The Nashville Predators ventured out on the road for the first time in this young season, traveling to the XCel Energy Center to take on the Minnesota Wild and former teammate Ryan Suter. While many have focused on the story line of the Predators facing their former co-anchor on the blue line, the real story for the Predators was attempting to elevate their game to the level to which they are accustomed.
For the Predators, Chris Mason was in net and Niklas Backstrom was in net for the Wild.
The Wild opened the scoring at 6:02 of the first period as Dany Heatley skated just inside the Predators blue line and lofted a shot toward the net. The puck appeared to glance off Kevin Klein and re-directed past Mason, who had no chance on the shot.
Once again, the Predators were at a decided territorial disadvantage for most of the first period, being out shot 9-2 through the first 16 minutes.
That would change at 16:31 of the first period as the Predators gained the zone and controlled the puck. Kevin Klein let a shot go from the blue line, and Backstrom was able to block the shot coming through traffic, but Nick Spaling pounced on the rebound and slapped it past the sprawling netminder to tie the game at 1.
The first period ended tied at 1. The Wild out shot the Predators 12-5.
For the Predators, their struggles to clear the zone and establish offensive zone presence continues to be a problem. However, they were able to capitalize on some puck possession time to tie the game, and it was good to see Spaling get on the score sheet. The Predators have to have production from their third and fourth lines.
The Predators also welcomed back Gabriel Bourque, and he was dynamic. He had a break away chance that was stopped by Backstrom, but was on the ice and kept the puck alive for the Predators goal.
The second period would open with 4 on 4 hockey as Patric Hornqvist for the Predators and Mikko Koivu picked up coincidental minors for roughing at the end of the first period.
The Predators opened the second period with better jump and created some chances with traffic to the net. They had a chance to take advantage of a Minnesota penalty with their first power play of the game, but quickly short circuited that effort as Shea Weber was called for interference just 20 seconds into the man advantage.
The Predators had a much better effort throughout the second period. The Predators got their legs and skated much better, and this was reflected in the shots on goal as the Predators out shot the Wild 10-7. While the Predators created some scoring chances, the Wild did as well, and both netminders came up with some good saves to keep the game tied.
The second period ended with the Predators killing off a Brandon Yip roughing penalty, and the Wild would open the third period with a fresh sheet of ice and 1:17 of man advantage time.
The Predators opened the third period by killing off the Yip penalty, but the Wild used the man advantage to quickly re-establish their offensive zone presence, and the Predators were once again having difficulty establishing their offense.
Although the Wild had stretches of the game in the third period where they were clearly skating better and stronger on the puck, the Predators kept pushing and their effort was rewarded as the puck was chipped out of the defensive zone and into open ice. Marty Erat was in pursuit but Backstrom came out of the net and beat Erat to the puck. His clearing attempt from between the face off circles hit Erat in the chest, and he was able to get control of the puck and stuff it into the open net to give the Predators a 2-1 lead at 11:45.
An improbable goal?
But a goal from effort and hustle, a goal that came from not wilting under the pressure the Wild were putting on the Predators.
The Predators continued to withstand the pressure from the Wild and thwarted their scoring chances. Chris Mason came up with some big saves to keep the Wild off the board.
With Backstrom pulled for the extra attacker, the Wild were pressuring the Predators when they were called for slashing with 23 seconds remaining. On the ensuing power play, the Predators capitalized as David Legwand took a nice pass from Nick Spaling and buried the one timer to give the Predators a 3-1 lead and their first regulation win of the season.
This was a character win as the Predators withstood the pressure the Wild brought throughout the game and persevered in a hostile environment.
As the game wore on, the Predators begin to assert themselves. After a slow first period in which the Preds were out shot 12-5, the Predators out shot the Wild 21-18 over the final two periods. This is the type of win that the team can use to build their confidence and their belief in their system and each other.
They will need it in this short season.
My three stars:
1. Chris Mason
2. Nick Spaling
3. Marty Erat
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.