Canuckleheads Canucks came to the Nashville Arena Tuesday night attempting to rebound from a weak effort against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Nashville Predators were looking to put the less than stellar effort of their last game against the Minnesota Wild behind them. Two teams looking to start afresh and get back on track. Two teams seperated by a mere two points in the standings. Two teams that look to be battling each other for a playoff spot come April. The outcome of this contest would set the tone for some critical upcoming games for both teams.
It's no secret that when the Predators play their style of hockey- gritty defense, aggressive forecheck, solid goaltending, and opportunistic scoring, they can win any game. The problem for the Predators recently has been getting that consistent effort every night. A gut check win on the road against Chicago is followed by an abyssmal loss to the Wild. That is why this game was so important to this team. They did not want to begin a stretch of inconsistent play and sub-par hockey.
Early in this contest, the Canuck forwards were deep in the offensive zone and forechecking aggressively. Pekka Rinne made several good stops in net to thwart Vancouver scoring opportunities. The Predators weathered that initial charge and started to mount offensive pressure of their own, generating some good scoring chances that were stymied by Roberto Luongo. Back and forth, shaping up to be a goaltending battle was how this game was looking.
What seemed to change the tenor of the game however, was the physical force that the Preds started to bring to the contest. Canuck D-man Alex Edler was knocked out of the contest midway of the first period by a thunderous hit from Shea Weber. Edler immediately left the ice holding his arm, and did not return. The Predators started to check, and check hard, and as the Predators stepped up the physical nature of the game, the Canucks backed off the aggressive forecheck.
Martin Erat scored his first goal of the contest as his shot from behind the goal riccocheted off Luongo's skate and went behind him for a 1-0 Predator lead with just over four minutes to go in the first period. Erat continued to be an offensive force early in the second when he caught the Canucks on a bad line change on the PK and broke in on Luongo. A sweet move caused Luongo to open the five hole and Erat deftly slid the puck between his pads for a 2-0 Predator lead.
The Canucks cut the lead to 2-1 near the end of a 5-3 power play as Jerred Smithson (unjustly, in my opinion) received a 5 minute major for charging and a game misconduct. He hit Alexander Burrows along the side boards, temporarily injuring him and drawing the penalties. Predator fans may recall that it was Burrows last season that left his skates on two seperate occasions to deliver a shot to the head of J.P. Dumont and Scotty Nichol, which subsequently knocked Nichol out of the next 38 games.
In the third, Patric Hornqvist found himself alone at the side of the net on a Predator power play and Jason Arnott got a nice pass to him to beat a helpless Luongo and extend the margin to 3-1. That two goal lead held up until the 16:25 mark when Daniel Sedin scored. Marty Erat sealed the Predator win with an empty netter. This was Marty's second career hat trick, and capped a very complete game from him.
This was a consistent effort from start to finish; the team was solid in all zones; and skated away with a victory by playing the type of hockey they can play. Now we need to do it consistently. There are a lot of teams bunched up in the Western Conference. At the end of the season, the eight that advance to the playoffs will be those that brought the effort night in and night out.
A tip of the hat to Marty Erat and the Predators for a consistent effort throughout this game. Time to string together this type of effort over a number of games. Do that, and I will tip my hat to you. Play like you did tonight, and I will throw it on the ice.