Tuesday, February 10, 2015

In A Battle of the Best, Predators Beat the Lightning In OT

The Best of the West, the Nashville Predators, faced the Beast of the East, the Tampa Bay Lightning, at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators took this game in over time 3-2 for a League leading 22 home ice wins.

A spirited first period was scoreless but not for lack of effort by both teams. Andrei Vasilevskiy stoned Mike Ribeiro from point blank range with a sprawling pad save, while Pekka Rinne stopped all 10 shots he faced.

The Predators got on the board in the second period on goals by Seth Jones and Taylor Beck. Jones ripped a slap shot over the shoulder of Vasilevskiy and inside the far post that hit the goal net and came out so fast it was called a no goal by the on ice officials. After a video review, the call was corrected and Jones had his 6th goal of the season and the Predators had a 1-0 lead.

Taylor Beck made it 2-0 as he battled to the front of the net and slammed home a rebound of a Paul Gaustad shot. The goal was purely a result of Beck fighting through a defender to get to the front of the net and getting into prime scoring position.

Going into the third period leading 2-0, the Predators needed to play good defense and continue to generate chances in the offensive zone.

That didn't happen as the Lightning totally outworked and out hustled the Predators and tallied twice to tie the game.

Brett Connolly got the Bolts on the board as he banged home a rebound of a Valtteri Filppula shot. Connolly got to the front of the net unchallenged by the Predators defense and Rinne had no chance to stop the shot.

Nikita Kucherov tied the game with his 21st goal, and the Predators were back on their heels and chasing the puck throughout the period.

Regulation ended with the teams tied at 2.

In overtime and with time winding down, James Neal fired a wrist shot from the face off circle that beat Vasilvskiy between the pads for the game winner.

Some observations:

  • The Predators turned the puck over 14 times, the bulk of those coming in the 3rd period. Several of those turnovers resulted in Rinne having to make some good saves to keep the Lightning off the board. Puck management was about as poor as I have seen in a while, and turning the puck over like the team did tonight is a formula for disaster. This area has to improve because good teams are more often than not going to make you pay for sloppy puck management.
  • Once again, an aggressive forecheck by an opponent caused all sorts of problems for the Predators. The Lightning have some very talented players that play good team defense and they stymied the Predators on their breakouts and coming through the neutral zone, especially in the third period. Puck support was horrible tonight, as often a defenseman would be pressured by two forecheckers and have no one making themselves available for a pass. This often resulted in turnovers and the Predators be bottled up in their defensive zone.
  • Great to see the line of  Gaustad, Eric Nystrom, and Taylor Beck rewarded with a goal tonight. They often draw the toughest defensive assignments and it was good to see them get on the scoresheet tonight.
  • Speaking of Gaustad, Beck, and Nystrom, they were matched up against Steven Stamkos most of the night. Stamkos is arguably the best player in the NHL and they held him without a point tonight.
  • With the injury to Mattias Ekholm, Anthony Bitetto was called up from Milwaukee. Bitetto logged 10:09 of ice time and dropped the gloves with Brett Connolly, whom he proceeded to hammer. Bitetto is a big body who is not afraid to mix it up physically and skates well. He was paired with Victor Bartley tonight on the third D pairing.
  • Viktor Stalberg was also called up with Colin Wilson injured. Stalberg played on the second line with Mike Fisher and James Neal and picked up an assist tonight. I would really like to see Stalberg get his game going. He is big and fast and has a good shot. If he can find consistency to his game, he could be a big contributor for the Predators.
  • Seth Jones continues to mature and elevate his game. His goal was a rocket of a shot, perfectly placed inside the far post. Jones is drawing some bigger minutes on the second D pair and is playing well. With his goal tonight, he has a career high five game point streak (3G-2A).
  • The Predators have a league best 24-4-6 record in one goal games.
  • James Neal's overtime goal was his 5th game winning goal of the season.
  • The Predators won 57% of their faceoffs and were led by Paul Gaustad, who won 14 of 19 for 74%.
  • Shea Weber led the Predators in TOI with 30:56.
  • The Lightning have a very good young goalie in Andrei Vasilevskiy. He is athletic and made some very good saves, especially a first period save on Mike Ribeiro.
Make no mistake, the Lightning are an excellent team with lots of talented players. This wasn't a pretty win, but it was a win nevertheless. The Predators continued to attack and press and prevailed because they didn't back down.

There are some things to work on and improve, but the fact is that the Predators found a way to win and still sit first in the NHL.

And the view from there is great.

My three stars:

1. James Neal

2. Pekka Rinne

3. Andrei Vasilevskiy

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