With every loss, the burden of the Predators five game losing streak weighed heavier. Despite playing with good jump and effort, the Preds just could not break through to the win column. Attempting to break the streak at the Xcel Energy Center against the Wild did not bode well for the Predators. Earlier this season, the Wild had embarrassed the Predators in this same venue by a score of 5-2.
The tables would turn in the re-match between these two teams as the Predators stifled the Wild offense and found the net four times to notch a 4-1 win.
The Predators opened the game with good offensive zone pressure, and it paid early dividends. Minnesota was called for a delayed penalty and the Predators got the extra attacker on the ice. Shane O'Brien did a great job at the blue line to keep the puck in the zone. He made a pass back to Cody Franson at the blue line, and he let a quick wrist shot go to the net. With lots of traffic in front, Wild netminder Niklas Backstrom did not see the shot and Franson found the back of the net for his fifth goal of the season, coming at 4:32 of the first period.
The Predators would extend their lead to 2-0 at 10:28 of the second period as Shea Weber let a shot go from the point. Patric Hornqvist was in front of the net but was shielded by a defender. Hornqvist reached around the Wild player and deflected the puck five hole on Backstrom.
The Wild did have some chances in the first two periods as Martin Havlat hit a post, and the wild had moments of offensive zone pressure. Pekka Rinne was outstanding, shutting down any of the Wild scoring chances. The real story of the game was the Predators defense, however, as they thwarted the Wild's attempts to come through the neutral zone with speed. In the defensive zone, the Predators did a good job of clearing the front of the net and limiting second chance scoring opportunities.
I do not have the final stats for zone time, but one of the impressive aspects of this game by the Predators was the offensive zone time they had in this game. They spent a lot of time in the Minnesota zone, forcing the Wild to expend energy playing defense rather than getting their offense in rhythm.
Minnesota would finally solve Pekka Rinne at 18:06 of the third period as Chuck Kobesew would deflect a shot from Martin Havlat .
Minnesota pulled Backstrom and the pressure was coming on the Nashville defense. The Predators thwarted the Wild offensive effort with two empty net goals, the first by Joel Ward at 18:53 and then Sergei Kostitsyn at 19:53.
Losing streak over. The weight off the slumping shoulders of the Predators. And a collective sigh of relief.
During this streak, the Predators have battled numerous injuries. One of those injured, David Legwand, made his way back to the ice tonight and logged 15:50 and recorded two assists.
The Predators welcomed newcomer Marek Svatos to the lineup, and although he did not score, I like his game. Svatos drives hard to the net, and more importantly, is not afraid to shoot the puck. He is not completely in NHL game shape, but did log 9:59 in ice time and recorded three shots on net.
While this losing streak has been painful to endure, the team is still in the thick of the playoff hunt in the ultra competitive Western Conference. Now it is time to get a win streak going and make up some ground.
This is a great way to end the year. Obviously the points are important, but as much as anything, it allows the players to relax and relieves them of the negative energy associated with the streak.
A new year, a new beginning, and a renewed sense of energy await for 2011.
My three stars:
1. Cody Franson
2. Pekka Rinne
3. Patric Hornqvist