Saturday, February 5, 2011

Predators Whip the Wings 3-0

A four game losing streak and the Central Division leading Detroit Red Wings coming to town did not bode well for the Nashville Predators and their attempt to end the streak. The Predators, however, had Pekka Rinne in net, and the big netminder stopped all 35 shots he faced in the 3-0 win to end the losing streak and bring the Predators back into fourth place in the Western Conference and within five points of the division leading Wings.

This was Rinne's third shutout of the season, and it could not have come at a more opportune time for the Predators.

The Predators were facing Joey MacDonald in net, and he would yield the first goal of the game at 3:18 of the first period with the Predators on the power play. Shea Weber pinched in to the faceoff circle and blistered a slapshot over the shoulder of MacDonald off an assist from Ryan Suter. This was the 10th goal of the year for the Captain.

Detroit, like Nashville, has contended with a spate of injuries. This is Detroit, however, and they are a good and dangerous team, wounded or not. It would be important for the Predators to play good defense and get solid goaltending to have a chance to win this game.

The Predators did not get good goaltending. They got great goaltending from Rinne, as he made some excellent saves as well as getting some help from the posts. Darren Helm had a shorthanded breakaway opportunity that Rinne challenged at the top of the blue paint. The shot caromed off the crossbar and the Wings were thwarted in their attempt to tie the game.

In the first period, the Predators limited the Wings to just 6 shots on goal, while firing 11 on MacDonald. With a 1-0 lead going into the second, it was going to be important for the Predators to continue to limit chances from Detroit and cash in on their scoring opportunities.

Limiting the Wings chances took a severe hit just 44 seconds into the second period as Sergei Kostitsyn was called- legitimately- for tripping. However, a second penalty was called on the play as Patric Hornqvist was tagged with a phantom holding call. Two minutes of 5 on three hockey for the Wings and things did not look good for the Predators.

In what could be considered the turning point of the game, the Predators PK was stellar, holding Detroit off the board. Kudos to the PK unit, as their play was excellent all night. This kill stood out as it energized the team, the crowd, and seemed to take some steam out of the Wings. Joel Ward stood out for his aggressive forecheck and his effort all night.

Once again, the Predators found themselves with another kill as Shane O'Brien was in the box for cross checking. However, the tables were turned on the Wings as Ryan Suter found Sergei Kostitsyn streaking through the neutral zone. Suter hit Kostitsyn with a breakout pass and sent him into the offensive zone. Kostitsyn fought off Jakub Kindl and sent a one handed shot that hit the stick of MacDonald and ramped up into the net. 2-0 Predators at 14:03 of the second period.

The Predators killed off two additional man advantages for Detroit in the third, but this is Detroit, and Predator fans knew they would be coming hard.Detroit outshot the Predators 17-6 in the third, and this was in part because the Predators sat back and played defense rather than attack as they had in the first two periods.

Just a word here, boys. Prevent defenses don't work in football, and rarely do they work in hockey.

Of course, prevent defenses in football don't have Pekka Rinne. The Predators rely on the solid play of Rinne to keep other teams off the board, and tonight he didn't disappoint. He did a great job of tracking the puck and not giving up rebounds around the net.

The Predators would put the game away at 17:39 of the third as Kostitsyn tallied his second goal of the night and his 14th of the season. Marcel Goc took a shot that MacDonald kicked out to the side of the net. Kostitsyn corralled the rebound and fired a shot off the back of MacDonald that bounced back into the net.

Game over.

After the game, head Coach Barry Trotz called Rinne "The Eraser" because he erases a lot of mistakes when he is in net. Tonight, Rinne was the epitome of the Eraser, cleaning up mistakes and not giving up rebounds. Rinne always give the Predators a chance in every game they play, and tonight was no exception. As the game wore on, it appeared as if Detroit knew they couldn't solve Rinne.

This team doesn't have marquee talent, but this team can win every night when they play their system and play hard. Tonight, the defense did a great job of limiting quality chances and keeping Detroit to the outside. They cleared lanes and allowed Rinne to see the puck. And they were efficient on offense.

This is a winning formula for the Predators. The  losing streak saw some inconsistency in these facets of their game.

The race is on for positioning in the ultra tight Western Conference. Play like you did tonight, and this team will notch wins and points, and the positioning will take care of itself.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Sergei Kostitsyn

3. Ryan Suter

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