Saturday, January 8, 2011

Predators Complete West Coast Sweep, Defeat Sharks 2-1

The Shark Tank has been a house of horrors for the Nashville Predators with wins coming rarely in San Jose. The Predators reversed their fortunes with a 2-1 victory over the Sharks in a hard fought contest that saw Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne play an outstanding game. With this win, the Predators completed a three game road sweep of the California teams.

As so often happens when the Predators play the Sharks, the shot advantage for the game was decidedly in the Sharks favor, as the Sharks outshot the Predators 43-26. With a shot advantage this lopsided, one would expect the Sharks to blow the Predators out of the Tank. The difference in this contest was Rinne, who played a near flawless game.

The Predators opened the scoring at 13:10 of the first period as David Legwand drove the net and put a shot in on Antti Niemi. Niemi gave up a rebound, and Legwand beat the Sharks defense to the front of the net and backhanded the rebound over the shoulder of Sharks tender to make it 1-0.

San Jose outshot the Predators 18-12 in the first, and had some glorious scoring chances. Rinne was called upon to make some huge saves, often times coming well out of his crease to make saves on Sharks that were driving the net. Rinne did an excellent job of tracking the puck throughout the night and looked calm in the face of the Sharks unrelenting pressure.

The second period was more of the same for the Sharks, as they outshot the Predators 11-6. While that doesn't sound too bad, it took the Predators 5 minutes into the period to register their first shot on goal of the period. In the meantime, Rinne was stopping everything thrown at him.

That would change at 4:35 of the period as Logan Couture broke in on a 2 on 1 and beat Rinne high glove side with an absolute laser of a shot. This was the 19th goal of the season for the Sharks outstanding rookie.

While San Jose was flying and firing shots from all directions, the Predators continued to chip the puck in the zone and grind on the Sharks defense. That effort paid off when Sergei Kostitsyn crashed the net and knocked a rebound of a Patric Hornqvist shot over the shoulder of Niemi. Kostitsyn beat Jason Demers to the puck and poked the rebound over the shoulder of Niemi to give the Predators a 2-1 advantage.

The Sharks kept pressing the attack and Rinne kept rejected all attempts to score. Niemi was pulled for the extra attacker, but Rinne was equal to the task. He got some help as the Sharks rang a shot off the post in the dying seconds, but one felt that the Sharks were just not going to beat a determined Rinne.

That proved to be the case as the Predators were able to make one final clear to melt the clock and seal the win. As improbable as it might seem, and contrary to what the statistics might indicate, the Predators had captured their second win against the Sharks this season. More importantly, they had picked up 6 out of a possible 6 six points on a tough West Coast swing.

With this win, the Predators have run their record to 22-13-6, good for 50 points and sole possession of 4th place in the Western Conference.

It's no secret that the Predators have to score by committee. Tonight, David Legwand chipped in with his third goal of the season. Sergei Kostitsyn added his 11th. Kostitsyn may prove to be the best "afterthought" pick up by an GM in the NHL this season.

While scoring may come by committee, the Predators have to have solid defense and outstanding goaltending. Tonight, the effort by Rinne was off the chart. He moved well, was positionally sound, and did not give up rebounds. With an effort like this, the Predators have an opportunity to win a lot of games.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Sergei Kostitsyn

3. Logan Couture

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