Following a five-game road trip that included four stops north of the border, the Nashville Predators finally returned home since their 5-2 victory over New Jersey on March 3rd. Facing a very talented New York Islanders club, the Predators had a quick start, shut New York down in the third and an Austin Watson empty net goal sealed the 4-2 win. The win also put Nashville within three points of the Chicago Blackhawks for third in the Central Division.
After going 3-1-1 on their road trip and earning seven of ten points, Nashville continued their strong play on Thursday night. For most of the game, the Predators dominated the Islanders, which included getting on the board first with a goal from James Neal following a beautiful feed from Calle Jarnkrok. The team felt like they gave a full 60-minute effort Thursday night, something they didn’t feel comfortable saying two months ago.
“Awesome, I don’t know any more words to put it into,” said Ekholm on the feeling of coming back home and getting the win. “It was an awesome effort by us. Every team in the league right now is fighting for spots, fighting for something. There are no easy games. We got off to a very good start, I thought. The complete 60-minute effort was there. At times, we had to defend, and I think we defended pretty well. Pekka played awesome in net, and everyone contributed. That’s the way we want to play, and it’s a nice feeling.”
Being on the road for close to two weeks can be exhausting, but it didn’t show for Nashville. They came out jumping and firing on all cylinders.
“I didn’t feel tired at all,” said Ekholm. “I just felt re-energized coming home. We got a day and a half at home before a game, and get some home-cooked meals and relax a little bit then get back at it. We have the final stretch here, and it’s going to be important with every game we’re in.”
Even in the 14-game point streak, the power play for Nashville has been struggling. The power play is basically the only area where they have not been up to par, so getting that unit to click will only bode well as they inch closer to the playoffs. It only took 58 seconds into their only power play of the night for Ryan Ellis to convert the opportunity with a slap shot from the point.
“We’ve been getting time on it, we just have converted on it quite well,” said Ekholm on the power play of late. “It was just a really nice shot by Ellis, for sure. I think a lot of the guys on the power play unit felt a little bit of weight off their shoulders now. Hopefully we can just keep it going. A hot power play would be a key in the playoffs.”
As it’s been seen time and time again, Ryan Ellis is dangerous on the power play. He has a dangerous, quick slap shot and many teams, especially ones that rarely see the Predators, sure aren’t as prepared for it. Shea Weber’s slap shot is still the most feared on the team, but Ellis is certainly making a name for himself.
“I mean he’s not there yet,” said Ekholm, laughing, when comparing Ellis’ shot to Weber’s with Ellis sitting next to him. “For the size of guy he is, he has a heck of a shot for sure. It’s not like Weber’s just yet, but it’s a weapon. I think most teams that scout us right now take away Weber and then they see Ellis on the other unit and try to take him away as well. It gives me a little more room to work with, and I try to get him the puck whenever he’s open. We know it’s going to go to the net and going to be a good shot.”
The Predators have a quick turnaround as immediately following the game, they hopped on a plane to the nation’s capital. On Friday night, Nashville plays the league-leading Washington Capitals.
“Everyone has gone through a back-to-back before,” said Ekholm. “We just have to take this feeling that we have tonight, get on the plane, have some food, get some good rest in us and be ready to go tomorrow. It’ll be a tough game, their a good team, but as long as we’re playing like we are right now, we can beat any team in the league.”
Post game video with Pekka Rinne & Peter Laviolette:
Photo credit: Christina McCullough