Coming in to Thursday night’s game against the Dallas Stars, the Nashville Predators had the opportunity to take over first place in the NHL with a win. It only took 17 seconds into overtime for Shea Weber to get one past Kari Lehtonen to give the Predators the 3-2 victory along with first overall in the league. Weber tallied two goals on the night and call-up Miikka Salomaki netted his first goal in his first NHL game. After allowing the tying goal with only two seconds left in the second period, Nashville was able overcome a disallowed Filip Forsberg goal to get the victory in overtime.
“We have confidence right now,” said defenseman Mattias Ekholm. “I think in the second period, we all came in and said to each other ‘we’ve been here before.’ It’s a great group of guys here and we just battle hard all 60 minutes and eventually the goals come and win games for us.”
Overcoming the odds has been the story of late as the Predators have been battling injuries. Earlier on Thursday, Nashville placed James Neal and Eric Nystrom on injured reserve. During the second period, the Predators lost Ryan Ellis to a lower body injury.
“That’s obviously very sad to see someone go out like that,” said Ekholm on his defense parter. “I was out there with him and I saw that it looked painful. I feel very comfortable playing with him and he’s been a great defense partner to have. It will be tough for us, but we have Volchenkov out tonight and he’s a great guy too, so he’ll come in and fill his shoes.”
Ellis’ injury meant more playing time for Ekholm, as he racked up 20:38, including 44 seconds on the power play and 1:25 on the penalty. While the Predators have taken three or more penalties in the past seven games, the penalty kill continues to be solid for the club.
“I think we all pretty much know what to do out there right now,” said Ekholm on the penalty kill. “In the beginning, it’s a new system and a new penalty kill coach, so it takes some time, but everyone knows and understands what to do out there now. I think it’s been rolling. You just have to get a few big kills and just build the momentum off of that and that’s what we’ve been doing the last couple of games.”
An important role of the defender is blocking shots and Ekholm wasn’t a stranger to it against the Stars. Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm each had three blocked shots, while Victor Bartley had four. As a team, the Predators blocked 15 shots.
“Against any team, it’s important,” said Ekholm on shot blocking. “Especially against Dallas, who has Seguin and Benn. They have a deep team on forward and even skilled with the defenseman.”
As the Predators remain as the only team with single digit regulation losses, they travel to Minnesota for an afternoon game against the Wild. While expected to perform well this season, the Wild are 2-4-4 in their last 10 games. Like any other Central Division game however, it’s not one to be overlooked.
“We’ll have a nice practice tomorrow and just the legs going again,” said Ekholm. “We’ll fly there tomorrow and then get ready. We’ve got to be mentally prepared for a tough game on Saturday. It’s an early game again. We did that last week and we won, so hopefully we can repeat that. We’ll get our minds and bodies ready and get the two points.”
Another nice tidbit is that with the win, while not official, the Predators coaching staff should be heading to Columbus to take part in the All Star Game. The two points Thursday night secured Nashville as the team with the highest point percentage heading into Saturday night, the deadline. Confirmation will come soon, but it’s another great piece of recognition for the great season so far.
“That’s obviously nice and it tells a lot for how the year has been going for us,” said Ekholm on the coaching staff going to the All Star Game. “It’s a huge thing. Only two coaching staffs get to go, so kudos to them. Peter has done a great job with us and I hope they have a good time.”
Shea Weber Post Game Scrum: