Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Predators Win 9th Straight at Home, Defeat the Leafs 4-3

The Nashville Predators have won 8 straight games and have been practically unbeatable on home ice.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have lost 9 straight games and have struggled mightily, winning just 3 games in their last 21 contests.

Yet the Leafs gave the Predators all they could handle at Bridgestone Arena before dropping a 4-3 decision to the Predators.

The Predators jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead off a beautiful shorthanded goal by Seth Jones, who stole a pass at the Predators blue line and roofed a shot under the crossbar, and a power play blast by Shea Weber that blew past Jonathan Bernier.

After a stellar first period, the Predators intensity level dropped in the second period, and the Leafs cut the lead to 2-1 as Daniel Winnik beat Carter Hutton with an unscreened shot from the high slot.

Bernier was cut by a skate late in the second period and James Reimer entered the game with the Predators going on the power play. The Predators couldn't take advantage of Reimer with the power play to finish the period and the carry over time in the third.

That seemed to energize the Leafs as they scored two quick goals. Nazem Kadri scored on a wrist shot and 37 seconds later Mike Santorelli cleanly beat Hutton from the face off circle to give the Leafs a 3-2 lead.

Bernier reentered the game and was victimized by Mike Fisher, who took a pass from Colin Wilson and lifted a puck over the shoulder of Bernier from in close.

Colin Wilson got the game winner off a rebound of a James Neal shot. Fisher was in front screening Bernier, who couldn't control the puck and it squirted out to side of Bernier's left pad. Wilson drove the net and slammed the puck home before Bernier could get his glove on the puck.

Some observations:

  • Carter Hutton... man, you made some great saves, and your save in the third period off a puck that was deflected several times was absolutely ridiculous. Hutton was off balance, reached around behind him and swatted away a puck the was about to cross the goal line. That said, you are frustratingly inconsistent. Too often, Hutton gets beat on unscreened shots that just get blown past him. If he could get this aspect of his game together, I would certainly have more confidence in his game. As it is, that inconsistency has plagued him in nearly every game he has played this season, and that has to improve.
  • You cannot overstate the value of Mike Fisher to this team. Fisher had a goal and 2 assists and battled in front of the net and in the corners all night. The game winning goal was a direct result of Fisher screening Bernier and battling for the puck. His goal was the result of some sweet hands as he was able to elevate the puck from in close. Frankly, I never expected to see Fisher contributing at this level after missing a month at the start of the season while recovering from a ruptured Achilles tendon. I am glad I have been proven wrong.
  • Colin Wilson had a goal and an assist tonight. His goal was his 16th of the year and tied a career high. His 35 points also ties a career high. Wilson has consistently elevated his game this season and is a big part of the Predators success.
  • Seth Jones not only showed some great hands to score a shorthanded goal for the Predators but also showed some very good speed as he went from a dead stop at the Predators blue line to full speed for the break away.
  • Jones shorthanded goal was the Predators third shorty this season. It was Jones first career SHG.
  • This is the first time in the history of the Predators that a defenseman has scored a shorthanded goal (Jones) and a power play goal (Weber) in the same game.
  • The Predators set a franchise record with 9 consecutive home wins.
  • While the Predators got a first period power play goal, the Predators last power play in the third period was an absolute clustertruck. Poor puck decisions and puck handling led to several shots by the Leafs that were good scoring chances and resulted in Hutton having to make an incredible save to keep the Leafs off the board. Sometimes it appears that the Preds power play tries to get too cute rather than keep it simple and gain the zone.
  • I really like the play of Mike Ribeiro, but please, Ribs, shoot the puck when you have an open lane. Ribeiro passed up a shot on several occasions while looking for a pass and it resulted in turnovers. 
  • Former Predators assistant head Coach Peter Horachek has the unenviable job of being the interim head Coach of the Leafs. While the Leafs have struggled, Horachek has instilled greater defensive responsibility among his charges and they made it a difficult night for the Predators.
  • Paul Gaustad won 73% of his faceoffs; Mike Ribero won 71%, his best night as a Predator.
  • Bernier missed the last minute of the second period and the first five minutes of the third as he cut his left leg with his skate while making a sprawling save on a Matt Cullen breakaway. Bernier required 12 stitches to sew up the cut. He gave up all 4 goals to the Predators.
  • The Leafs loss was a franchise record 10th consecutive loss.
  • The Predators are 11-5-1 against the Eastern Conference.
This was a win, but the Predators made it way more difficult than it should have been with some stretches of uninspired play.

But here is the bottom line- it was a win.

And it was an important win to keep them on top of the Central Division. They currently sit in first with 72 points, 2 ahead of St. Louis and 8 ahead of Chicago.

They will be tested on home ice on Thursday against Anaheim.

My three stars:

1. Colin Wilson

2. Mike Fisher

3. Mike Santorelli

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