The Tide is turning. The Nashville Predators used team defense and excellent goaltending to defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-0, on the road.
The road has not been friendly to the Nashville Predators of late. After starting the season 8-0-0 away from home, Nashville lost 10 in a row. Things seemed to be unraveling. However, the Predators are 3-0-1 in their last four road games. In all three wins, they scored four or more goals. They started this point streak with a win over the Washington Capitals. Tonight, they made a bigger statement.
Game #44 took the Predators to Toronto for a battle against the Maple Leafs. In 41 games, the Leafs have scored 152 goals or 3.75 per game. They held 12-4-0 record against the Western Conference with pairs of wins over Winnipeg and San Jose. And, they just shut out the Cancucks.
“To be the best, you have to beat the best,” says wrestling Hall of Famer Ric Flair. And, on the night the WWE remembers “Mean Gene” Okerlund after his passing, the Nashville Predators showed the NHL world what they can be.
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The final score was 4-0, but that does not tell the story. Nashville came out strong early, taking advantage of every shot opportunity they could muster. After the first period, the Predators held a 9-7 lead in shots on goal and a CorsiFor of 53.85%. Toronto attempted to turn the tide in the second period, but a pair of goals from P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm propelled Nashville forward. However, what killed all momentum for Toronto was a key goal challenge from Peter Laviolette.
Just moments after Subban tallied the first goal of the game, the Leafs came out firing. Austin Matthews was open on the right side of the net and did not miss. The game was tied at 1 goal each, or so we thought. Turns out, Toronto was offside as the possession started. The goal was overturned and the Predators took advantage. Ekholm scored not long after.
Down 2-0 as the third period started, it was expected the lethal offense from Toronto would aggressively attack the Nashville zone. But try as they might, it was a futile effort. The Leafs attempted 13 shots, but only 4 made it on goal. The Nashville Predators deflected any puck that came into the neutral zone and gained possession after possession. When Toronto did make it into the offensive zone, Predators’ were able to poke-check the puck away. It led to two more goals for the Predators. One by Colton Sissons, another from Kevin Fiala.
Nashville had to be great on defense all night. The Leafs gained 13 high-danger chances combined in the first two periods, but none in the final 20 minutes. They gained 23 scoring chances to the Predators 12 in the first 40 minutes. Nashville finished the third with a 9-1 advantage. When the final horn sounded, the Predators out-shot Toronto 32-18, won 54% of the faceoffs, blocked 23 shots, and turned the puck over only 8 times.
The 18 shots for the Leafs? That is a season low. Pekka Rinne may not have faced tons of shots, but some of them were difficult to defend. Matthews only gained one shot on goal, while John Tavares had three. Defensemen Morgan Rielly did not get a shot on net all night long. He is third on the team in shots and points, and fifth in goals.
Of note, Filip Forsberg made his return to the ice for the Predators, getting three shots on net and handing out two hits. Both Sissons and Fiala gained a goal and an assist on the night, giving both players 8 goals on the season. Craig Smith‘s assist gives him a point in each of his last six games.
It was a big win for the Nashville Predators. Their 14-3-2 record against the Eastern Conference is the best in the NHL. Those wins now include two over Tampa Bay and one over Washington and Toronto.
Most importantly, no Nashville Predators were harmed in the making of this victory.