The Nashville Predators managed to sneak out a victory in Chicago. But it was as messy as the score would suggest, as it was tight until the end.
Questions loomed as the game inched closer on Friday. The Nashville Predators had met the Blackhawks two weeks ago, a game that infuriated a lot of Predators fans. In that last game, the Predators dominated possession and jumped to a one goal lead. But the game got away from them as they gave up a goal in the last six minutes and another in overtime.
That game between the two Central Division powerhouses left a lot of questions about the Nashville Predators’ consistency and defense. Peter Laviolette tried to expel some of the doubt by starting a more mobile roster. He elected to sit Cody McLeod in favor of Miikka Salomaki and started Samuel Girard over Matt Irwin and Anthony Bitetto. The line blender was also brought out as Kevin Fiala and others were matched with new linemates. In the end, it didn’t really help too much. Without further ado, let’s go through the good, the bad, the ugly.
I couldn’t start the good part of this article without discussing Pekka Rinne. He was a brick wall and kept the game close when the Predators had no right being on the same ice as the Blackhawks. The first period ended one to nothing when it clearly could’ve been three or four to none. The Predators gave up 44 shots and 12 high danger scoring chances in total, with 21 shots and 8 high danger chances coming in the first period alone. This game would’ve been over early had Rinne not stood on his head. The goaltender has been inconsistent throughout his career, and I’m starting to wonder when the other shoe will drop. Not only that but will the Predators be able to make up for when Rinne doesn’t have a good game?
The depth scoring finally kicked in! Craig Smith and Calle Jarnkrok managed a goal each played well. Smith was a shark around the net front during the entire game and Jarnkrok kept the Kane line off the scoreboard. Not only that but Pontus Aberg had his best game this season, even though he was kept off the scoresheet. Some unexpected players stepped up in terms of driving possession.
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These three players stepped up in five on five situations and took advantage of the Blackhawks shallow depth. We’ve all been waiting for Craig Smith to ignite and now it seems he has, let’s hope he stays this way. Aberg was a revelation on the ice tonight as he was seemingly everywhere. His new linemates of Viktor Arvidsson and Calle Jarnkrok have sparked something in him, expect this line to stay together. Finally, there’s Frederick Gaudreau. He looks so much better when he’s no carrying around a Cody McLeod sized anchor. He was a force out there and used his speed to consistently generate chances. I hope he sees more minutes to give the top lines some relief. If Gaudreau can keep us this kind of play, he deserves third line minutes.
The Predators came out strong in the third but started to coast at about the 10 minute mark. Prevent defense is an easy way to lose a lead, especially when the other team has Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith. The Predators took their foot off the gas and almost paved a way for the Blackhawks to make a comeback, luckily Rinne stood tall though.
Samuel Girard played his first game in about a week tonight and it was a suspect decision by Peter Laviolette. I absolutely adore Girard and his play in the offensive zone, but he needs help in his own zone. He also needs a bit of sheltering, something a coach can’t do on opposing ice. Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville was routinely sending out the Toews line when Girard would hit the ice, a unideal situation. Especially since he was playing with Roman Josi, a player who’s not exactly known as a defensive stalwart. Because of this, his possession numbers were terrible and he looked outmatched at times. The kid deserves a spot in the top four tomorrow, but his game tonight wasn’t too impressive.
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Another point of contention I have with Peter Laviolette is the power play. Even though the game-winning goal tonight was on the power play. Anyone who watched the game could tell you the power play can’t enter the zone to save their lives. They have the same method every time. Subban brings the puck up with two players on either side of him but behind as well. Subban approaches the first forechecker and drops the puck to the player who’s closest to him, that player then passes to the player on the opposite side of the rink to carry it in weak side. It’s a brilliant idea, if no one has ever seen it before. But when the Predators go on the power play four times a game, it gets old fast. Laviolette’s inability to adapt on the fly will cost this team greatly in the future.
Oh boy, when it was ugly tonight, it was devastatingly ugly. This game could’ve been over in the first period had Rinne not stood on his head.
Roman Josi is not the one to help ease Girard into the NHL. Girard needs Ekholm or Subban, and frankly, I’m ready to give him to Subban. Last season Subban proved he could play a defensive role when asked, and Girard needs that safety net. Plus Ekholm and Josi already have some chemistry together and could be a better pair. But for tonight, Josi was a mess on the ice.
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The captain is allowed a bad game here and there, but boy was this a stinker. He should get it going against the Islanders though.
The Nashville Predators were beaten into the ground as far as scoring chances. The Blackhawks almost doubled the Predators with 30 scoring chances to 16 in all situations. The numbers reflect the “eye test” of the game as well. Here’s a breakdown.
Another game, another slow start for the Nashville Predators. This is really going to start costing the team sooner rather than later. Old hockey heads have always said, “you can’t win a game in the first period, but you can most certainly lose one”. It doesn’t make sense if you think about it too hard but there is some truth. The Predators may one day dig a hole so deep that even Rinne’s goaltending can’t save them.
Finally, the last little ugly bit, the shots. Giving up 44 shots is a quick way to destroy an aging goaltender. The Nashville Predators usually keep opposing shots to a minimum, but one very forgettable game from Mattias Ekholm is all it takes I guess.
The Nashville Predators are a bit lucky to escape the Second City with two points. Hockey is a 60 minute sport, and the Predators had about 25-30 good minutes of hockey tonight. That can’t continue if the Predators hope to go deep in the playoffs again.
For now, the Nashville Predators are second in the Central but they’re not safe. The Blues are playing solid two-way hockey and the offensive giant is starting to awake from its slumber in Dallas. Both teams are for real and could jump the Predators if they’re not careful. Then there’s always the Blackhawks who will probably finish first in the division because as Predlines Contributor Michael Wade puts it, “Blackhawks LOL”. This team escaped from a messy game with two points, it’s time to count blessings and focus on being better for next game.