The Predators asked Pekka Rinne to put them on his back in December and January, and he rose to the occasion. (PHOTO: USA Today Sports)

Nashville Predators 2011-12 Year In Review (In Review), Pt. 2

Nashville Predators 2011-12 Year In Review (In Review), Part 2: December and January

Yesterday I kicked off my Year In Review (In Review) with a look at the bumpy road the Nashville Predators took in the first two months of the 2011-12 season. In a lot of years past, finishing the first two months at 11-9-4 wouldn’t have a huge disappointment for Preds fans. But coming off the successes of 2010-11, more was expected of the team than the up-and-down cycling of October and November. As December approached, it was time for the team to shift into gear or be left behind in a highly competitive Central Division.

DECEMBER (9-5-0)

After skidding to the end of November, the Preds had a dramatic game in Vancouver. After taking a 3-1 lead, Pekka Rinne was pulled from net after giving up 4 goals to go down 5-3. Backup Anders Lindback, who had seen limited action so far in the season, made 19 saves as Nashville came back for a 6-5 win:

Lindback started when the team returned home to a sold-out Bridgestone Arena two days later, but Buffalo got the best of him, 3-2. Another loss to Phoenix three nights later – another 3-2 game – brought the Preds’ home record down to 4-5-3, far from the standard Nashville fans have come to expect over the years.

On the road for the next game, the team trailed 3-1 in Columbus with 1:36 in the third period. But goals by Patric Hornqvist and Sergei Kostitsyn took the game to overtime, where Colin Wilson secured the win. After that the Preds returned to Nashville for a four-game homestand. And they won all four games.

Roman Josi, called up from Milwaukee at the end of November, scored his first career NHL goal in a 4-3 win against Anaheim. Colin Wilson’s power play goal in the 3rd period gave Nashville a 2-1 victory over Calgary, its first home win against the Flames since January 2008. Shea Weber bagged two goals in the third period, including one on the power play, for a 4-3 win against Detroit. Then Pekka Rinne returned to form for a 2-1 shootout victory over St. Louis.

Just over halfway through the month, the team was first in the league in power play percentage and beginning to erase memories of the season’s dismal start. And Anders Lindback, after sitting out all of October, was beginning to see some starts in relief of Pekka Rinne, including a 4-1 loss in Washington. Then came one of the craziest games in recent Predators history, as the team rallied from a 5-1 deficit to beat Columbus 6-5:

The comeback effort seemed to take something out of the team as it lost its next two outings, 6-3 in Dallas and 4-1 at home against Detroit (David Legwand’s 800th career NHL game). The Detroit game also saw captain Shea Weber leave with an upper-body injury that was later revealed to be a minor concussion. But with two shootout wins on Rinne’s shoulders to close out the month – 2-1 over Minnesota at home and 2-1 in St. Louis – the Preds brought their season record up to 20-14-4. In all the team produced 7 sellout games in December – more than it had during some entire seasons as recently as 2009-10.

Sergei began to shoot in January – and he quickly picked up his first career hat trick. (PHOTO: Rob Grabowski, USA Today Sports)

JANUARY (11-2-0)

The Preds had looked great in fits throughout December, but at times they’d also looked undisciplined. Turnover on the roster due to injuries was partially to blame as players were summoned from Milwaukee to fill in and adapted to life at NHL speed. But thanks to Pekka Rinne finding his form and goal contributions from up and down the roster, in January the team put on a show for the entire league to see.

The month started on a strong note with a 5-3 win over Calgary, powered by Sergei Kostitsyn’s first career NHL hat trick in front of another sellout crowd at home. Another loss to Dallas, 4-1, kept the Preds from extending their winning streak. The lone highlight was Gabriel Bourque scoring in his first career NHL game.

Then came the season’s turning point, a five-game winning streak. Patric Hornqvist scored twice and Ryan Ellis earned his first career NHL goal as Nashville beat Carolina, 5-2. Both players scored again in a 4-1 win at Colorado, and David Legwand notched two (including the game-winner) in a 3-2 overtime win in the second half of a home-and-home with the Avalanche.

After winning 4-2 at home against Philadelphia and 3-1 on the road against the New York Islanders, Nashville’s record stood at 26-15-4. the Predators were still sitting in 4th place in the Central Division thanks to strong performances by St. Louis, Detroit, and Chicago. Still, the team was in great spirits – so much that even a nationally televised 3-0 loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden couldn’t dampen the mood in the locker room.

Pekka and the Preds handed Chicago two losses in January, the beginning of a nine-game losing streak for the Hawks. (PHOTO: Rob Grabowski, USA Today Sports)

The next four games were against Central Division opponents, and Nashville won them all. A 3-0 shutout of Columbus came thanks to 38 saves by Rinne and a goal and assist by Martin Erat. Playing at home two nights later, the team took advantage of a tired Chicago squad and won 5-2 on goals from five different players. A 4-1 blowout of Columbus sealed the season series with the Blue Jackets at 5-0-1, and extended Nashville’s record against their division rivals to 31-5-3 since 2006-07. Another win against the Blackhawks – this time 3-1 in Chicago, on another strong performance by Rinne and goals from Craig Smith and Mike Fisher – finally moved the Preds ahead of them in the division standings and sent Chicago into a tailspin that would last for three weeks.

The team looked like it would close the month on a down note after going down 4-1 in Minnesota on January 31st. But the Preds gave Pekka his 10th straight win by scoring three goals in the last 3:41 of regulation – including two from Mike Fisher – to tie the game before winning 5-4 in overtime:

Yet another stunning comeback win had given Nashville its 13th win in 15 games heading to the All-Star Game. The league recognized Pekka Rinne’s stellar month by awarding him its Third Star of the Month. The Nashville Predators’ 2011-12 record now stood at 31-16-4 (16-7-3 at home), and the team was within striking distance of St. Louis and Detroit. Firing on all cylinders, the Predators were poised to make a run for the playoffs – and in that regard, General Manager David Poile would prove to have a few tricks up his sleeve come February.

Read Part 1, Part 3, and Part 4 of the Nashville Predators 2011-12 Year In Review (In Review).

Tags: Nashville Predators Pekka Rinne Sergei Kostitsyn