The Nashville Predators looked to stop their 4 game skid by venturing to Rexall Place to take on the up and coming Edmonton Oilers. For the Predators, this was a game that was going to require discipline and the necessity of playing a full 60 minutes of hockey.
Since this was the first of a back to back series of games, Anders Lindback got his second start of the season, while the Oilers went with Nikolai Khabibulin.
The Oilers young talent has demonstrated speed, creativity, and play making ability so far in this season, and in two previous contests, they have out skated and outworked the Predators. For the Predators to win this contest, they were going to have to work and minimize mistakes.
Unfortunately for the Predators, the first mistake they made wound up in the back of their net.
Shea Weber had the puck in the defensive zone and made a blind pass that was intercepted by the Oilers Ryan Nugent Hopkins. Hopkins got the puck to Jordan Eberle, who circled behind the net and took a shot that Lindback stopped with his pad. The rebound came right back to Eberle, and he roofed a shot over the shoulder of Lindback at 7:07 of the first period.
There was no more scoring in the period, as the Oilers D and Khabibulin made the early goal stand up. The Predators did skate better and generated some traffic in front of the Oilers net and created some scoring chances. For the period, the Predators out shot the Oilers 6-4.
It is apparent that the Predators need to bury some shots and get their confidence back in the offensive zone. Finish some chances and stop gripping the sticks so tightly.
The Predators certainly had some chances to get their offense going as the Oilers started a parade to the penalty box as Theo Peckham was called for cross checking and Ryan Jones got a 5 minute major for elbowing Blake Geoffrion, both at the 6:35 mark of the second. Geoffrion was injured on the play and left the game. Jordin Tootoo was also called for diving after the cross check by Peckham, so the Predators were skating 5 on 4.
The Predators power play was short circuited 20 seconds later when Sergei Kostitsyn was called for interference. Skating 4 on 4, the Predators started to shoot the puck and creating chances with traffic in front of Khabibulin.
Roman Josi was called for a weak tripping call on Jordan Eberle, and the Oilers had a brief 4 on 3. Lindback made a couple of good saves to keep the Oilers off the board.
With Kostitsyn out of the box, the Predators continued their man advantage and continued to press the attack in the Oilers zone. Khabibulin made some great saves with Predators crashing the net, and it appeared as if the Predators were going to squander this golden opportunity.
That would change with one second left in the man advantage as Shea Weber skated the puck into the zone and let go a shot from the face off circle that beat Khabibulin cleanly to tie the game at 1 at 11:34 of the second period.
There was no further scoring in the period, but not for lack of effort by the Predators. For the first time in a looong time, the Predators were not afraid to shoot the puck, and shoot the puck they did. In the second period, the Predators forechecked hard, created turnovers, and the result of their effort was a 16-7 shot advantage. By far and away, this was the best period of hockey that the Predators had played in their last five games.
Once again, the Predators were heading into the final 20 minutes of hockey with the game in the balance. Would this be the game where the Predators took control of a game and skated away with a victory?
The third period was another back and forth period of hockey, with both teams skating hard. Neither team could crack the scoreboard, although they had good chances. The positive for the Predators is that there was no drop off in their intensity and their effort.
The Predators would break the tie at 12:21 of the third because of good work by Craig Smith and Jordin Tootoo in the corner to control the puck. Tootoo got the puck and passed to Nick Spaling in the low slot who rifled a shot past Khabibulin to give the Predators a 2-1 lead.
This goal was a direct result of hard work on the boards by Smith and Tootoo and the desire to win the puck battle, something that had been absent in the Predators previous four losses.
The remainder of the period saw the Predators continue their aggressive play and hard forechecking. They blocked shots when the Oilers pulled Khabibulin with time running down, and as the seconds melted away to a Predators victory, they had achieved what they had failed to achieve in their previous four contests.
A victory the Predator way.
For Anders Lindback, it was his first win of the season.
This was a pivotal game for the Predators, not only just to stop the four game losing streak, but to instill again in the team the value of playing hockey like this team is capable of playing. The Predators will not often win pretty, but they will win the majority of their games where they work like they did tonight.
Evidence of how hard they worked was the final shot total. The Predators out shot an explosive Oilers squad by at 31-18 margin.
Good things happen when you shoot the puck, boys.
Here is what this team should take away from this contest: when you win puck battles, when you skate hard, when you are strong on the puck, good things happen.
Hopefully, we have learned this lesson.
My three stars:
1. Nick Spaling
2. Anders Lindback
3. Shea Weber
About the Author: A native Nashvillian that grew up with minor league hockey, I'm now a devoted Predators fan and NHL follower. I have had the privilege of allowing my children to grow up watching the Predators and seeing the joy on their face when they are at a game. By day, I am a partner in an independent investment management company in the Nashville area. I played collegiate football and graduated from the University of South Carolina and graduated from the LSU graduate School of Banking. So yes, there are real true southern hockey fans in these non-traditional markets.