At first, the Nashville Predators were only hot on the road, but now they’ve brought their winning ways to home lately. On Tuesday night, the Predators won their fifth in a row by taking down the Dallas Stars 5-3.
If it wasn’t obvious that an on-ice rivalry was growing the last time these two teams met, an overtime loss on February 15, then Tuesday night sealed it. Post-whistle scrums came often, shoving matches and penalties built up throughout the game; all concluding with a fight between Paul Gaustad and Jordie Benn with only 13 seconds left in regulation.
“I think any of those big time conference games are going to be heated,” said Craig Smith, the second star of the game. “Aggression is there. It’s getting towards the end of the year. Teams are making pushes, and both need to play with an edge every night.”
In their wins, Nashville has been off to fairly quick starts, scoring first or early to get on the board and then building on that. Even though the Predators allowed Dallas to score just 10 seconds following Smith’s goal to open the scoring, the second period saw four Nashville goals. With another five goals scored on Tuesday night, that’s 10 goals in two games for the Predators.
“I don’t know, I think we just come out and we’re just hungry,” said Smith, who had a goal and an assist. “It’s towards the end of the year and we just have to play with an edge and come out on top right in the first period. That definitely feels good in the room here, and it’s showing on the scoreboard.”
Lapses that were seen earlier in the season aren’t being taken advantage of now. The team is 7-0-3 in their last 10 games. When mistakes are made, the team is recovering and the defense is playing much tighter than it was in the first half of the season.
“It’s just a lot of collectively doing things the right way,” said Smith. “We’re running our systems perfectly, and if not, I think our decisions on breakdowns have been really good. That’s key in taking away chances. It’s just making quick decisions. Coming on the back check, making a good read, talking and communication has been huge and that helps to pick up guys and take away a stick or a lane that could lead to a goal.”
As it’s been stated before, the Predators stumbled in the second half of last season. They were a strong first half team, but finished the season poorly. The second half of the 2015-16 season has so far been a complete turnaround from last season. They are getting hot with just 18 games remaining in the regular season.
“I guess you want to peak at the end of the year,” said a smiling Smith. “You want to peak all year, but that’s just the way it right now, the situation we’re in and we just want to play well every night.”
During the win streak, Nashville has had convincing wins over the three teams above them in the Central Division: Chicago, Dallas and St. Louis. With all three of those teams currently at 83 points, the Predators now stand just eight points back of Chicago for the division lead, and they also have one game in hand on Dallas and two games in hand on St. Louis.
“Anybody can beat anybody,” said Smith on beating all three teams. “It’s just who shows up. I think we’ve been doing a good job of that right away. Especially on the road. I think we’ve been doing a fantastic job, and now it’s leading to points. We’re pulling points any way we can get them, and that’s only going to help out in the end.”
Up next, Nashville steps outside of the conference and welcomes the New Jersey Devils to Bridgestone Arena. The Devils currently sit outside of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference and are 4-6-0 in their last 10.
Post game with Shea Weber & Peter Laviolette:
Weber returned to action on Thursday night after he missed the previous three games. In the game, he notched three points (1G-2A) and logged 26:46 of ice time.
Photo credit: Christina McCullough