The visiting Minnesota Wild broke up rushes and blocked shots for a full 60 minutes as the Nashville Predators offense looked slow and disjointed on their way to being shutout.
The Wild claimed a 4-0 road win and stretched their lead over the Predators to 10 points in the standings.
A frustrating night for the Predators forward group as the Wild’s full-ice defensive game helped rookie goaltender Darcy Kuemper to his first career shutout.
“That’s a tough loss in a huge game,” Predators forward Eric Nystom said. “They played a really strong road game. Their goalie played well and they’re just stingy as a whole. They don’t let you get to the net front, they collapse well and block shots. They’re missing some key guys, but they still played well. We just couldn’t solve the riddle.”
Another night where goals were tough to find for Nashville–and due to Minnesota’s thorough defensive game–the questions as to why are easy to answer.
“We worked on getting pucks from low to high and then we’d shoot a puck and they were doing a great job of deflecting and blocking the shots,” Nystrom said. “When that happens one of our players is often behind the play and they’re on the go the other way. They’re one of the best teams at allowing a small number of shots.”
For a full 60 minutes, the home team was never available to apply any consistent offensive pressure in the Minnesota zone and the lead for the Wild slowly grew.
“The Wild play a 200-foot game and they’ve been known for the least shots against in the National Hockey League (NHL) all year long,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “They got the lead and then they did a really good job, off the forecheck, out of the D-zone and in the neutral zone. Once they got the lead they just frustrated us and we kept just trying to force things through people. We kept trying to skate the puck through their four guys in the neutral zone while they’re stacked up; those sorts of things. Sometimes you just have to simplify those things or it just backfires on you.”
The Wild struck quickly in the first period as Dany Heatley deflected a puck past goaltender Marek Mazanec off the rush. A little over two minutes later, Minnesota lit the lamp again after Jason Zucker registered his third goal of the season.
After Minnesota used the Predators turnovers to give themselves a two-goal lead, the Wild were able to sit back and play the team defense game they pride themselves on.
“Those are skilled guys, especially Heatley. When he gets going he can be a really strong and confident player,” Nystrom said. “He got a goal early and when a guy like that is feeling good he becomes very dangerous. His linemates played well, those guys can really skate around.”
“Well, a simple game is how we’re successful,” Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said. “We were able to get the pucks in and get the forechecks going. We got a lot of pucks to the net. Nothing fancy, and that’s how we have to play games right now.”
Throughout the second period, the Predators tried time after time to set up in the Wild zone and generate some kind of scoring chance, but Minnesota thwarted Nashville’s disjointed sequences of offense every time.
“That’s a team you don’t want to give the lead too early, cause then they can just collapse and play good defensively,” Nystrom said. “They did a great job of playing their game tonight.”
An early third period goal by Matt Cooke effectively eliminated any chance of a Predators come back.
The lead would swell to four before the Wild officially claimed the two points. Plenty of offensive support for a club that shuts down their opponent in all three zones.
Nystrom said: “They didn’t allow us to get back into the game and that’s full credit to a real committed group and defensive game plan by them.”
For Nashville, the loss was their third in the first four games of a five-game home stand. The Predators next game is Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames.