Their patience and persistence in his development may have finally paid off as Fiala has scored three goals in two games, including a brace of tallies in a 5-4 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils.
“I thought tonight was his best game in a Predators uniform,” head coach Peter Laviolette said. “He worked extremely hard, he brought the puck to the net, he was confident with what he was doing. So, it was a real positive for him and his line and I thought that they did a lot of good things offensively. But, Kevin sure had a good game and did a lot of great things offensively.”
Fiala’s first goal came late in the first period on a strange deflection of a Matt Irwin point shot. It wasn’t a clean tip, but it was enough to squeeze it through the pads of goaltender Keith Kinkaid. His second came on the book end of a gorgeous tic-tac-toe sequence, as Mike Ribeiro wired a cross-ice pass to Craig Smith, who laid the puck on a platter for Fiala in front with a wide-open net.
He also had a number of chances in the three-on-three overtime, but couldn’t bury any of them.
“I think we were better in 3v3, we had more chances than the other team,” Fiala said. “It’s a tough go.”
The 20-year-old started the season on the Predators roster for the first time in his career, but was sent down to the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals on November 8 after scoring just two goals through his first 10 games. Even though he wasn’t playing quite poorly, Laviolette still wanted Fiala to get some time in the minors t0 find himself a little more, as is necessary with many young players.
“When you’re here you’ve got to make a difference like he did in the lineup tonight,” he said. “Guys that have gone up and down have continued to develop. They’re young players, and you have to be patient with them. Like I said, since he’s been back he’s been playing hard.”
Fiala said the trip to Milwaukee gave him the chance to regroup, and it has paid dividends in the NHL.
“I went down there, I played my game and realized I can do something on offense, and I came back here and I just tried to do the same,” Fiala said.
With three goals in two games, Fiala appears to have found the scoring touch again. In addition to the goals, he was buzzing around the ice, generating many opportunities. He gave a complete effort in each shift, which should be music to the Predators’ ears.
While Fiala may look to continue momentum from this game, the rest of the Predators might not. They let a three-goal lead in the third period slip away and ended up losing in overtime.
“I thought that we had plenty of opportunities to win once it was 4-3 to get the fifth one,” Laviolette said. “We kept pushing and kept attacking and it didn’t happen. It’s an ugly, ugly way to lose a game and it’s a terrible feeling for everybody involved.”
Even though Fiala played well, he knows the team has to rebound to claim three total points in the back-to-back set at Bridgestone Arena tomorrow.
“We just have to forget the game I think and just focus tomorrow for 60 or 65 minutes and then we’ll win,” Fiala said.
The Predators go right back to work on Sunday, taking on the Philadelphia Flyers at 5 P.M. central.