The markings of a team with high expectations for themselves can easily be seen when frustration levels are high in the locker room following a game when a point is earned. Saturday night in front of an over-capacity crowd, the Nashville Predators lost in overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 2-1.
In a game where both offenses didn’t really begin churning until the second period, Nashville had to battle a five-minute penalty just 5:25 into the first period. Austin Watson was called for a boarding major, which put the Penguins on the power play for five continuous minutes.
“No, I didn’t expect a call there,” said Watson. “I was skating back to reload into the zone and then I saw the ref put his arm up. Obviously, you don’t want to see anybody get hurt, but at the time, he had an opportunity to look and see that I was coming. I hit his shoulder, and at the last second, the bodies just must have changed a little bit. Unfortunately, you don’t want to see that, but I thought it was pretty clean.”
Head coach Peter Laviolette was noticeably frustrated on the bench. Following the replay, the hit was shoulder to shoulder, but the body of Pittsburgh defender Brian Dumoulin went flying into the board.
“I wasn’t expecting a penalty,” stated Laviolette.
After killing off all five minutes of the penalty, the Predators fed off the energy of the crowd and began generating more offensive chances. The momentum followed them into the second period where they peppered Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with 17 shots.
“Our fans really got us going after that,” said Mattias Ekholm. “It’s a tough, tough penalty for us, but when you can kill off that long of a PK, it’s always going to give you momentum. The crowd helped us out really well. The building was rocking tonight. I think they deserved a win, but unfortunately that didn’t happen.”
Even while on the penalty kill, Nashville didn’t allow Pittsburgh to set up shop and generate opportunities.
“Especially in the beginning like that, [it was] a huge kill for us,” said Pekka Rinne. “I think the whole beginning of the season, our penalty kill has done an extremely good job. It continued tonight. That was a big kill, and it gave us some momentum going forward.”
Trailing while entering the third period, Nashville put another 17 shots on Fleury and eventually tied the game just past midway through the period on a James Neal goal. Other than Neal’s goal, the third period went like most of the game did for Nashville, lots of near-misses and close opportunities, but unfortunately they weren’t able to capitalize.
“I thought that we played a strong game,” said Rinne. “Both teams had a lot of chances. Fleury played a good game. It’s disappointing when you don’t get the win, but it’s a big point for us. We played a good game, and probably deserved to win, but there’s no such thing.”
In overtime, there was a non-call on Evgeni Malkin that resulted in the game-winning goal from Phil Kessel. At the blue line, Malkin tripped Filip Forsberg which created an odd-man rush and the goal.
“He got tripped,” said Laviolette. “Everybody saw it. They went in 2-on-1. We should have been on the power play.”
Nashville’s locker room was frustrated during post game, even with gaining a point. They expect to win every game they play. And they should. For most of the game, they completely outplayed Pittsburgh. By gaining the point and the Dallas Stars losing, the Predators move into first in the Central Division and Western Conference with 13 points.
“Yeah, it’s great,” said Watson on getting the point. “We’re starting to play well, and we’re just trying to keep building on it. We would have liked two points tonight, but at the end of the day, it was nice to get the one and get on the road here.”
Now comes the time of the season where Nashville embarks on a four-game road trip. They won’t play on home ice again until November 7th when they take on the St. Louis Blues. They’ll see the Shark, Kings, struggling Ducks and division rival Wild.