action in the last two minutes. Havlat maintained possession of the puck behind the Predators net all the way up to the blue line where he found room to shoot around Francis Bouillon. The puck bounced off a player in front and was tipped in by the Wild’s Kobasew with 1:54 left to play. The goal was Kobasew’s ninth of the year.
With the lead cut in half, the Wild sent Backstrom to the bench for the extra attacker with 1:29 left to play in hopes of finding the equalizer.
Joel Ward and Sergei Kostitsyn had empty net goals to seal the victory for Nashville. Ward’s goal was his fourth of the season. Kostitsyn potted his seventh of the campaign to start another points streak, currently at two games.
The Predators end 2010 by ending their five game losing skid and hope to start 2011 by beating division rival Columbus Blue Jackets. The Predators host Columbus Sunday at a special 5 pm start time at Bridgestone Arena.
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