As you would expect this time of year, the Western Conference wildcard picture is jumbled up with several teams in the mix and the Nashville Predators holding firm after a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday.
With a red-hot Edmonton Oilers team now winners of 12-straight, the Predators and Kings were doing battle as the West's two wildcard teams. The Kings have been going the opposite direction of the Oilers, going 1-5-4 in their previous 10 before meeting the Predators.
This game turned out to be a defensive stalemate for much of the night. High danger chances were limited until things opened up in the third period. When both teams got good looks on the net, goaltenders Juuse Saros and David Rittich were there to answer the bell.
Kings Troubles Continue, Preds Stay in Top Wildcard Spot
The Kings were their own worst enemy in many situations. Their decision-making on the rush was questionable at best, many times making too many extra passes and not even making Saros make the save. The Kings didn't even register a shot on goal in the final 14-plus minutes of the first period.
However, the Predators weren't able to take advantage of it at first. Finally, Ryan O'Reilly broke through with his 11th power play goal of the season, coming at 7:56 of the second period. It was a beautifully timed deflection from a shot from Roman Josi.
The Kings would quickly answer right back with a power play goal of their own off a blast from Drew Doughty. The Kings would end the night 1-for-5 on the power play, while the Predator would go 1-for-3.
This was another night where the Predators defense showed up to play a tight structure around Saros. They intercepted a lot of set-up passes from the Kings, added 28 hits and 23 blocked shots.
The play of the night perhaps wasn't even a goal. It was Roman Josi's split second decision making to bat the puck out of harm's way. He was wise enough not to catch the puck in his glove as that would be a penalty, but he was allowed to bat it out of there with his glove.
Ryan McDonagh had a similar situation where he found a loose puck and sent it out of the crease. Another situation ended in a delay of game penalty when McDonagh came crashing in on another fluttering puck that Saros had lost sight of.
The penalty was questionable, but the rule is the rule and it was considered delay of game on McDonagh because he knocked the net loose. He was making a play for the puck and not looking to intentionally knock the net off, so this was a penalty that could've gone uncalled.
Saros needed a start like this, It was a vintage win for him making 33 saves and rising to the occasion in crunch time. He even made his final save in the final five second to seal the deal.
O'Reilly's Top Line Carries the Offensive Load Again for Predators
O'Reilly was the best skater on the ice for the Predators, and his top line continues to be heavily relied upon for the Predators to get any offense. O'Reilly and Gus Nyquist get the two goals, and Filip Forsberg was also all over the scoring areas with six shots on goal and a 0.85 Expected Goals.
One issue that continues to be a problem for the Predators is depth scoring. If the Predators are going to not only make the playoffs, but win a first round series for the first time since 2018, then the entire offensive load can't be on O'Reilly's top line. Secondary scoring needs to show up a lot more in the coming weeks.
Other than Denis Gurianov getting loose for some breakaways and generating three shots on goal, there wasn't a whole lot from the depth players on the offensive end.
After the O'Reilly top line, Luke Schenn is next up with the most shots on goal on the team with four. Yeah, that can't be the case on most nights. Tommy Novak and Juuso Parssinen each had one shot on goal, and Yakov Trenin, Cody Glass, Philip Tomasino and Luke Evangelista were all held without a shot on goal.
Other than that, this is a pretty impressive response after the 4-1 loss to Vegas on Monday. It goes to show you how hard the Predators are to beat when there's discipline on the defensive end and Saros is locked in.