Not a “bad” week to be wearing the gold, wouldn’t you say? The Kings loss felt bad; it’s not everyday that Rinne gets yanked after allowing five goals, but one good and one VERY good showing later that one loss doesn’t hurt so bad. In a week fueled by questions of “intensity” and “desperation”, and rumors of a very Russian looking Russian forward, last night’s win over that team up north is a fitting end to a crazy week.
The playoffs are all but a lock, and the division is still within reach with some help. Looking forward, there’s a confidence growing in the fanbase for a reason that Coach Trotz shouldn’t be happy about: they’re winning without playing great.
vs. Los Angeles Kings
The good news: Nashville can score. Putting 4 past Jonathan Quick is darn impressive these days. The bad news: Pekka Rinne can play too aggressive, and be put out of position at times. When the big fella is on, he’s darn near unbeatable. Rinne may not be as technically sound as a Quick or a Henrik Lundqvist, but his physique and motor are among the best in the league. Tuesday though, he was exploited for being a bit too aggressive playing the puck, and another goal by being in the wrong spot. Those games happen, but not too often.
vs. Colorado Avalanche
For the second straight game, the Preds gave up a soft early goal. Amid talk of “not enough urgency” from Trotz, both Craig Smith and Colin Wilson were scratched for the grittier Brandon Yip and Matt Halischuk. The result was a furious wave of attack to tie the game, and Roman Josi atoning for his mistake allowing the first Avalanche goal by firing one towards the net where Yip was waiting. Whether or not it was Yip or Josi’s goal doesn’t matter so much, good play by both. From there on out was a decent game played on most fronts. The third period got a little scary before the empty netter. But the job was completed. We’ll take a 4-2 win any day of the week.
vs. Detroit Red Wings
Detroit came limping in, with so many scratches they couldn’t all fit on the “megatron” at Bridgestone Arena. No Pavel Datsyuk, Jimmy Howard, Niklas Listrom, etc. Plus, they played a tough game against those Kings the night before, winning 4-3. Again, this wasn’t a complete game from the Preds. The power play was rocking, going 2 for 4, and the penalty kill pitched a shutout thanks in large part to the work of Hal Gill. Aside from the two breakaways (one converted with Legwand and Hornqvist, another “interesting attempt” by Matt Halischuk), the 5 on 5 didn’t look all that exciting. Plus, the two calls on Boullion and Weber weren’t anything resembling a smart penalty. If Trotz didn’t trust Boullion like he does, Jack Hillen would’ve taken his job outright. Oh well.
The key thing from all three of these games- none of them were overly great games by the Preds. Rinne and his “A-game” would’ve beaten L.A., he get’s a pass because he’s Rinne, but that’s the truth. His defense around him was OK, but not terrible. The Colorado game was solid, but still had it’s lapses. Detroit owned the third period, and outshot Nashville nearly 2 to 1. But the take away- 11 goals scored in 3 games. In today’s NHL, you either need to have a few aces in your top six that own the night and put up 30+ goals annually, or have good depth and excel at special teams.
Another thing that’s worth mentioning- there’s no way that Nashville beats Detroit without Paul Gaustad winning key faceoffs at the end, Andrei Kostitsyn and his brother netting those power play markers, and Hal Gill being exactly what he was brought here to be. Gill is frustrating teams by blocking and tipping shots, checking and grinding, and playing smart defense. Tomas Holmstrom had one helluva time trying to work against Gill.
Beating good and desperate teams without playing your best game? That does feel good. Critiquing feels much better than overhauling.
The division is still within reach, depending on the Blues and their very interesting road trip out to the after paying a visit to Columbus later today, Chicago, then a trip to West Coast, and the Predators as they follow suit on their shorter trip out there. Detroit also visits California this week, facing another back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday. Expect the Central hierarchy to encounter some desperate teams in the Pacific time zone.
The key to the Central race not only runs through the Pacific Division, but through Chicago. The Blackhawks face an absolutely murderous schedule ahead of them, but for the next two weeks most of their contests are at home. The Blues travel to Chicago twice in March, and with Jonathan Toews on his way back… it may not be a bad idea to secretly cheer for those guys in the Windy City.
With 8 of the next 10 on the road, all against teams still jockeying for playoff positions, the only thing the men in gold can do is worry about winning games, and staying healthy. Buckle up, it’s about to get interesting.
…and did I mention anything about Alexander Radulov coming back? Stay tuned.