Saturday, March 21, 2015

Predators Get A Much Needed Win Against the Sabres

You hate to say that the Nashville Predators game at Bridgestone Arena against the Buffalo Sabres was a must win game for the Predators.

But it was.

The Predators were looking to snap a 3 game home losing streak and to get back to the type of game that propelled them to the top of the NHL for a good portion of this season.

The Predators brought the effort, and more importantly, they brought the finish to the game and secured a 3-0 victory in front of a sellout crowd.

The Predators came out firing and poured 17 shots on Sabres netminder Matt Hackett in the first period, but could not find the back of the net. Pekka Rinne had relatively little work in the first as he faced only 6 shots.

The Predators finally broke through on the power play late in the second period as Taylor Beck redirected a Shea Weber shot past Hackett. The power play goal came just 5 seconds into the man advantage.

The Predators tacked on 2 more goals in the third period.

Craig Smith banged home his 23 goal of the season as Hackett kicked out a rebound of a Ryan Ellis shot to Smith, who was driving hard to the net.

Mike Fisher added an insurance goal as Viktor Stalberg found Fisher in the high slot and Fisher beat Hackett stick side to make it 3-0.

That was a big goal for the Predators because although the Sabres had not mustered much offense to the third period, they would up the intensity and Rinne made some huge saves to keep the Sabres off the board.

Some observations:

  • James Neal missed his third game with an upper body injury. Colin Wilson, who is listed as day to day, was out with a lower body injury.
  • With those players out of the line up, the Predators called up Viktor Arvidsson from Milwaukee. Arvidsson doesn't have the size of Wilson or Neal, but the kid has some wheels and showed that he is not afraid to go to the hard areas. Arvidsson played on a line with Mike Ribeiro and Gabriel Bourque and finished with 12:52 of ice time, 3 shots, and 1 hit.
  • Craig Smith continues to play some solid hockey. He is not afraid to go to the net and has a nose for the puck. His goal was a direct result of driving the net, blowing past a Sabres defender and his own teammate (Mike Fisher, whom he bowled over to get to the puck) to score.
  • Once again, the Predators faced an opponent who turned it up in the third period, but this time, Pekka Rinne shut the door. He was outstanding in the third period, making some very big and athletic saves, and he stopped Tyler Ennis on a breakaway to keep momentum with the Predators. Rinne was a rock for the Predators and kept Buffalo from seizing momentum in the third, something the Predators have failed to do in previous games. This was Rinne's 4th shutout of the season and his 38th win of the year.
  • Ryan Ellis played a strong game in the defensive zone and picked up 2 assists tonight. The Predators get more dangerous when Ellis can contribute offensively, and it is good to see him back to 100% after missing 21 games.
  • This was the Predators first win on home ice since February 24th against Colorado.
  • The Predators out shot the Sabres 43-24 and out shot them in every period. It was certainly good to see the Predators keep up the effort and intensity for a full 60 minutes.
  • One troubling aspect of this skid has been the tendency for the Predators to give up the first goal. Tonight the Predators got on the board first. How important is that to this team? The Predators are 24-2-4 when they score first.
  • Matt Hackett kept the Sabres in the game and was very good in net. He was under attack all game long, and this game had the makings of another hot goalie stealing a game from the Predators. Full marks to the Predators for their relentless attack all game long.
  • And big ups to the fans of Smashville. This was the 7th consecutive sellout and the 25th of the year, tying a franchise record.
  • The Predators were outstanding in the faceoff circle, winning 63%. Paul Gaustad won all 13 faceoffs he took. This is so important for possession in the offensive zone in particular, and the Predators had their best game of the season in the dot.
  • The Predators PK did a good job, shutting down the Sabres power play including a 4 minute double minor to Craig Smith for high sticking. They did an excellent job disrupting the Sabres offense and limiting scoring chances.
Like I said, this was a must win game for the Predators, and it was good to see the team take care of business.

Nine games are left and it will be against some stiff competition. 

The Predators control their destiny and where they will wind up in the playoffs.

It's up to this team to determine where they will wind up.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Craig Smith

3. Ryan Ellis

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