Monday night in Nashville was all about shot quality for the Predators. Nashville only put 19 shots on the Montreal net, but tallied four goals, plus an empty netter, en route to a 5-1 victory over the Canadiens. The win marks the first time the Predators have had a win streak of any kind in over a month, their last back-to-back victories coming against Winnipeg and Anaheim.
With the team now in a difficult part of the schedule that includes facing divisional rivals and original six teams, getting wins before the Christmas break could help set momentum to close out 2015.
“It’s important,” said Ryan Ellis on getting back-to-back wins. “The first one was a division game and we’re chasing those guys right now. Tonight, we’re playing a desperate team, and we’re pretty desperate as well so it was important to get these two points especially heading into the break.”
Even though Montreal came into Monday night’s game still leading the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens have been struggling recently without Carey Price. Monday night’s loss makes it a four-game losing streak for Montreal, who were 2-7-1 coming into the game. Knowing the team would be frustrated, getting a lead with quality shots against the Canadiens’ third string goalie, Dustin Tokarski, would be key.
“Just get pucks to the net,” said Ellis on the game strategy. “We didn’t have a lot of shots, but I felt like our shots were of higher quality than most nights. Usually we get a lot of shots, but tonight we went to the harder areas and made some good plays out of the corner. Wilson made two great passes. We shoot the puck and good things happen.”
After Ellis scored the third goal for the Predators, Montreal pulled Tokarski in favor of Mike Condon. Puck luck hasn’t been kind to Nashville this season, but a lucky bounce is what led to Ellis’ goal.
“I tried to pass it to Smith in front,” said Ellis. “I think their defenseman put it in by accident, but sometimes you have to make plays their and sometimes you have to shoot it. That was a lucky bounce, but other guys had great shots: Jarnkrok, Weber, Josi, all great to see.”
Overall, special teams have improved for Nashville. Monday night, the Predators scored once on the power play and only allowed a power play goal while killing a four-on-three opportunity for Montreal.
“We’re just getting desperate,” said Ellis on why special teams have been better recently. “We need goals and we need to keep them out of our net. The PK was kind of hitting a tough streak there. We had to hit the reset button and start fresh. Of late, I think we’ve been doing that, playing much better and being more aggressive and making good plays out there.”
The loss for the Canadiens wasn’t for a lack of effort. They peppered Pekka Rinne with 36 shots and only got one past him. Rinne made stellar saves the entire night and finished with a .972 save percentage.
“He was awesome,” said Ellis on Rinne. “That’s the only word you can say is ‘awesome.’ Every time we needed a big save, he made them, especially early. He was always there. They got a four-on-three goal, which is unfortunate because I think he earned that shutout. He was great all night, and we’re going to need that all the time.”
Following the four-day break, things will not get any easier for Nashville as their next four games are against Detroit, the New York Rangers, St. Louis and Dallas. With the two wins before the break, it certainly gives the team something to build on.
“We just have to do the same things we’ve been doing the past two games, keeping it simple,” said Ellis on how they can keep moving forward. “We’re making the right plays when they’re there. We’re keeping it simple when we have to get pucks out, and that’s key when you want to get a streak going.”
Post game with Roman Josi, Colin Wilson and Peter Laviolette:
Photo credit: Christina McCullough