The Nashville Predators hit the ice in Pittsburgh today hoping to establish something positive heading into the Olympic break. The truth is, Nashville has played uninspired hockey over the last month and their record reflects this effort. Since January 15th, the Predators are 4-7-2. That is the type of effort that symbolizes a team looking for a high draft pick, not a playoff caliber team. Fortunately, Nashville has been able to hold on to 7th in the conference and still has a legitimate shot at the playoffs. But the 6, 7, and 8 point buffer the Predators once had over Detroit, Anaheim, and Dallas has evaporated.
Needless to say, a win in Pittsburgh would rectify their slide and transition into the Olympic break on a positive note. With 5 Predators heading to Vancouver, though, one could only hope they remember their 1st priority is to win hockey games for Nashville, and not for their home country.
Well, it took overtime and a shootout, but the Predators escaped the Penguins with a 4-3 win and most importantly 2 point. The start of game didn’t look good for Nashville. Pittsburgh outshot the Preds 11 – 4, dominated the game physically, and most importantly, held a 1-0 lead going into the 1st intermission.
Not sure if coach Barry Trotz expressed his displeasure during the intermission or if the team just realized how quickly their season was slipping away, but something changed. Nashville came out firing on all cylinders in the 2nd. The period started with Martin Erat firing a wrist shot between the pipes for their 1st score of the game. Not to be outdone, Kevin Klein scored 2 minutes later. Unfortunately, it was past his own goalie as a result of deflection off of his stick. Matt Cooke ended up with credit for the goal, but I prefer to give it to Klein to emphasis his level of play lately.
So who do the Predators look to when their defense not only can’t keep the puck out of the net, but scores for the opposing team? Not their high priced veterans like Jason Arnott, J.P Dumont, or Steve Sullivan. No, the Predators turn to Mr. Versatile. Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo fired a wrist shot in 12 seconds after the Cooke goal to tie it up at 2-2. It should be noted that Tootoo is not living up to the reputation he has worked so hard to master early in his career as a fighter. Sure, he will still drop the gloves against anyone and usually hold his own. But he is having his best year of his career with 12 points, even though he missed 30 games due to injury.
The 3rd period started out slow and looked as though both teams were perfectly content to send it to OT tied to secure at least 1 point. That was until Brooks Orpik unloaded a slap shot from the blue line that sailed under Dan Ellis’ leg to put Pittsburgh up 3-2. Normally, I would say this was the type of goal that would break the back of Nashville. Their 3rd period play recently has led to a number of come from behind victories for their opponents. Fortunately, Shea Weber remembered why he is an Olympian for Team Canada and uncorked a laser from the point to tie the game at 3-3. This has been a tough year for Weber as his accuracy and usually great defense have taken a step back from recent years. Hopefully this goal will jump start a successful Olympic debut and having him firing on all cylindars for the home stretch of the NHL season.
An uneventful overtime period led to a shootout. A few minutes later, Dan Ellis had stopped shots from both Sidney Crosby and Kris Latang, and Nashville was celebrating a victory thanks to back to back goals from Cal O’Reilly and Martin Erat.
Overall, this is one of those games that neither team deserved to win. Both teams committed a number of stupid penalties and defensive lapses. Both Dan Ellis and Marc-Andre Fleury made incredible saves throughout the game to keep the score down. But they both let in some soft goals. The big difference, Ellis was lights out in the shootout handing Pittsburgh their 1st shootout loss of the year.
More importantly, the 2 points guarantees that the Predators enter the Olympic break in 7th place. They have a 2 point lead over Calgary, 3 over Dallas and Detroit, and 4 over Anaheim. They also have a game in hand over both Calgary and Anaheim. With 6 Predators heading to Vancouver this evening to represent their home countries, the remaining roster will have the opportunity to rest up, refocus their energies, and hopefully be ready to step up their level of urgency coming out of the break.
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Written by Mark Jasper