The last time the Nashville Predators played in Bridgestone Arena, it was a loss that began a five-game losing streak that included a rough 0-3-1 road trip. In their first game back, Ryan Johansen’s home debut, they gave the home fans a 3-0 shutout over the Minnesota Wild.
To start the game, head coach Peter Laviolette opted to stick with the same lines he deployed against Winnipeg. In doing so, chemistry has begun to develop between Ryan Johansen and James Neal. It has also bumped Eric Nystrom up to the third line and currently playing with Mike Fisher and Craig Smith. Nystrom tipped in a Shea Weber point shot to tally the first goal of the game just 1:24 into the first period.
“It was good, but even after that, I don’t think we played well until the latter part of the first period,” said Mike Fisher, who had a secondary assist on the goal. “But it was good to get that lead. We got better as the game went on.”
On Thursday, Nashville stormed back in the third period against Winnipeg to force overtime, but lost in the three-on-three sudden death period. The team felt the momentum from that game carried over to Saturday night.
“We felt the last couple games we were coming out of it,” said Fisher on the previous losing streak. “We played a couple good games. That was a disappointing one to lose in Winnipeg, but to come back like that it sometimes carries over momentum. We knew it was coming. Coming home from a long road trip and a lot of travel, we battled and it was a good effort tonight by us. Obviously it’s good to see Carter play so well. We were kind of up and down the first two periods and the first part of the game. He shut the door, so that was good to see.”
In regards to Carter Hutton, he got the call in net against the Wild over Pekka Rinne. It was a rare start on home ice for the goaltender, but he made tremendous saves to keep the team in the game early on in the first period.
“I just try to go out and help my team win,” said Hutton. “It’s obviously nice, almost like a road game for me. I’m not used to it, so it’s a treat. Our fans are amazing and to come home to a Saturday night after a tough road trip, they were electric all night, they gave us energy and it was a huge win for us.”
Head coach Peter Laviolette, who opted not to discuss which goalie would get the start on Tuesday versus Chicago, was impressed with Hutton’s play. Laviolette credited the early saves made by Hutton for not letting the game turn around to Minnesota’s favor.
“He was really good,” said Laviolette on Hutton. “We really, if we’re being honest, came out a little bit slow in the first 10 minutes. He had a lot of activity and if he wasn’t sharp early on then the game could have swung a different way. There were even parts of the second period where they and us on our heels a little bit. They’re a good team with plenty of offensive power, and he shut the door. The way our guys played in the third period, Carter included, they had to fight for it.”
Aside for a few moments when they allowed Minnesota to cycle in the zone, the Predators looked much better on Saturday night. The defense cleared pucks out from the net and was more physical in keeping the Wild away from Hutton. Part of that can be seen in how Nashville laid out 26 hits compared to only seven for Minnesota. Hutton was given a tremendous opportunity to play at home game and he came up big for his team in it.
“It’s a team win,” said Hutton. “We had some big blocks. We had some big plays, our penalty kill was great. For me, I didn’t really waiver too much from last year to this year. When I get a chance to play, I just do my best to help our team win.”
As divisional games continue to roll for the Predators, the Central Division-leading Chicago Blackhawks come back to Nashville on Tuesday. The Blackhawks are winners of 10 straight and play once more before facing the Predators.
Post game video – Ryan Johansen, Roman Josi & Peter Laviolette:
For one of the few times the Predators are able to practice in Nashville in January, they’ll be holding a public practice at Ford Ice Center on Monday at 11:00am.
Photo courtesy of Christina McCullough