Saturday, January 30, 2010

Predators Snap Losing Streak, Top Thrashers 4-3

Five straight games that have gone in the loss column, and the Nashville Predators find themselves fighting for a playoff spot. A tough loss to Detroit the night before, and now the dangerous Atlanta Thrashers in town. Certainly a trap game for the desperate Predators. Certainly a game the Predators needed to win to end the losing streak and gather points on home ice.

The game started well for the Predators as Joel Ward worked hard around the net and chipped a puck over Johan Hedberg's shoulder for a 1-0 Predator lead. Welcome back Joel. Your presence has been missed in the lineup and on the ice. Wardo continues to work hard, and his efforts were rewarded with the first goal of the game.

Jerred Smithson gave the Predators a 2-0 lead with a nice wrister after controlling the puck with his skate. Smithers may not score often, but when he does, it is timely. His 7th goal of the season staked the Predators to a 2-0 lead.

That lead was cut to 2-1 just seven seconds into a Thrasher power play as Bryan Little was alone in the low slot and fired a shot past Pekka Rinne. Once again, the Predators penalty kill failed to do their job, and Atlanta was back in the game at the end of the first period.

Martin Erat extended the Predators lead to two once again as he fired a shot past Hedberg at 11:12 of the second. Erat was strong on the puck and played a good game, with this goal and an assist for the night.

With Tobias Enstrom in the box for holding, the Predators went on the power play up 3-1 and had an opportunity to put the game out of reach. Instead, the Preds gave up a short handed goal to Chris Thorburn. Pekka Rinne stopped the first shot on the two on one break by the Thrashers, but could not control the rebound, and Thorburn had a virtually open net to slap home the puck.

Three minutes later, Atlanta struck again as Bryan Little tallied his second goal. Rinne could not control a rebound, and Little had an open net awaiting his shot. Suddenly, the Predators had squandered momentum and a two goal lead to go into the third period tied with the pesky Thrashers.

This is the point where the hockey gods have frowned upon the Predators. Momentum had shifted, and a few breakdowns had cost the Predators not only the lead but momentum as well.

That would change just seven seconds into the third period. The Predators won the opening faceoff, and Francis Buillon fired a pass to Jason Arnott breaking in on goal. The captain buried the shot, and the Predators had a lead they would never relinquish. Good to see the Captain find the back of the net again. It's been a long time, Jason. Don't be a stranger.

Pekka Rinne played well in net. The goals he gave up were goals on which he didn't have much of a chance. He made some huge saves to keep the Thrashers off the board. He made a brilliant glove save against Maxim Afinagenov, who was alone at the side of the net, and he stoned Ilya Kovalchuk on a breakaway. Earlier, I said that either Rinne or Dan Ellis had to step up and play like a champion. Tonight, Rinne did just that.

What I am about to say, I say in love. Our special teams suck. Giving up a power play goal just seven seconds into the PP is just unacceptable. Squandering a 5 on 3 power play is unacceptable. Heck, we couldn't even get the puck in the zone with a two man advantage. Giving up a shorthanded goal is unacceptable. This type of play is going to bite us in the ass at the most inopportune time. We are playing with fire here guys, and this has to improve.

Kudos to the Thrasher fans that made the trip up for the game. Two busloads of their fans were in attendance. I'm not sure that the Thrashers have many more fans in attendance at their home games in Phillips Arena. They were loud and supported their team, and it was good to see the "non-traditional" markets represented so well.

You have broken the streak guys, and you did it by working hard, winning puck battles, and shooting the puck. A good win. A necessary win. Learn from these games you lost, and learn from the game you have won. You know what it takes to win, and you have to continue to play with this sense of urgency and grit.

The Predators are still in playoff position. They have endured a low point, and now they have started a new winning streak. Build on this. Play with heart and with confidence.

You have seven games until the Olympic break. Capture the points that are out there. Believe in yourselves. We believe in you. The hockey gods looked down tonight and smiled on you. Continue to make them smile.

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