Monkey Off Their Backs: Predators vs Kings Recap

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Finally. Finally the Nashville Predators came away with a win in a shootout. Finally goalie, Pekka Rinne, gets his first win of the season. Finally Nashville played Predator-like hockey. Sure there are still issues to be resolved in the Predators game play, but their showing late in the 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings has to be a breath of fresh air for Nashville.

The Predators jumped on the defending cup champs early. With just 0:58 seconds off the clock, Brandon Yip took a feed from Gabriel Bourque and snapped it right into the net. Nashville would hold on to the lead until the 13:08 mark when a fluke of a goal would cost them. After a shot went high and banked off the glass behind the net, the Kings’ Dustin Brown was able to find the rebound and score the goal while everyone else was still looking for the puck. The next two periods, and overtime, would go scoreless, but not for lack of effort. It seemed that especially in the third period, both teams picked up the intensity and started playing desperate hockey. Well, if you can call three shots on goal in the third period desperate for the Predators. Neither team could break through, so it was no surprise that the ensuing shootout would go eight rounds.

In the shootout, David Legwand started Nashville out on the right foot by sinking his shot and giving the Predators the 1-0 lead. Shots were then traded between the Kings’ Mike Richards and Dustin Brown and Predators’ Craig Smith, making the shootout 2-2 after three rounds. The tie would keep going in the sixth round when both LA’s Anze Kopitar and Nashville’s Gabriel Bourque would score on their respective tries. Then, in the eighth round, after a miss by the Kings’ Simon Gagne, the Predators’ Sergei Kosititsyn would seal the deal and give Nashville their first shootout win of the season.

Here are my thoughts after the game:

1. Think Outside the Box
I’m not talking figuratively. I’m literally talking about the penalty box. At one point in the first period, the Predators had as many penalty minutes as they did shots. That is unacceptable! Nobody can expect to consistently win games, if someone is always taking a penalty. And I’m not talking about “good” penalties here. I know that sometimes a player has to take a penalty to prevent a sure goal, but the penalties committed in the first period last night by the Predators were not smart. The fact that defenseman, Scott Hannan, was in the box three times during the course of the first period should tell you something. The LA Kings’ twitter account made a joke about there being free pizza in the penalty box. I don’t care if there is a free car; the Predators have got to stay out of there!

2. Skate and Stop
If you know me at all, then you’re not surprised when I say that I am a huge Patric Hornqvist fan. I love how he plays the game. He is someone who is not afraid at all to skate to the front of the net, stay there, and do what he can to score a goal. The Predators need more Patric Hornqvists, especially considering his absence right now. I did see a slight improvement last night on traffic to the net. What I didn’t see, however, was anyone willing to stay there. Several times I would see a Predator player skate down to the front of the net, stay there for a couple of seconds, and then skate to somewhere else on the ice. I don’t know if they got bored, or scared, or what, but when there is nobody there to pick up rebounds, you are missing prime scoring opportunities. It’s also not just about depositing the rebounds, but when you have someone standing there, screening the goalie, it allow shots from the point to get though.

The biggest victory to come out of last night’s game was not the two points the Predators received for the win, it was the fact that the Predators’ Pekka Rinne finally got the monkey off his back. I know that wins are important, but I think the way that Rinne played with last night will not only pay dividends to his own confidence but will also pay off for the team. How Pekka plays is part of the backbone of Predator hockey. Maybe now Nashville can find their identity again as the scrappy team who plays for a solid sixty minutes. If, and notice I did say if, the Predators can use this momentum and focus on fixing the lingering problems (like passing and shooting in the offensive zone), they may be able to rid themselves of the slump they fell into.

Nashville has one more game out on the west coast during this road trip. They will move on to San Jose to take on the Sharks Saturday night. I’m more interested in how they play in this game, having now found a bit of their groove. Can they continue to improve? That will be the true test.

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