For the majority of this season, a Predators home game usually meant a victory. On Thursday night against a desperate Wild team, Nashville suffered its fourth regulation home loss of the season, falling 4-2. For awhile, the teams exchanged scoring opportunities and goals, but near the end of the second period, the Wild took control. During the third period, Minnesota kept quality scoring chances for Nashville to a minimum.
“They were making smart plays and good plays to get it out,” said Mike Fisher. “Our forecheck wasn’t what it needed to be for whatever reason, but we need to be hungrier and execute better. We weren’t moving the puck and we were missing passes that we shouldn’t be missing.”
While it’s not too often that the Predators have played on their heels for almost an entire game, the Wild found a way to force Nashville into making mistakes.
“We had too many turnovers all over the ice, it wasn’t just in our own zone,” said Shea Weber. “You can’t beat a team like that with their speed and ability to finish… we didn’t play our best.”
A bright spot for the Predators Thursday night was the play of the second line which consisted of Matt Cullen and Craig Smith centered by Mike Fisher. Of the six points that Nashville notched tonight, those three made for five of them. It was Craig Smith that tied the game at two midway through the second period.
“He was really strong tonight,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “His skating was sharp and he seemed like he had lots of energy and pop out there. He seems to be finding his way offensively in regard to scoring goals. He is a hot player for us.”
While it is somewhat shocking for them to lose at home, the team knows that the season is still a work in progress and that maintaining the number one position in the league means every other team is gunning for them.
“Yeah, [the Wild] are fighting for a playoff spot so every game is huge,” said Roman Josi. “They are fighting for their lives and I think they are back in it. Every game is tough in this League. Everyone is fighting for something. We are fighting for first place and they are fighting for a playoff spot. Every game is a tough one.”
The Predators have one of the lighter schedules in regards to playing opponents currently in playoff position to finish the season. They will need to continue to build on creating new chemistry with some of the new faces on the squad. Thursday night, Ryan Ellis returned after missing 21 games.
“It’s good to have him back,” said Fisher. “He is a big part of our team. He does a good job. That’s a tough injury to come back and feel comfortable and I thought he did a good job.”
Ellis didn’t play the typical amount of minutes he was used to playing since going down on January 8th against Dallas, but he did see time on the power play. A player has to start somewhere in regards to getting back in game shape when returning from injury.
“It was a starting point for him to get back out there,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “I think he played 12 minutes or so. It is hard when, in a game like this, when it is a competitive team that is fighting for a playoff spot, there is not a lot of practice time to prepare for that. Just based on the season and the schedule, you get out there and do skating and shooting drills, but it does not really prepare you for the games. I think it is good to get him in there and progress from there.
Up next, the Predators take on the Detroit Red Wings in an afternoon matinee at Bridgestone Arena at 2pm. The Red Wings will enter the game coming off a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks.
Immediately following the game will be a charity alumni game between alums from both the Predators and Red Wings.