Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Predators Rally Late to Defeat the Canucks 2-1

The Nashville Predators looked to build on the momentum of their first back to back wins in over a month as they traveled to Vancouver to take on a Canucks team that stood one point behind them in the Western Conference standings.

The Predators opened the scoring 59 seconds into the game as Craig Smith drove the net and flipped a perfect pass from Mike Fisher over the shoulder of Ryan Miller.

That opening burst by the Predators was all they could muster over the next 40 minutes as the Canucks out skated the Predators up and down the ice.

Brandon Sutter, in his first game after missing 33 games for sports hernia surgery, took a nice pass through the slot and beat Pekka Rinne to tie the game at 1 midway of the first period.

Rinne had to sharp as the Canucks unleashed a barrage of shots at the net and generated some quality scoring chances. Through 2 periods, the Canucks owned the shots on goal by a 24-11 margin.

The paint must have been peeled off the walls of the locker room by the coaching staff at the second intermission as the Predators opened the third period with more jump and urgency. Their efforts paid off with a goal by James Neal with 5 minutes to go in the third period to give the Predators a 2-1 lead.

The Predators had to end regulation on the penalty kill with Mattias Ekholm in the box for interference.

The Predators PK did their job and the kill allowed the the Predators to win their third game in a row with a 2-1 win.

Some observations:

  • Predators first goal came from a simple hockey play. Craig Smith drove the net and was able to lift a perfect pass from Mike Fisher over the shoulder of Ryan Miller. When the Predators drive the net, they have a high degree of success. Simple hockey, but is the kind of game the Predators have to play every night. Smith's goal was his 11th of the season and his second in two games.
  • Over the last 12 games, the Predators power play was ranked 3rd in the NHL. Tonight, there was not much movement with the man advantage and the first two power plays yielded only one shot. No urgency and being too casual is not a formula for success for this unit.
  • Petter Granberg was back in the line up on the blue line, and it is obvious that he is still trying to find his way and get settled in. I think the big blueliner has a lot of upside, but it is going to take a while for him to get settled into a regular role.
  • The Predators got outskated through the first 40 minutes, and that is disappointing as the Predators should have realized the import of this game. This team has played themselves out of the playoffs and they need wins desperately to get back into the race. This was not the type of game that allowed the Predators to build on the momentum of the last 2 games. Fortunately, the Predators were able to turn up the intensity and effort in the third period. Their response in the third period was excellent and will be a huge confidence booster for the team.
  • Craig Smith had a solid effort tonight. He drove the net hard for the Predators first goal and had a nose for the net and and a desire to shot the puck. He created some good opportunities by moving his feet and using his speed. This is the kind of game that Smith has to play to be productive.
  • I thought that Austin Watson played with a lot of grit and jump tonight. He is a big body that really needs to find his game, and if he does, the Predators will benefit.
  • James Neal is just flat out a sniper. When he has some room to get off that quick release, he can be deadly.
  • Pekka Rinne really looked like the Pekka Rinne of old. He had to make some very good stops to keep the Canucks off the board and you could tell the team was growing in confidence behind the way he was playing. This team will need more of that form Rinne as this season grinds on. In this 3 game winning streak, Rinne has stopped 80 of 83 shots.
After getting badly outplayed in the first 40 minutes, the Predators responded in a huge way. This is the kind of game that wasn't pretty, but the team never quit and elevated their game enough in the third period to capture a critical win.

That showed some character and an unwillingness to wilt under the pressure.

That is the kind of hockey this team is going to have to play down the stretch.

My three stars:

1. James Neal

2. Pekka Rinne

3. Craig Smith

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