Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Predators Put Out the Flames 2-1

The Nashville Predators and the Calgary Flames played one of their typical games, a one goal affair characterized by stellar goal tending, fierce forechecking, and opportunistic scoring. The Predators prevailed on their home ice in an entertaining affair by a 2-1 score.

For the Predators, this was their first win on home ice against the Flames since 2008, a streak of six home losses.

The Predators had Pekka Rinne in net, while the Flames had Rinne's countryman, Mikka Kiprusoff, and both goaltenders were outstanding tonight.

The Predators have been a team that has struggled to find their identity this season, and if recent games are any indication, they have found it. The first period saw the Predators skating as well as they have skated in any game this season. They tilted the ice in their favor and poured shots on Kiprusoff. Kipper was excellent in net, and made two outstanding saves on point blank shots by David Legwand and Marty Erat.

Early on, this game appeared as if the Predators were going to run into the wall that was Kiprusoff and were not going to be able to solve his solid play in net. That would change at 11:43 of the first period as the Predators fourth line would get on the board. Brian McGratten sent a puck off the boards that Kiprusoff stopped with his pad. Matt Halischuk was lurking at the front of the net and made a nifty play to gather in the bouncing rebound and lift a backhand shot that beat Kipper short side for the Predators first goal.

Although that was the only score of the period, the Predators pressed the play and dominated in puck possession. They put 18 shots on net in the period to 6 for Calgary.

Everyone in the building knew that Calgary would have a strong push in the second period, and they did just that. Calgary started to tilt the ice in their favor, and the fear among Predator fans was that the Flames would eventually force a mistake by the Predators.

That happened at 6:12 of the second period as Curtis Glencross split the defensive tandem of Roman Josi and Jack Hillen and skated in on Rinne. He lifted a backhand shot over the shoulder of Rinne to tie the game at 1. This is a play that cannot happen and the concern was that it would deflate the Predators.

That was not the case, however, as the Predators matched the effort by Calgary as each team fired 17 shots on net in the period. Rinne and Kiprusoff both made some solid saves to keep the game knotted at 1.

The Predators would notch the game winning goal in the third period while on the power play. Craig Smith took a shot from the slot that Kiprusoff kicked out with his pad. Colin Wilson was crashing the net and slid the puck five hole for the tally at 3:31.

The remainder of the period was a back and forth affair that saw each goaltender make some big saves. Rinne was exceptional late in the period as the Flames pressed for the tying goal, and the Predators managed to keep the Flames tied up and having to work hard for shots. The horn sounded with Calgary scrambling around the Predators net, but unable to get the needed goal past Rinne.

This team has started to embrace fully the message that the coaching staff has been preaching all season: skate hard for 60 minutes; shoot the puck; and crash the net. Tonight, they did that for a full 60 minutes. Evidence of this is the final shot total: Predators 45 SOG to 36 SOG for Calgary.

Kudos to the power play unit, which continues to operate at a high level. Tonight, that unit was 1 for 3 with the game winning goal. This unit has displayed a growing confidence, much better movement, and good shot selection. this is a solid plus for the Predators.

Another plus for this team is they are starting to dominate in the face off circle. This is so important for puck possession and the effort in the circle has benefited this team over the last three games. It will be imperative that they continue to be successful in this area.

It takes time for a young team to learn who they are and start to gel. They are showing signs of learning who they are and playing to their strengths. This is what will make this team successful.

Three games, three wins. These three games do not make a season.

They do, however, point the way, to continued success.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Mikka Kiprusoff

3. Colin Wilson

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