The Nashville Predators had a weapon in their arsenal tonight that hadn’t been available to them since October. But even with goaltender Pekka Rinne’s return to the crease, the lack of Predators offense was again the predominate issue in a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Two assists from Penguins forward Sidney Crosby in the third period broke open a 1-1 game and sent Nashville to a two-goal defeat. Despite their long-awaited hero tending net, it was the shortcomings on the other end of the ice that doomed the Predators.
“It hurts obviously” Predators forward Patric Hornqvist said.”I think we played a really solid defensive game actually. They have a lot of really skilled players. It was hard when they got that go-ahead goal. We almost have a breakaway, but Fleury does a great job of coming out of the net and then they get a little puck luck. Things go the other way and they hammer in a one-timer.”
Rinne made 10 saves on 11 shots–including an impressive pad stop on a two-on-one in the first period–to position the Predators with a tie going in the third period. Nashville never managed another goal, however, and the Penguins ground out a road win.
“This just can’t happen anymore,” said Hornqvist. “We can’t keep losing these types of games, we’re not in a very good spot. We’re not going to quit though, we believe in each other in here and with Pekka coming back, we know he can steal a few games for us.”
Rinne remained positive on the significance of his return, while acknowledging the dire spot the loss puts the Predators in the Western Conference standings.
“It’s great to be back. It’s been a pretty long time, so it means a lot to me to be able to be back,” Rinne said. “It was a huge game for us and we had a chance going into the third, but it was the Penguins special teams who saved the game for them.”
Winners of 41 games this season, the Penguins were content to sit back and combat the Predators defensive effort knowing they could win a game with low shot totals and opportunities. Penguins blueliner Matt Niskanen was the receipt of two excellent passes from Crosby tonight, and made no mistake either time, scoring twice.
“The [Predators] are not going to give you a whole lot of space out there,” Niskanen explained. “It was Pekka Rinne’s first back, he’s a really good goalie, and he is very tough to beat. It was a really great effort by us. A lot of guys did well, and it was a good team effort.”
With all the publicity given to the Pittsburgh offense, it was the Penguins defense that helped them to two points tonight. The ability to excel on both sides of the puck is the mark of a great team, and it’s something the Predators do not currently posses.
“Today Pittsburgh did a great job defensively too, you can’t forget about that. They clogged up the middle and shut it down,” Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said. “They had lost three in a row and they were pretty desperate in the way they played, they played pretty structured. They didn’t have much going on themselves and they’re a pretty talented group. But they gave us some matchup problems and got the win.”
Nashville plays another NHL powerhouse in their next game on Thursday night. The St. Louis Blues are in Nashville for a 7:00 p.m. (CST) start.