How do you get rid of the stench of a horrid loss to Toronto two nights ago? More importantly, will the Predators regroup after an effort that could be generously characterized as weak?
The Predators emphatically answered those questions with a solid 3-0 shutout of the Montreal Canadiens in the Bell Centre.
Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne got the start and stopped 30 shots for his second shutout of the season. Rinne looked very strong in net and made several quality stops to keep Montreal off the board. Rinne kept the Habs off the board early in the contest when they were swarming the net. His play seemed to deflate the Canadiens as the game went on, and the team responded well to his play. When he is on his game, the team in front of him seems to settle down and play with confidence. That was the case tonight.
The Predators lost the service of David Legwand at 14:18 of the first period when he was checked by Roman Hamrlik and went awkwardly into the boards. The team is calling it a lower body injury, the extent of which is unknown.
After a scoreless first period, the Predators drew first blood at 1:19 of the first when Francis Buillon cruised low with the puck, and just before going behind the net, slid a pass to Marcel Goc. Goc, camped out at the top of the blue paint, got the pass on his stick and quickly whipped a backhander past Cary Price.
The second period started to devolve into the Toronto nightmare as the Predators took three straight penalties, one of which gave Montreal a 5 on 3 for 28 seconds. This time, the PK was solid and choked off most chances. When the Habs threatened, Rinne was there to clean up any chances. Fortunately for the Predators, they did not tempt fate any further and did not incur any penalties after the 11 minute mark of the second.
Cal O'Reilly continued his stellar play with his fourth goal of the season. He took a cross ice pass from Steve Sullivan and was able to tap the puck past Price from the side of the net at the 8:55 mark of the second.
As the game wore on, the aggressive forecheck of the Predators took the Canadiens out of their offensive rhythm and began to force more turnovers. Tonight, the Predators looked like the Predators, playing solid hockey in all zones.
Marcel Goc struck once again as he carried the puck out of the Nashville zone and came through the neutral zone with speed. When he got to the Montreal blue line, he fired a wrist shot through the legs of a Habs defenseman that beat Price at 11:17 of the third. Price never seemed to see the puck until the last second, but it was too late as Goc found the twine.
The Predators were able to control play for the remainder of the game and skated away with a much needed win. A much needed win for the points, and a much needed win to restore the confidence of this team.
The coaching staff conducted a lengthy team meeting after the Toronto debacle. Although it is not known what was discussed, I'm certain that one topic was focus and mental toughness, characteristics that were absent in the Toronto game. Tonight, this team played with intensity, toughness, and focus.
These are the traits this team must consistently bring to the ice to be successful.
The Predators will have to continue to be resilient, to exhibit these traits. They continue on the road against another tough Eastern Conference foe in the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night. They will have to play Predator hockey.
This team has shown the ability to beat any team when they play their game. Tough, aggressive opportunistic hockey.
My three stars of the night:
1. Marcel Goc
2. Pekka Rinne
3. Cal O'Reilly