The Nashville Predators faced off against the San Jose Sharks in the Bridgestone Arena looking to rebound from their loss against the Chicago Blackhawks in their previous game. The Sharks were coming off a 6-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets the night before, and they were a frustrated bunch on a mission.
The frustration of the Sharks translated into a dominant first period as they out shot the Predators 13-3, controlled the puck for lengthy stretches in their offensive zone, and made the somnambulant Predators look bad.
All except Pekka Rinne.
Rinne came ready to play, and his herculean effort in net secured a 1-0 overtime victory for the Predators.
About that first period.
The Predators generated no offense, and Antii Niemi in net for the Sharks had to be bored as the Sharks kept the puck in the Predators end throughout the first period. The fired shots at Rinne from all angles, but the big netminder was more than equal to the task, frustrating the Sharks scoring efforts.
One can only imagine the locker room talk that Head Coach Barry Trotz gave his charges at the first intermission after that weak effort. Whatever he said, the Predators woke up in the second period and began to skate, get the puck deep, and get shots to the net.
That significantly better effort was almost short circuited as the Predators began a parade to the penalty box. Specifically, it was Marty Erat that began to cool his skates in the sin bin as he took 4 of the 5 penalties the Predators incurred, including a 4 minute double minor for high sticking.
The Predators killed off all the penalties, including a minute of 5 on 3 for the Sharks, and that effort shifted momentum to the home team. Even with the penalties, the Predators out shot the Sharks 11-6 in the second period.
The Predators looked like the Predators in the third period as they got shots to the net and pressured Niemi with some good scoring chances. Niemi was solid in between the pipes, keeping the Predators off the board as they had 10 shots on goal. The Sharks had just 3 in the third.
Once again, the two teams would go to overtime, and it looked as if the Sharks might end the game as Rinne sprawled to stop a shot but the puck slid by his skates and was trickling toward the goal line. Gabriel Bourque was able to get his stick on the puck and safely clear it back to center ice.
The Predators gained the zone and Ryan Ellis took a slap shot from just inside the blue line that Niemi stopped with his pad. The puck skittered into the blue paint , and Colin Wilson was crashing the net and was able to slide it inside the post at 2:08 of the overtime period to give the Predators the win and their second in two meetings with the Sharks.
Here are some thoughts:
The Predators offensive futility continues to be frustrating and a significant concern. They set a record tonight for the longest scoreless drought at 176 minutes before the game winner tonight. The Predators are dead last in the NHL in shots per game with an average of 21 and last in goals with a 2 per game average. If the Predators are going to have success in the regular season, much less the playoffs, this has to improve. Quickly.
Pekka Rinne is a beast. He has two shutouts in his last three games and is the rock for this team. When he is on his game, which is most nights, the Predators have a chance to win, even with their anemic offense. Tonight, Rinne was positionally sound, tracked the puck well, and was relaxed. He is the reason the Predators have 6 wins and 14 of the 16 points the team has recorded.
Shea Weber is beastly-er. While there has been some concern about his lack of scoring, Weber is without peer in locking down the opponents top scorers. Tonight, Weber had 26:16 of ice time and did yeoman’s work against the Sharks top line. While his scoring may be down, his defensive prowess shines against the best players. Money well spent in signing Shea to that long term contract, Mr. Poile.
It is difficult to explain the offensive struggles of this team. It is even more difficult to explain the lack of effort that the Predators displayed in the first period. My view- there is no one among the group of forwards that can assert themselves and begin to dominate. As such, the Predators have to score by committee. Right now, the committee has not convened and the Predators have not shown a consistent commitment to being gritty, going to the hard areas with authority, and winning puck battles. Until they make that commitment, the offense will continue to struggle.
The Predators margin for victory is razor thin. It feels good to have the win tonight and 16 points, but the reality is that this offense is going to have to get untracked and get back to Predator hockey. Right now, we see Predator hockey in brief spurts. We need to see it consistently for 60 minutes. The Predators certainly cannot afford to take a period off like they did tonight in the first period. Inconsistent play will more often than not come back to bite this team.
The win tonight showed character and resilience. That is good.
It is time for the team to consistently bring their game.
My three stars:
1. Pekka Rinne
2. Colin Wilson
3. Antii Niemi
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.