After failing in their first three shootout of the season, the fourth time was the charm for the Nashville Predators in Los Angeles.
The game couldn’t have started much better for Nashville, which got a goal off a faceoff from Brandon Yip at 0:58 to take the 1-0 lead. That was the second goal of the year for Yip, who opened the scoring at 1:52 in the Preds’ 3-2 shootout loss to Anaheim last Sunday. The Preds continued to apply pressure after taking the lead and led 8-1 in faceoffs.
And then came the penalties. First Scott Hannan took a tripping call that looked like it might get by until the L.A. fans voiced their opinions. Nashville managed to kill that one off, but then Hannan took an interference call after getting caught wrong-footed following a Nashville neutral-zone turnover.
A minute later the refs piled on by giving Paul Gaustad an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty (for what it was impossible to tell). Los Angeles had a 5-on-3 opportunity, but Anze Kopitar tripped Nick Spaling on the ensuing faceoff and it was a 4-on-3 opportunity. Dustin Brown scored after Drew Doughty shot high and a funky bounce off the end boards put the puck right on his stick. Just the second power-play goal of the season for the Kings, it tied the game 1-1.
Nashville finished out the first period on its heels, outshot 10-3 and having gone the last 16:19 of the period without putting a single puck on net. The team came out well enough in the second but Hannan took his third penalty of the night at 3:07. After killing that one, they got another crack at the power play thanks to Mike Richards’ goalie intereference penalty at 8:17. But without any shots on goal the opportunity was wasted. The second period was a long slog, and the teams ended the period with just five shots apiece to give the Kings a lead of
The third period didn’t see any more scoring, but both teams did ramp up their games. The Preds seemed to benefit from their first two-day break of the season as their energy level looked better in the third than it has so far this season. About halfway through the third the chances started to get good enough to require some big stops from both goalies, and by the time the third was coming to a close vintage Pekka was in net for the Preds:
I said before the game that Nashville would need some stellar goaltending from Pekka Rinne tonight against a Kings team that doesn’t give up many goals, and they got it.
Overtime had more scoring chances for both teams and more big saves – and one big open-net miss from Nick Spaling – but in the end it would take a shootout to decide the game. And not just a shootout – and eight-round shootout. After the Preds got ahead with goals from David Legwand and Craig Smith, Mike Richards and Dustin Brown both beat Pekka Rinne with slowdown moves. After two scoreless rounds Anze Kopitar pulled the Kings ahead, but Gabriel Bourque kept Nashville in it with a goal. Another two missed chances left Sergei Kostitsyn with the chance to win the game:
I’ve been pretty hard on Sergei this season. In all honesty, he’s been playing very poor hockey. But good for him, scoring in the eighth round of the shootout. Pekka has worked his butt off behind some pretty lazy performances from Sergei and a number of other players already this season. It was nice to see one of those guys give our big man the winner in his fourth shootout of the year.
Even though the Preds already won a game against Minnesota last week, after three previous shootout losses this victory felt like the first real victory of the year. I think that’s partly because they played to their identity tonight. That gritty, determined brand of Predator hockey had been missing throughout the early part of the season. Getting it back, and then following it up by winning in such dramatic fashion to exorcise some of the early-season demons, was catharsis.
This team still has a lot of improving to do, particularly when it comes to putting the puck on net, and there are still questions about the roster. But the important thing is that the boys got back to playing Predator hockey tonight. The 60-minute effort on defense was the first of the year and it was good to see. And by finally getting the shootout monkey off their backs, they can regain some of the confidence that’s been lacking recently. They have something to build upon and I’m happy to celebrate it.