A combination of running into a classic goalie duel and a new-look roster full of youth and energy ended in a gut-wrenching loss for the Nashville Predators against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.
The entertainment value was there. The crowd noise was there. The speed from the youngsters was there. Unfortunately, the Penguins found the back of the net in the last two minutes of regulation to end this one in a 3-1 loss.
The excitement and buzz surrounding the Nashville Predators has been palpable over these past few days with the trades and changing of leadership in the front office from David Poile to Barry Trotz.
For a second game in a row, the Predators had a key veteran at the building ready to play in a hockey game, only to find out they’re being traded. The latest was Mattias Ekholm to the Edmonton Oilers for an outstanding return that includes two players, a fourth round and first round pick in 2023.
So once again the Nashville Predators had to figure out a way to block out the outside noise and try to win a hockey game with still a glimmer of hope to make a push into the postseason.
#1: Evangelista Gets NHL Debut, Makes Solid Impression
Before the Ekholm trade news even became official, it was announced earlier in the day that Luke Evangelista would make his highly-anticipated NHL debut in light of all the roster changes the Predators have gone through.
Evangelista impressed. He found scoring opportunities, skated with confidence and certainly avoided any eye-opening mistakes that are typical for someone playing their first NHL game.
The biggest standout moment of them all for Evangelista’s debut was no doubt him laying out Evgeni Malkin, drawing the angst of the Pittsburgh bench, and proceeding to draw a penalty thereafter.
Evangelista is just another example of a season of growth for the Nashville Predators for the long-term outlook of the franchise. Even in a loss, it was a win seeing Evangelista in a Predators gold sweater and getting a sign of what is to come in the following years.
In his NHL debut, Evangelista finishes with a stat line of 14:28, two shots on goal, one hit and one block while getting power play time and leading the Predators in Expected Goals at 0.78 per MoneyPuck.
#2: Speed is the Spice of Life
Don’t let the scoreboard fool you. The revamped Nashville Predators played with speed and aggressive transition play in this one. They were constantly looking for stretch passes to catch the Pittsburgh defensive front off guard.
The youngsters, as expected, play with much more speed and energy on the offensive rush than what we have seen for most of the season before the trades. It doesn’t always end how you like it on the scoreboard, but wow is it fun to watch nonetheless.
Tommy Novak keeps standing out as a player that drives this new brand of speed and skating as of late. He pushes the tempo and uses his ice vision to find streaking teammates. Not nearly as much bland, dumb and chase type of hockey.
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To nitpick some, ultimately you have to finish when getting these opportunities and playing with this style. Credit to Jarry for having an outstanding game between the pipes for Pittsburgh.
The Predators had an Expected Goals of 3.24 but just managed the one goal, scored by Mark Jankowski when he corralled a ugly giveaway in their own zone by Pittsburgh. He made a couple stick moves on Jarry to beat him for the goal.
This was Jankowski’s fifth goal of the season and first since being waived by Nashville not too long ago. Pretty cool underlying storyline from this one.
#3: A Classic Goaltender Duel
This was not one of those boring defensive games that lulled you to sleep. Both teams were pushing the tempo and testing the goalies. However, both Juuse Saros and Jarry had other plans and traded difficult saves throughout.
Both teams were hanging their heads after juicy scoring opportunities ended with the goalie freezing the puck. The Penguins looked frustrated at times when Saros would rob them of what looked like a goal.
Jarry came up clutch early on the in the game when the Predators were buzzing off the opening faceoff. The Predators had 17 shots on goal in the first period and Jarry keeping them off the scoreboard ended up being the biggest difference-maker of this game’s final result.
The Penguins would respond in the second period with 17 shots on goal of their own, while the Predators managed just five.
Saros would close out with 31 saves on 33 shots faced, while Jarry made 24 saves on 25 shots faced while posting an enormous 2.24 Goals Saved Above Expected. He definitely robbed the Predators of at least pushing this to overtime and getting a point.
Final Conclusion of Preds-Pens
Despite the result, it was a very entertaining game to watch. I loved the energy and drive and not backing down. The Penguins in their own right are desperate and trying to cling onto a wildcard spot in the loaded Eastern Conference, while the Predators have committed to being sellers and letting the chips fall where they may from here on out.
Two teams in difference situations in respects to the trade deadline later this week, but two teams who went toe-to-toe and treated us to some great hockey.
The Predators are going to win their fair share of games over the last 24 games of the regular season, but whether that will be enough to get them to a ninth-straight postseason appearance looks unrealistic.
Even with the loss, fans have many reasons to be very optimistic about the long-term future of this franchise. Next up is a road game against the Florida Panthers, a team they put up seven goals on less than two weeks ago, but with a very different roster.
Here’s a look at the player who played against Florida on February 18 in the 7-3 win, but didn’t play against the Penguins last night:
Nino Niederreiter (Traded)
Tanner Jeannot (Traded)
Mattias Ekholm (Traded)
Ryan Johansen (Out for Season)
Juuso Parssinen (Day to Day)
Kevin Gravel (Re-assigned to MIL)
So many changes to this roster in a short amount of time. Let’s see how they respond against the high-scoring Panthers on Thursday.