With the looming realignment that is set to being next season, the Nashville Predators were left to wonder who their new rival would be. Since the Detroit Red Wings are leaving for the East, Nashville no longer has that divisional opponent who you knew everyone would be geared up to play. Luckily it seems that the Predators and their fans have found a new team who they can love to hate…the Dallas Stars.
Considering the Predators were without two of their top forwards (Hornqvist and Wilson, both on injured reserve with upper body injuries) it seemed that the bad luck would follow. After their meeting a little over two weeks ago, you knew this game promised to be high in physicality and emotion, and it did not disappoint! The first period started off slow, well slow compared to the previous game, and it wasn’t until a bit past the mid-way point that someone would find the back of the net. Nashville’s Matt Halischuk (who was recently recalled from Milwaukee) had a pretty sweet takeaway in the netural zone. Halischuk fed the puck to teammate Nick Spaling, who put the puck past the Stars’ Kari Lehtonen.
During the second period things would begin to heat up. Nashville would convert a power play goal thinks to Shea Weber, and it wasn’t his rocket shot that did it, but rather a heads up backhander that Lehtonen wasn’t prepared for. A few minutes later, Nashville’s Rich Clune would get whistled for roughing and sent to the box. What looked like a bad call, actually worked to the Predator’s advantage. Once Nashville killed off the penalty, Clune jumped from the box and grabbed the puck on a breakaway. Dallas’ Jordie Benn hooked Clune to which the officials awarded Clune a penalty shot. Clune, making it look easy, beat Lehtonen though the five hole and put the Predators up 3-0. At that moment you could just feel the air being let out of the Stars’ bubble.
If you thought things couldn’t get any crazier than a Rich Clune penalty shot, then all you had to do was wait for the third period. With about seven minutes left in the game, Dallas could not hold back their frustration. Stars’ Eric Nystrom went after Predators’ defenseman Ryan Ellis and both players dropped the gloves. You should note here that Ellis isn’t prone to fighting, especially considering that the majority of players are twice his size. Nystrom would serve 5 minutes for fighting as well as 2 minutes for roughing, which put the Predators on another power play. Oh but wait, the fighting was far from over. After being cross checked in the back several times, Nashville’s Mike Fisher laid into Dallas’ Stephane Robidas. It looked like Fisher got in about seven punches to Robidas zero, but who’s counting. While that was going on, Weber fought Dallas’ Antonie Roussel and Nashville’s Bobby Butler fought Brenden Dillon. Once everything was sorted and the players were in their respective boxes, the Stars’ Jamie Oleksiak tried to go after Clune immediately after the face off. Clune, rather smartly, had no part of it. Oleksiak would receive a 10 minute major and leave the game. Now, back to hockey play, with the Predators still on a power play, Nashville’s Gabriel Bourque would add another goal on a beautiful shot from close range.
Nashville would go on to win 4-0, giving Pekka Rinne yet another shutout. Rinne now leads the NHL with five shutouts this season. To say that Rinne was in true from last night would be an understatement. While everyone was fighting each other, Rinne fought that puck like a ninja.
Here are some of my thoughts after the game…
1. Rich Clune?!?
At the beginning of the season, I was as bad as everyone else. The idea of Rich Clune being a Predator didn’t excite me. When Clune didn’t get off to a great start and was taking bad penalties, I was yelling for him to be benched. My how things have changed. I’m not sure for the reason, but Rich Clune has been playing good hockey lately. He now has three goals on the season (as many as Martin Erat, let that sink in) and seems to be playing with more hockey smarts. While I’m sure Clune will more than likely take bad penalties at the worst time, it’s nice to see the good that Coach Trotz had been talking about.
While last night’s win gave the Predators a much needed boost in the confidence department, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Faceoff specialist, Paul Gaustad went out with an upper body injury. The Predators have a tendency to struggle in the faceoff department when Gaustad is a no-go. Injuries were going to be a problem in this shortened season, but you just hope for Nashville’s sake that they can continue to overcome.
The Predators continue their road trip with back-to-back games on Thursday and Friday. Thursday they will be in Vancouver to take on the Canucks before they travel to Calgary to take on the Flames Friday night. The goal has to be for the team that showed up last night to keep going and pick up some much needed points this week. The Predators are usually good for having a great game, and then lose it before the next game even starts. Nashville has to have confidence in the way they played in Dallas, now they just have to contain that momentum and keep moving forward.