While it took the Nashville Predators the opening period to get their minds right, they finished off the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night in overtime with a breakaway goal from Craig Smith. With the win, goaltender Carter Hutton improved to 2-1-1 since starting goaltender Pekka Rinne went down with injury before the All Star Break. Not only is beginning the second half of the season with a win at home huge for the team, it’s big for the confidence of a goalie charged with keeping the team in the race for Central Division.
“It’s always a little tough because you never know how you’re going to come back after the break,” said Hutton. “It’s a lot of days off when you’re used to going every day. For us, it’s a huge win at home. The crowd was great again tonight, and it’s a big two points for us.”
The first period was fairly sluggish for the Predators, which included allowing a deflection goal from Cody McLeod. Goals on deflections are always difficult to play because the quick change in the puck’s movement happens in a split second.
“It’s almost better sometimes when you’re screened because you just block,” said Hutton. “It’s one of the ones where I saw it the whole way coming and then I extend for it and the guy throws his stick out and tips it enough to go in. It’s a tough goal. You don’t want to get beat on the far side and the guy gets a good tip. You try to shift into pucks better, but it’s one of the ones where guys are going to get tips.”
There were multiple plays involving Hutton’s glove, some flashy, some not. For what it’s worth though, he tracked the puck well against the Avalanche.
“You’re always working on your glove,” said Hutton. “I don’t try to be too flashy, to be honest. I just try to keep it in good position. Sometimes you read it and make that play. It always good, it kind of gets you in the game. I just thought it was one of those nights where we weren’t playing our best early on and the second and third period we dominated.”
Throughout the third period, the Predators dominated. After Filip Forsberg notched the third goal of the night for Nashville, the team continued to pepper Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov with shots, a total of 15 for the period. With so much action being held in the offensive zone, Hutton only face seven shots in the third. Sometimes it can be tough to keep up the intensity between long stints of play.
“I think it’s a lot of self talk,” said Hutton. “You try to stay in it and stay focused. I try to pick up my intensity when the puck is in the other end. I focus on every face off because you don’t want to fall asleep because this league is pretty quick and before you know it, they’re coming down and getting a scoring chance. That’s my biggest thing is to keep focused and battle.”
The Predators held a 3-2 lead for almost the entire third period. With 36 seconds remaining, and Colorado playing with an empty net, Nick Holden netted the tying goal, which would force over time. The goal came after a frenzy in the crease.
“The shot came from my blocker side,” said Hutton. “The puck came out and there were a bunch of guys and I didn’t know where the puck went. It was just a big scrum and the puck squirted and out. Holden roofed it. I read the shot and tried to get up and over to it. They’re a good team, and they’re going to put pressure on you. They got one late, but we stuck with it and we were the better team tonight.”
In the absence of Pekka Rinne, Hutton’s job is to give the team a chance to win every night. The Predators have been scoring more goals and relying on the offense to put them over the top. As long as Hutton can continue to make timely saves, they’ll be able to keep battling through.
“Tonight, I think he gave us an opportunity to win,” said head coach Peter Laviolette on Hutton. “You think about that over time, there was a save that had to made right before Smith scored his goal. He helped us out, gave us that save and that opportunity to win.”
That save immediately turned into a beautiful assist from Mike Ribeiro to a streaking Craig Smith that won the game in over time. Nashville now holds a 19-2-1 record at home, still good for best in the league.
The Nashville Predators play again on Thursday night in St. Louis. Of note, their scheduled practice on Wednesday at Centennial Sportsplex has been canceled.
Peter Laviolette’s post game press conference:
Photo credit: Kristen Jerkins