Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Predators Whip the Wild 5-1

Watching the Minnesota Wild play hockey is akin to watching mildew grow in your bathroom: ugly and difficult to get out. Tonight at the Bridgestone Arena, the Nashville Predators faced the Minnesota Mildew Wild, and for two periods, it appeared as if the Wild would be the fungus that would frustrate the home team with their grind it out, trapping style of play. The third period, however, was all Predators, as they whipped the Wild 5-1 for their 6th straight victory.

It was obvious that the Wild were going to trap all night and attempt to force turnovers by the Predators. That strategy worked for much of the first period as the Wild kept the Predators bottled up in their own end of the ice. Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne was called upon early to make some big saves to hold the Wild off the board.

Playing against a team like the Wild takes patience and persistence. Keep chipping the puck out of the zone and work it into the offensive zone and generate chances s the formula for success against the trap that the Wild employ.

That formula would pay dividends for the Predators at 7:03 of the first period as Marek Svatos entered the zone with speed. He slipped a nice pass to David Legwand, who was driving the net with speed. Legwand got his stick on the puck and re-directed the pass between the pads of Wild goaltender Jose Theodore for a 1-0 Predators lead. This was Legwand's second goal in as many games and his 4th goal of the year.

That lead would last for nine minutes, when the Wild tied it on an even strength goal by Mikko Koivu as a Predator Pk had just ended. Koivu drove to the net and split two defenders and lifted a backhand that beat Rinne at 16:05.

The Wild outshot the Predators 9-6 in the first period, but controlled the puck for lengthy stretches at a time, as their trap thwarted the Predators offensive effort. At the end of one, it had the feel of a game that could be decided by one mistake by either team.

That mistake would occur at 1:02 of the second period, as Joel Ward gathered in a rebound of a Kevin Klein shot and backhanded the puck under the glove of a sprawling Theodore to give the Predators a 2-1 advantage. On the play, Ward was patient with the puck, settling it down and getting off a good shot that beat the Wild netminder.

The remainder of the second period was a back and forth affair with both teams generating some chances and both goalies being equal to the task. Minnesota continued to trap and slow the Predators through the neutral zone, at times totally frustrating the offensive efforts of the Predators.

In the defensive zone, the Predators did a good job of keeping the Wild to the outside and on the boards, rarely giving the Mildew Wild quality scoring chances.

Minnesota outshot the Predators 12-10 in the second period.

Going into the third period, the game was in the balance, and it would go to the team that could exert their will.

That team would be the Predators.

The Predators would extend their lead to 3-1 at 4:18 of the third as Nick Spaling would launch a shot toward the net with traffic in front. The puck sailed cleaning through the mass of bodies in front of Theodore, who never saw the puck, and found the back of the net for his third goal of the year.

It would be Spals out again as he crashed the net on a Shea Weber shot. Spaling would jam at the puck several times, and would wedge home the shot with Theodore out of position and s Wild defender trying to hug the post. His persistence paid off with his second goal of the game at 10:39 of the third.

This goal was enough to cause Wild coach Todd Richards to pull Theodore and insert backup Anton Khudobin. Khudobin was welcomed to the contest with a Marcel Goc goal off a horrible Wild turnover that left Goc alone in the low slot. He buried a nice wrister over the shoulder of Khudobin for a 5-1 Predator lead and his 8th goal of the year.

The Predators began their winning streak with a win in Minnesota on December 31. That win was big for the Predators because it snapped a 5 game losing streak.

The win tonight was big for the Predators because they were just 3 points in front of Wild coming into this contest. This win extends their lead over the Wild to 5 points and keeps the Predators in fourth place in the West with 52 points, one ahead of Phoenix at 51.

The win tonight was characterized by players who don't score often coming through for the Predators. The line of Spaling, Ward, and Smithson was the best line on the ice tonight for the Predators. They played with jump, created chances, and more importantly, finished those chances.

The PK continued its stellar play, killing off all three Wild man advantage chances.

For this team to win, they have to have solid contributions from all lines. Tonight, they got those contributions. Successful teams have several lines that can play good two way hockey. If the third and fourth lines can contribute like tonight, this team will be dangerous in the second half of the season.

My three stars:

1. Nick Spaling

2. Joel Ward

3. Pekka Rinne

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