The Nashville Predators finally exorcised their shootout demons Thursday night in Los Angeles. Tonight they showed there’s no more fear as they took the game to the San Jose Sharks all night long and triumphed in their second straight shootout.
From the very start the Predators’ forecheck looked like it had been imported from seasons past. The defense looked even more locked in than it did Thursday against the Kings and the Preds kept the Sharks from generating many good scoring chances. Consider that the Sharks had the league’s second-ranked offense coming into the game and you have an idea of how tenacious Nashville was. And when they were able to strip the Sharks of the puck, they put shots on goal. They did everything right short of a few interference penalties, but even the PK unit looked excellent on those.
By the end of the first shots were 8-6 for San Jose, a big improvement for Nashville over its recent games. The defensive nature of the game held through the second period, and San Jose was leading shots 19-13 after two periods. They nearly had a goal in the second, but the puck rang off the post and into the crease beside Pekka Rinne. Martin Havlat started to celebrate prematurely instead of looking to see if the puck had actually gone in, and Rinne and four Predators players all fell into the crease to cover the puck. As J.R. Lind of the Nashville Scene tweeted (and Pete Weber later read on the air):
Havlat [tr. verb] – to celebrate preemptively and doing so, eliminate chance at genuine celebration
— J.R. Lind (@jrlind) February 3, 2013
Things turned just 59 seconds into the third period when Sergei Kostitsyn – he of the severe allergy to shots on goal – took a perfect pass from Colin Wilson, picked his spot, and put the puck home for his first goal of the season.
The Preds stuck to their game plan and continued to press San Jose at every opportunity. It looked like they might be able to play the rest of the game out that way before Colin Wilson, who had otherwise looked very good throughout the game, played the puck while heading to the bench. The Preds were whistled for too many men on the ice and Martin Havlat scored his third goal of the season, on the power play:
The Preds were by far the more dangerous team on the ice throughout the third period and in overtime, when they got a 4-on-3 power play thanks to Martin Havlat’s hooking penalty. But the tie couldn’t be broken, so it was on to another shootout. After David Legwand missed in the first round, Craig Smith put a nifty little move on Antti Niemi that ended up being the winner:
Pekka Rinne, Pekka Rinne, Pekka Rinne. He’s beginning to settle in and really look like the Pekka we all know and love. He was perfect at even strength tonight, stopping all 20 shots he faced. The lone goal he allowed on seven power play shots was off a strange bounce from the boards, much like in the Kings game Thursday. He’s been excellent in two games since switching back to his old Reebok pads.
- Barry Trotz’s line juggling worked well tonight since the team was without the services of Martin Erat, who picked up a lower-body injury in practice Friday. Only 11 forwards meant unusual line combinations.
- We got our first look at Jonathon Blum tonight, and he looks a lot more comfortable on the ice than before he was sent down to Milwaukee last season. He fired three shots on goal in the first period, and he and Ryan Ellis were fast and effective patrolling the blue line for the few minutes they had together tonight. I’m hoping he’ll get some more minutes, but that might be tough since he’s being carried as a seventh d-man right now.
- Shea Weber and Scott Hannan were paired together again tonight and Hannan looked much better than he did against L.A., when he took three penalties. He even stripped a Sharks player with a pokecheck from behind on a near-breakaway chance late in the game and leveled Logan Couture in the corner in the second period. Great effort from him tonight.
- Nashville outshot San Jose 9-7 in the third period. That’s the first time they’ve done that during regulation since the third period of their 3-0 shutout loss to the St. Louis Blues on January 24th, when they outshot the Blues 6-4.
Colin Wilson looked really sharp most of the night, especially his passes. The one to set up SK74’s goal was crisp and accurate. His boneheaded penalty in the third period cost the team the lead, though. That could have been a difference maker in the end. I hope he isn’t allowed to go without a reminder of that along with the praise for his play the rest of the game.
- Back-to-back ins for the first time this season. Feels good, doesn’t it? Especially coming against the defending Stanley Cup champions and the last undefeated team in the league.
- The Predators have now gone 3-2-1 in their last six games to guarantee themselves an average of at least a point per game on their seven-game road trip. To think that they’ve done so while averaging a little more than a goal per game is crazy. If they ever figure out how to score goals without giving up the tenacity of tonight’s defensive performance, they might sneak up on the big boys in the West before they know it.