The Nashville Predators wrapped up their 7 game road trip with their third contest against the St. Louis Blues at ScottTrade Center.
The Predators looked to build on their success from consecutive shootout victories over the L.A. Kings and the San Jose Sharks. More importantly, the Predators were looking to continue to discover their identity and play their style of hockey- solid defense and opportunistic offense.
In other words, Predator Hockey.
The Predators had Pekka Rinne in net, while the Blues went with Brian Elliott.
The Predators wanted to bring a better effort than the last time they played the Blues, and the game certainly started well as Ryan Ellis tallied on the power play at 17:50 to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.
The Predators extended the lead to 2-0 on a play that was caused by the effort of Colin Wilson. Wilson fought for and controlled the puck at the Blues Blue line. Wilson tried to get the puck to Paul Gaustad, but the puck hit a Blues defender and came back to Wilson. He fired a shot that Elliott stopped with his pad, but Rich Clune was crashing the net and smacked home the rebound for his first NHL goal at 15:53.
The Predators kept up the pressure on the Blues net, and Nick Spaling cashed in as he lifted a shot over the prone Elliott at 19:13 of the period to give the Predators a 3-0 lead. The goal was typical Predator hockey: getting the puck on net with traffic, winning the puck battle, and slamming home a rebound.
All of a sudden, it appears as if the Predators have discovered Predator hockey.
The defense was solid as well, limiting the Blues to just 4 shots in the period, while the Predators had 9.
The Blues were expected to come out with a strong push in the second period, and through 9 minutes the Blues out shot the Predators 4-1. The Predators limited the Blues quality scoring chances, and needed to get their offense back in gear and not give momentum back to the Blues.
The Predators seized the momentum back as Kevin Klein unleashed a blast from the blue line that beat Elliott cleanly to give the Predators a 4-0 lead at 9:09 of the period. That goal would send Elliott to the bench and rookie Jake Allen entered the game.
The Predators welcomed Allen to the game as Colin Wilson split two Blues defenders and backhanded a puck that caromed off the crossbar and landed in the blue paint. Gabriel Bourque drove the net and the puck went off his skate and into the goal. After review, it was ruled a good goal, and Bourque had his first goal of the year at 10:09 to give the Predators a 5-0 lead.
The Blues made it 5-1 on the power play as Alex Pietrangelo lifted a backhand that went off the shoulder of Rinne at 13:09.
The Predators did not make it easy on themselves by taking a penalty but were able to kill off the man advantage.
Yet once again, the Predators were guilty of another penalty as Shea Weber was called for tripping, and they managed to kill off the penalty in the remainder of the period, but the Blues would have 1:38 of carry over power play time going into the third. By virtue of the Blues strong push and the Predators spending time down a man, the Blues out shot the Predators 14-3 in the second.
Going into the third, the Predators could not afford to lose their aggressiveness in the offensive zone. They needed to keep attacking and could not afford to sit back on their heels.
With 24 seconds remaining in the initial penalty to Shea Weber, Roman Josi was called for cross checking and the potent Blues power play had a brief 5 on 3 advantage.
The Predators killed the 5 on 3 and the penalty on Josi, but the Predators were going to have to play with more discipline and get back to the game that jumped on the Blues in the first period. Sitting back and letting the Blues dictate the attack was not a comfortable position for the Predators, even with the 4 goal lead.
The Predators picked up the attack and got some shots in on Allen, but more importantly got back to the forecheck. The Blues still had some quality chances, but the Predators began to limit time in their defensive zone and slow the Blues rush in the neutral zone. Pekka Rinne came up with some big stops to keep the Blues from gaining momentum.
The Predators restored their 5 goal lead as Marty Erat gathered in a rebound of his own shot and banged home the rebound to make it 6-1 at 16:34. The play was set up by Ryan Ellis, who found Erat breaking to the net and hit him with a perfect pass.
The remainder of the game was scoreless and the Predators had exploded for their highest goal output of the season in defeating the Blues 6-1.
There are numerous positives to take away from this game: Rinne was solid; scoring was opportunistic and came throughout the line up; and the Predators PK limited the number one power play in the NHL to 1 for 5.
Perhaps most importantly, the Predators look as if they have discovered their identity and are playing to the strengths of their game and their roster. If the Predators are going to succeed this season, they are going to have to play to that identity in the remaining games.
Gritty, opportunistic hockey. Staunch defense. Aggressive forechecking that creates scoring opportunities.
The Predators have built some good momentum off this road trip. 8 of the next 11 games are at the Bridgestone Arena.
Time to bring that momentum home.
My three stars:
1. Colin Wilson
2. Pekka Rinne
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.