The Nashville Predators grabbed full points in a shootout victory against Anaheim last night. The good news ends there, I’m afraid.
There are a couple things you should know about me. First, I don’t like fighting. Well, that’s not exactly true, but I only like a specific kind of fighting. The kind that results from high-emotion, justice-seeking camaraderie is acceptable. The kind that is planned ahead or forces an unwilling player to engage is for the stone ages, in my opinion.
Last night, the game provided several such incidents. Not fights, formally, but definitely instances consistent with the description.
The first incident that I’m concerned about involved Joseph Blandisi, Mattias Ekholm, and (who else) Corey Perry. Ekholm and Blandisi got tangled up near the blue line, sending them into the boards. With tension at a breaking point, players converged and had some “words.” This is fine by me, I would probably do the same. After the referees had begun separating the scrum, Perry suddenly leaps into the frame, taking a Nashville player down with a WWE-style flying clothesline.
I’ll let the NHL rulebook (Section 46.14) do the talking here:
"A game misconduct penalty, at the discretion of the Referee, shall be imposed on any player who is the first to intervene (third man in) in an altercation already in progress"
The referee assessed Perry a minor penalty, not a game misconduct. As of this morning, NHL Player Safety remains silent. For obvious reasons, leaving your skates to attack an unsuspecting player should have no place in this league without supplemental discipline.
The second incident is, frankly, sickening. If the league cares whatsoever about minimizing head injuries, Nick Ritchie should not see a game for a couple weeks (again, DoPS has said nothing thus far). During the second period, Kevin Fiala put home a great pass from Kyle Turris to take the lead. Immediately, Ritchie charged Fiala, tackled him, and began hitting his head against the ice.
What message is the league sending? Players can be intentionally injured when the puck isn’t in play? Intent to injure should warrant much more than a minor penalty. For those of you arguing the role of the enforcer, keep in mind that Cody McLeod played against the Ducks for the first time in several games. Still, Anaheim “took liberties” with Nashville players throughout the game. The league has a responsibility, not a team or player, to enforce rules.
I apologize for needing to vent all that. Fortunately, two teams did manage to complete a hockey game last night. Take a look at the shot production throughout the game:
The Nashville Predators simply survived the first period. They allowed more shots on goal, more scoring chances, and more high-danger chances at five-on-five. Fortunately, Pekka Rinne shut Anaheim down successfully. The Predators also had some decent chances, but backup Ryan Miller was up to the task.
The second period provided more of the same in terms of puck possession. Nashville did chip away at the shot imbalance and took advantage of the Ducks’ abysmal penalty discipline. Mattias Ekholm did fall victim to Perry’s continued antics, earning himself a roughing penalty for aggressively defending Rinne.
After the second intermission, the game belonged to the Predators. Calle Jarnkrok equalized the score in the midst of an incredible late push by the home team. The atmosphere in Bridgestone erupted after that. The Predators sustained the late pressure but were unable to get a game-winner in regulation.
Once again, and I hesitate to say this, Nashville looked good in overtime. Players are smarter with their passes and tougher on defense. Although the score remained tied after five minutes, the possession advantage definitely belonged to the Nashville Predators.
Second line domination
Certainly not for the first time, the Predators’ second line played an incredible game. In their 13:33 of five-on-five ice time last night, Anaheim simply faced an onslaught. Here’s a look at their five-on-five numbers, including shot attempt percentage (CF%), shots-on-goal percentage (SF%), and high-danger chance percentage (HDCF%):
|Fiala – Turris – Smith
This is a winning formula. The Predators had twice as many shot attempts as the ducks with Kevin Fiala, Kyle Turris, and Craig Smith on the ice. Furthermore, they dominated shots-on-goal and high-danger chances.
The following figure, from www.hockeyviz.com, shows everything you need to know about Kyle Turris’ performance last night. In the first portion, you can see that Nashville dominated shot production during his ice time, first at five-on-five (gray/black), then on special teams (purple).
The next portion is especially telling. The volume and location of shot attempts with Turris on the ice paints a picture of pure domination. Currently, Kyle Turris is contributing to one of the most effective possession lines in the NHL.
Ryan Johansen will potentially miss time due to a mystery injury sustained last night (speculation at this point). The Predators will certainly miss their best forward whenever he is gone, but they are much more capable of dealing with the absence now. The Predators’ second line is so effective, it can cover for the disruption of the first for several games.
The extra point from the shootout was extremely important. Here are the current standings in the Central Division:
As you can see, Nashville sits third in the division at the moment. However, a single win could propel them into first. The Central Division is definitely the most competitive at this point in the season. Only ten points separate first from last, and every team has a positive goal differential, unlike any other division currently.
Anaheim played a (I’ll just say it) dirty game last night. Nashville survived frequent offensive onslaughts and rode the effectiveness of their second line to secure a shootout victory. Hopefully, games like these will soon be a thing of the past. The players will certainly suffer if post-whistle incidents are not controlled by the referees.
In my opinion, the Department of Player Safety should certainly be giving Perry and Ritchie a call. Sadly, though, I won’t be holding my breath.