Nashville is now 5-3 so far on the season against division opponents, and with the middle five teams in the division separated by just five points, every victory over a divisional rival is crucial.
“I can’t express it enough,” head coach Peter Laviolette said on the importance of winning divisional games. “You look at the division and where its at, when you’re putting up two points against an opponent in your division, it seems like the games are so hard to win.”
Ryan Johansen and Colin Wilson each had two goals on the night, with Johansen’s first goal eventually becoming the game-winner. Johansen has had a lot of success against the Jets, getting 11 points in his last five outings against Winnipeg. With another matchup with their divisional foe to the North on Sunday, he has something to be thankful for on the day after Thanksgiving.
“It’s just one of those teams, I guess, lately I’ve had success, so I guess I’m happy we get to play them again on Sunday,” Johansen said.
As for Wilson, he stressed the importance of the point swing that can come from a win over a division opponent.
“We always mark them on the calendar, and we know that they’re essentially four-point games,” he said. “They’re big swings, and with how tight the division is right now, every game counts, so it’s nice to get the wins.”
Much like the standings in the Central, Nashville’s games against division rivals tend to be close affairs. All but one of their Central division showdowns before this week were decided by one or two goals. However, the Predators have found a way to pile it on this week, lighting up the Dallas Stars 5-2 on Wednesday before tonight’s four-goal victory.
However, even tonight’s game was not the rout it seemed to be.
“That game was, I think, closer than the ending appeared tonight,” Laviolette said. “In the first period, probably 13-14 minutes into the game, it seemed like the shots were 3-3, 4-4, whatever it was. There just wasn’t a lot of activity and we said that could be a low-event game. They got a flukey goal, we ended up getting a flukey goal later and it was on the power play. So, the five-on-five part of playing Winnipeg is difficult at times.”
Goaltender Pekka Rinne, who gave up one goal on 23 shots in the victory, didn’t face many high-danger chances. Perhaps the biggest one was a streaking Patrik Laine shot from the right circle that he easily kicked aside.
“That was [Laine’s] only chance tonight,” Rinne said. “They didn’t have much, to be honest with you. We played a solid game, I didn’t think they had much.”
Now, with a rematch against the Jets on Sunday, and four games against Central Division opponents in their next seven games, the Predators seem to be hitting their stride at the right time, and doing so against opponents they need wins against.
“I think you look at [Neal’s] goal, where it was just a really lucky play, that’s karma, I guess,” Johansen said. “He took a really undisciplined penalty and we get a lucky bounce on the power play. Whether it’s lucky or we’re earning it, we’re finding ways to get success.”
The Predators are back in action in Winnipeg against the Jets on Sunday at noon Central.