After going 1-3-1 on their five-game road trip, the Nashville Predators headed back to Bridgestone Arena to take on the Buffalo Sabres team that was the source of their only victory on the trip. While the Predators carried a one-goal lead into the second period, they could not overcome two power play goals from the Sabres en route to a 4-1 loss.
It was a day of some changes for Nashville prior to the game Saturday night. News broke earlier in the day that the Predators had called up Viktor Arvidsson and Juuse Saros from Milwaukee ahead of the game. When it was announced that goaltender Juuse Saros would make his NHL debut against Buffalo, it was certainly important to give him a lead to play in front of early in the game. The Predators did that by notching a power play goal in the first period. Unfortunately, that would be the only goal they would score all game.
“It’s a lot of things,” said Eric Nystrom on what didn’t pan out for the team Saturday night. “We were playing a solid game, and take the five-minute major and it kind of deflated us. It was an opportunity for us to keep the momentum with a big kill, but they scored two goals on the five-minute major and it took the wind right out of our sails.”
At 11:43 of the second period, recently recalled Viktor Arvidsson took a cross checking major which also resulted in a game misconduct. While the play completely seemed unintentional, the call was still warranted, and Nashville now had to kill off a straight five minutes of penalty time. This opportunity allowed the Sabres to get back into the game as well as take the lead, tallying two goals in the five-minute span.
“That’s what we’re called on to do; you’ve got to be ready to do that,” said Nystrom on logging a lot of minutes on the penalty kill. “We weren’t. The last 10 games, the penalty kill hasn’t been doing a great job. It’s a difference in the game tonight. That’s where we have to step up and get better and find ways to kill penalties.”
Starting on November 20 and into Saturday evening, the Predators played six games in nine days. This included two swings of back-to-back match ups. While it’s not an excuse by any means, having Sunday off to recuperate could be of great need for the team.
“Every team has the same schedule, so it’s not really an excuse,” said Nystrom. “They played last night and traveled here and so did we. There’s no excuse. It’s frustrating when you’re trying to work hard and trying to do the right things and you run into a team that plays stingy and you can’t find the back of the net. You end up losing at home.”
Saturday night was also another game that saw Nashville outshoot their opponent. Shot totals were 29-24 in favor of the Predators. What didn’t help in producing offensive opportunities was that Buffalo blocked 22 shots in the game. Nashville however, only blocked three shots.
“They blocked a lot of shots tonight,” said Peter Laviolette. “We had the puck a lot in the offensive zone. I don’t think we were short on attempts. They scoring chances were really a high event game as far as goaltenders having to make save after save, but they were able to capitalize on theirs.”
In some ways, it seems that there has been a rotation of players called up and sent down over the past few weeks. The fourth line that has seen multiple players serve on it now has Nystrom playing alongside Austin Watson and Colton Sissons. With Paul Gaustad on the injured reserve, Sissons has been centering the fourth line.
“He’s a great young player and does so many things well on the ice,” said Nystrom on Sissons. “It’s nice playing with him and Watson, another young guy, trying to just be a veteran on that line and be positive and help them out.”
With both Gaustad still out, Sissons will continue to get an opportunity on the line with Nystrom as well as on the penalty kill. Nashville will have a chance to get back to their winning ways at home on Tuesday when they take on the Arizona Coyotes, another team with rookies making a splash in the NHL.
Players on Juuse Saros’ debut:
“I thought he played really well. He made some really good saves and he looked comfortable.”
“He played great tonight. Made some huge saves especially early on, and the two goals that got them going were power play goals and not much you could have done on those. He played a hell of a game tonight. He’s going to be a big, bright star in the future.
Juuse Saros on his debut:
Head coach Peter Laviolette:
Photo credit: Christina McCullough