Sometimes, you win ugly.
The Nashville Predators were the embodiment of ugly in defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Bridgestone Arena by a 4-1 margin.
The score belies the fact that at times, Toronto looked dominant and controlled the play for stretches at a time. Indicative of how the night went, the Leafs out shot the Predators by a 39-22 margin. In fact, the Predators only managed 3 shots in the first period but went into the locker room with a 1-0 lead.
That lead was courtesy of the first shot on goal by Marty Erat. Mike Fisher got control of the puck and fed it to Erat, who walked in from the face off circle and beat Toronto netminder Ben Scrivens to the short side at 5:48 of the first period.
The remainder of the period saw the Predators try to get the puck out of their zone and establish and offensive presence. That effort was futile, as Toronto had 9 shots on Pekka Rinne and controlled the puck for most of the period. Rinne was his usual stellar self, turning away all the Leafs scoring attempts.
The intermission must have been, shall we say "interesting" for the Predators as they visited with their coaches. Whatever was said in the locker room had an effect, as the Predators came out and played a solid second period.
Although the period was a good one for the Predators, it didn't start particularly well. Toronto defenseman John-Michael Liles tied the game at 1 with the Leafs on the power play after a phantom high sticking call against Jack Hillen. With the Predators unable to clear the zone on the PK, Liles walked in past Ryan Suter and an exhausted group of penalty killers and beat Rinne with a wrist shot from just inside the face off circle at 10:36. The Leafs power play goal broke a string of 112 straight kills for the Predators.
Suter atoned for the Leafs goal by scoring his 4th marker of the year at 12:42. With Mike Fisher creating havoc in front of the net, Suter skated into the high slot and fired a wrist shot that beat Scrivens to make it 2-1 Predators.
Going into the third period, the game was still very much in the balance. Marty Erat gave the Predators some much needed breathing room at 2:05 of the third period as he notched his second goal of the game. Mike Fisher broke in and drew the defense to him and fed the puck to Erat, who buried the shot past a sprawling Scrivens.
Good thing for the Predators, because they proceeded to revert to their first period form. They were out shot in the third period by an atrocious 22-5 margin. Granted, many of the shots were from the perimeter, and most of the saves that Rinne had to make were routine in nature, but the shot differential is totally unacceptable. If this had been a healthy Leafs squad, the outcome could have certainly been different.
As the clock wound down, Scrivens was pulled for the extra attacker. What happened next was one of the oddest plays that I have ever seen in a hockey game.
The Predators got control of the puck at the Leafs blue line. Sergei Kostitsyn fed the puck to the Honey Badger, Craig Smith. Smith skated into the zone and was alone at the top of the blue paint with an empty net.
Smith attempted to roof the puck into the net but missed everything and shot the puck into the protective netting over the glass.
Oh well, Honey Badger don't give a...
Anyway, Matt Halischuk showed how to score an empty net goal as he tallied from outside the blue line at 19:37 to make it 4-1 and seal the win for the Predators.
This is a win, and I certainly covet the 2 points for the Predators. This one was ugly, though, and this level of play will bite the Predators if it continues. The defensive zone coverage, while not poor, was such that the Leafs were able to crank shot after shot on the net. Puck management was in a word, poor. The Predators often failed to get the puck clear when they needed to do so, and they were often unable to generate an effective breakout or any speed through the neutral zone.
Without a doubt, the Predators had some positives out of this game, and they should build on those positives. Sergei Kostitsyn tied his best point total with three assists. Mike Fisher was solid. Marty Erat has started to heat up and is finding the back of the net. All of these are aspects on which the Predators can build upon.
The Predators should draw upon the lessons of this game and improve upon the areas that need work. Enjoy the win, but know that this type of play is going to result in being on the wrong end of the score more often than not.
And here is the truth: I would rather win ugly than lose pretty.
My three stars:
1. Marty Erat
2. Sergei Kostitsyn
3. Mike Fisher