Entering Tuesday’s game agains the San Jose Sharks, the Nashville Predators had earned points in four of their last five games despite being 2-5-3 in their last ten. The Sharks entered the game 7-3 in their last ten games and were coming off of a 3-2 overtime-shootout victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. A strong second period by Nashville and the ability to turn away a comeback attempt by San Jose resulted in a 3-2 victory for the Predators.
“I thought we’ve been playing even better than we did today, and not getting the results needed,” said head coach Barry Trotz. “The guys got rewarded, we had a good game plan going in, we stayed with it and converted on a couple of chances.”
The crowd of 15,016 was treated to some early scoring opportunities for Nashville as San Jose’s Joe Thornton hooked Colin Wilson just ten seconds into the game as the Predators were entering the offensive zone. The resulting power play saw a slew of chances for Nashville, but San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi turned them all away.
Nashville dominated much of the play early in the first period, not allowing the Sharks to register their first shot on goal until 6:30 of the first period. Continuing on the trend of shooting early and often, Matt Cullen broke his stick shooting a loose puck from the point that went off Niemi’s mask. Immediately following this attempt, Cullen takes an interference penalty in the Sharks’ zone. The Predators were able to kill off the ensuing San Jose power play, something they were able to do three out of four times during the game. A period that saw many chances ended without any goals as the Predators entered the first intermission leading in shots 10-7.
Riding the momentum from the opportunities they saw in the first period, Nashville did not wait long to open up the scoring. In the offensive, to the left face-off circle of Niemi, David Legwand picked up the puck from Craig Smith, wiggled into the slot and fired a wrist shot over the shoulder and into the net, putting the Predators up 1-0. An astounding statistic is that Nashville is 16-1-4 when scoring first this season.
Three minutes later, while in the defensive zone, Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm took a delay of game penalty as he flipped the puck over the glass. This turned out to be the only power play that San Jose was able to convert all night. Goaltender Marek Mazanec didn’t stand much of a chance when Dan Boyle fired a shot from the point that was re-directed by Joe Pavelski in front of the net at 6:49, tying the game at one apiece.
Less than 30 seconds after Pavelski’s power play goal, the Predators accomplished something that has come to plague them this season, answer a goal with a goal less than a minute later. After taking the delay of game penalty, Ekholm was a man on a mission and seemed determined to score. Crossing in front of the net, Ekholm performed a no-look spin-around and fired a backhand that found its way past Niemi. This goal marked the first NHL goal for Mattias Ekholm.
“It is always special to score a goal in the National Hockey League,” said Ekholm. “I have always wanted to get it, but I don’t know is anxious is the right word. It is a special feeling to get my first goal.”
Barry Trotz had a lot of great things to say about Ekholm’s goal. “Once you get your first, it always seems to get easier in this league,” said Trotz. “He has some upside because he skate so well.”
A dominating period by the Predators continued with a Roman Josi goal that was somewhat controversial. At 11:30 of the second period, Josi swung around behind the net to the slot and wristed one into an almost wide open goal. The open net was due to Colin Wilson being shoved into Niemi by Marc-Edouard Vlasic, creating the open net. Shea Weber and Colin Wilson had assists on the Josi goal.
“I just shot it, and I didn’t see the net,” spoke Roman Josi about his goal. “I guess Wilson kind of fell on the goalie and then it was an open net.”
The Predators completed the second period by killing off a Spaling holding the stick penalty and leading the Sharks in shots 23-17.
Nashville went into the third period in complete shutdown mode, stopping any attempt San Jose made at attempting a comeback. This included killing off a Weber penalty at 4:05 with some spectacular saves by Mazanec.
After lots of jawing throughout the game, leading to a total kerfuffle count of four, Rich Clune and Mike Brown took coincidental delay of game minors midway through the 3rd period. Immediately following this, Weber fired a long-range missile that just missed the back of the net and rings it off the post to the right of Niemi.
Although the Predators were doing well at shutting down the Sharks, they continued to push forward with offensive opportunities, including a Legwand wraparound attempt that just missed and led to a Josi shot from the point that barely goes wide.
In the end, the Sharks did make things interesting. With Niemi pulled, Matt Nieto let a shot rip from the point and Predator killer Patrick Marleau tipped the shot in with just 1:22 remaining in the game. Even after the San Jose took their timeout, they were unable to tie the game, giving Nashville the 3-2 victory.
“Everything is so crucial right now,” explained Kevin Klein on getting two points against the Sharks. “It’s one of those things where where all of the points help right now.”
The Predators took advantage of a Sharks team decimated by injuries tonight and can continue to gain ground in the Western Conference with four straight home games remaining against the Anaheim Ducks, Ottawa Senators, Minnesota Wild and Calgary Flames.
- The Predators are 17-0-3 when scoring three goals this season.
- Nashville won 62 percent of the face-offs in Tuesday’s match-up.
- Nashville leads the league in face-offs, having won 54.2 percent of them.
Below is video from goaltender Marek Mazanec and head coach Barry Trotz: