Columbus 3, Nashville 2 (SO)
There’s some good news and some bad news tonight at Bridgestone Arena, where the Nashville Predators earned a point in the standings tonight but couldn’t get a win, falling 3-2 in a shootout to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
First the bad news
First piece of bad news: the lockout didn’t do anything to get rid of shootouts. And they still suck.
Nashville outshot Columbus, but a lot of those shots were coming from the outside without anybody set up to screen Sergei Bobrovsky, especially in the early part of the third period. Speaking of Bobrovsky, he looked pretty good after giving up a very early goal, stopping 32 of 34 shots and outdueling Rinne in the shootout. Last thing the Central Division needs is another good goaltender. Let’s hope he finds his inner Blue Jacket soon.
One thing that surprised me was Pekka Rinne. He wasn’t terrible by any means – he did stop
25 of 27 26 of 28 shots, and the first goal he gave up wasn’t his fault at all. But as the game went on he lacked the poise that I’ve become accustomed to seeing from him. For lack of a better word, he was floppy. He juggled quite a few pucks that normally would’ve been smooth saves, including one that slipped out the end of his glove and bounced forward toward the slot when there was a Blue Jackets player streaking in. He lost sight of the puck a few times and looked panicky. On Artem Anisimov’s goal in the second it looked like Pekka was moving forward to play the puck when Anisimov lifted the shot over his shoulder; even color commentator Terry Crisp seemed puzzled that he’d been beaten. And multiple times Peks looked slow sliding from one corner of the goal to the other to prevent wraparounds, including on a play where Martin Erat saved a sure Columbus goal:
Not vintage Pekka by any means.
The longer the game went, the worse the Predators looked. Early in the game they were denying Columbus easy entry into their defensive zone, but it seemed like most of the third period consisted of Nashville letting Columbus do as they wished on offense. That was exacerbated by a lot of passes thrown away to the Blue Jackets, including some truly bad ones in the neutral zone. I think this will improve as the team plays together more, but it was kind of painful to watch for the last period.
Paul Gaustad is a big, strong guy, but he got straight-up outmuscled by Anisimov on that game-tying goal in the second.
Now the good news
A sellout is always good news. It’s good to have hockey back in Nashville.
The players who looked best were players were mostly the ones who have been playing during the lockout. Sergei Kostitsyn picked up assists on both of Nashville’s goals, carrying over some of that KHL All-Star form, and Ryan Ellis, who’s been in Milwaukee, scored one one the power play and looked good in his time on the third pair. (Would’ve been nice if he’d managed to get a shot off in that shootout round, though.)
Roman Josi, who played in his native Switzerland during the lockout, looked good in his first duty on the top pair alongside Shea Weber. He was aggressive when openings to push the play presented themselves, but he never overstepped the line or left himself open to exploitation. He kept it simple and it worked. When the rest of the team was dragging at the end of the game, he was clearly in great shape and looking to make something happen. He’s supposed to be a question mark for Nashville, but it’s the rest of the team that needs to get up to his pace and focus.
But Martin Erat, who has been skating here in Nashville during the lockout, also had a big impact. He not only bagged a goal 39 seconds into the game, but he made that heads-up five minutes into the third period play to save a goal when Pekka Rinne was slow getting across the goalmouth. Marty was there on both ends of the ice tonight, and it was good thing. Without that play, Nashville loses in regulation and gets a goose-egg from Game 1. Here’s his goal:
Perhaps the most satisfying thing was that the team’s veteran defensemen stood up for their teammates in sticky situations. In the first period Kevin Klein was taken hard into the end boards by Derek Dorsett. Scott Hannan, Klein’s new partner, immediately stepped in and dropped the gloves. Then Craig Smith went down from a hard elbow at center ice in the second period, and Shea Weber dropped them as well.
I think some people will probably question whether he should’ve gone after Jared Boll – after all, Weber is the team’s most valuable player, and Jared Boll is, well, a guy you send out there to provoke the other team. Plus Weber he was in the box serving his fighting major when Columbus scored to tie the game.
I’m not one of those people. I think letting something like that go would’ve been exactly the wrong message for Weber to send. Instead he made it clear that his team isn’t going to be pushed around when he’s on the ice. That’s not news in the Nashville locker room, but it still feels good to have those kinds of things reinforced.
This morning I said that Shea Weber needed to win this game. He didn’t do that. But he also didn’t lose it. Barry Trotz said after the game, “We tied the game and lost the shootout.” Shea Weber led by example and did everything in his power to keep his team in the game. They could still feasibly end up with nine of 10 possible points against Columbus by the end of the season, which is more than just a moral victory. It could end up being the difference between the playoffs and an early offseason, or in better scenarios the determiner for home ice. I’ll score this one Shea Weber 1, me 0.
Full marks go to Columbus for keeping the game tight and opening their season with a win for the first time since 2009-10. Nashville will regroup and play St. Louis on Monday and is going to have to play a much better game. The Blues opened the season with a 6-0 win at home against Detroit.