The Nashville Predators came into tonight’s game with the Colorado Avalanche in desperate need of a win. Fatigued from the previous night’s road game in Chicago, they didn’t look like they had enough in the tank to overcome the team with the worst record in the entire NHL. But once they had their backs to the wall, the Preds found the spark they needed to tie the game and eventually pull off a victory.
Through the first two periods both teams looked like they had played the night before. The hockey was sloppy enough that even mainstream media reporters were commenting on Twitter about how boring the game was. It was everything that Preds fans have had to groan about this season: passes not finding their mark, defensive gaps large enough to drive a Zamboni through, and Pekka Rinne having to keep the team in it when they weren’t doing anything to support him.
The Preds finished the first period up 11-9 in shots and the two teams tied 9-9 in the second, but the game was still tied at 0-0 when the third period began. It didn’t stay that way for long, though. Matt Duchene maneuvered his way up the ice through an obstacle course of robotic Nashville defenders and fired a wrist shot past Pekka Rinne at 1:01 to give Colorado a 1-0 lead.
It was the kind of moment that’s happened far too often this season, and in the past it has frequently been the point at which the Nashville Predators’ chances of winning the game shrank to basically zero. But to their credit, the boys came out from the very next faceoff with renewed energy. They clearly understood the scenario and responded the way every fan was hoping for, outshooting the Avalanche 18-10 in the third period.
The Preds’ energetic game in the Colorado end of the ice paid off when Victor Bartley drew a high-sticking penalty on Brad Malone at 8:01 of the third. The ensuing power play lasted just 22 seconds before Patric Hornqvist banged home a second rebound from a Shea Weber shot. The goal went to video review because it appeared that Taylor Beck might have kicked the puck in the net, but Hornqvist’s stick got to the puck just before it touched the line and the score was now 1-1.
Nashville didn’t let up on the pressure from there. They continued to press the Avs and the effort finally paid off at 18:46 after David Legwand won a faceoff in the Colorado zone. After an extended scrum on the dot, Legwand managed to drop the puck into the corner. Taylor Beck fished it out and passed back to Legwand, who skated behind the net and wrapped around to put a shot on Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Legwand got another whack at the puck and put it home off the rebound for a 2-1 Nashville lead.
Colorado pulled Giguere for the extra attacker with just over a minute remaining but couldn’t mount any serious pressure in the Nashville zone. Paul Gaustad put the game away with an empty-netter from Legwand and Kevin Klein at 19:45, giving the team a much-needed victory for two points in the standings.
- Pekka Rinne looked sharp in the second half of a back-to-back, stopping 25 of the 26 shots Colorado threw at him. The only one that did beat him saw the Preds’ defense part like the Red Sea and allow Matt Duchene a clean break in on Pekka. After an eight-game streak that saw him give up at least two goals every game, he has given up just four in his last three starts.
- Before the game I said I was looking for contributions from David Legwand, Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, Shea Weber, and Taylor Beck. With the exception of Erat, all of them played a big role in the win tonight.
- Shea Weber fired five shots on net tonight, including the one that created the rebound Hornqvist converted into a goal. He’s playing strong hockey at a time when the team desperately needs him to do just that.
- How about Taylor Beck? His two assists tonight give him six points in his first eight NHL games. I feel like partnering him with David Legwand is one of the better decisions Barry Trotz has made this season. Beck’s helping Leggy almost look young again. (And not bringing him to Nashville sooner might be one of the worst moves by David Poile this year.)
- Roman Josi didn’t pick up any points tonight, but he did put a team-high six shots on net. His 24:16 ice time was second only to Weber’s 26:49.
- The two points from tonight’s win move the Nashville Predators ahead of Dallas and Edmonton into 9th place in the Western Conference, though both teams have at least one game in hand. St. Louis has the same 38 points Nashville has, but they sit in 8th place because they’ve played three fewer games.