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Preds Finish Strong On Four-Game Road Trip, Return With Central Division Lead

Preds Finish Strong On Four-Game Road Trip, Return With Central Division Lead
Treigh Patterson

Road trips are never easy, but Nashville’s four-game road stretch was harder than originally thought after news broke that Filip Forsberg would face a three-game suspension for his hit on Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey. Despite not having their best player for three games and not playing their best hockey, the Preds’ trip was still pretty successful. Nashville managed six of a possible eight points, all coming in overtime, and couldn’t ask for much more given the circumstances.

THE GAMES:

Monday (2/5) @ New York Islanders: 5-4 Win (OT)

Monday’s game against the Islanders was the first test of a long week. Nashville found itself down early before quickly regaining the lead with two goals from Kevin Fiala. It wasn’t look before the Preds surrendered that lead, though, and found themselves point chasing for the rest of the game. The Islanders took a 3-2 lead into the first intermission and a 4-3 lead into the second intermission.

The third period was a true test of resiliency. The Preds pressed well the entire period, not allowing much offense from New York, but couldn’t capitalize. With Islanders goalie Jaroslav Halak on his game, it just didn’t seem like Nashville’s night. However, when all seemed lost, Pekka Rinne skated to the bench and Nashville sent out the extra attacker. After some sustained offensive zone time, Ryan Johansen found a loose puck in the slot, found his spot, and hit back iron to tie the game with just 43 seconds left.

It seems as though 3-on-3 play in overtime never disappoints. Both teams had their fair share of chances. Ultimately, it was Roman Josi who finished the game after taking matters into his hands. He skated the puck up ice during a 2-on-1 break, then flipped a back hand pass to Nick Bonino, who passed it right back to Josi — who found a wide open net for the win. Nashville escaped New York with 2 points, but the road trip was only getting started.

Wednesday (2/7) @ Toronto Maple Leafs: 3-2 Loss (SO)

The Predators left New York and faced Toronto in the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday. Unfortunately, Nashville was pretty sluggish to start and didn’t look like the same team that finished strong in New York. Nashville allowed the first two goals of the game and found themselves in an early hole. Things stayed this way for a while, but just when all seemed lost, Colton Sissons scored right before the end of the second period.

The Predators were down one goal to start the third period, but before you could blink, Viktor Arvidsson tied things up. Ryan Ellis dumped the puck in the offensive zone to start the period and Arvidsson was able to take advantage of a Toronto turnover and put it past goalie Frederik Andersen. For as bad as the Preds looked to start the game, they were the complete opposite to close it out.

After an incredible goalie duel between Anderson and Rinne, things went into overtime for the second consecutive game. The goalie battle continued into the shootout, but after seven rounds, James van Riemsydk was able to get one past one Rinne. Arvidsson was unable to reciprocate on the other end.

There’s no such thing as a moral victory in the NHL. However, coming back from a two-goal deficit without your best scorer is something to be proud of. Nashville only got one point, but it was a well-earned point

Thursday (2/8) @ Ottawa Senators: 4-3 Loss (OT)

The Nashville Predators continued their Eastern Canadian road trip by traveling to Ottawa on Thursday. The newest Pred, Kyle Turris, made his first trip back to Ottawa since being traded  in November. He was a bit of a non-factor though, as he did not have much impact on the game.

The game started off the way a normal Predators’ game would. Nashville scored twice and Ottawa once, leading to a one-goal lead to Nashville going into the first intermission. However, the Preds’ offense fell asleep in the second period, allowing the Senators to get two goals back and lead after two periods.

In the third period, it looked like a new team came out wearing Predators’ jerseys. The players were fired up, moving around with speed and did not look fatigued from the game the night before. They pressed the entire period and held the majority of the chances. Then, with five minutes remaining, P.K. Subban finally broke through for his second goal of the night. For the third straight game, the Predators went into an overtime period. Nashville still had the momentum, but a bad turn over lead to a breakaway by Mike Hoffman and he was able to slip one pass Saros. Nashville fought hard to get back in it in the third period, but unfortunately fell short and only came away with one point.

Saturday (2/10) @ Montreal Canadians: 3-2 Win (SO)

The final game of the trip saw Nashville in the Bell Centre to face the Montreal Canadians. Obviously, the big story around the game was Subban’s return to Montreal. This was the second time he’s been back since the trade, but it seemed just as emotional as the first. Different this time was Alexei Emelin, who was also making his return to Montreal. While he might not have been as beloved as P.K., he was no doubt emotional about returning to the city he’d spent so much time in.

As for the game though, this one was nothing short of exciting. The first period was much more of a defensive battle. Neither team put up many shots and they seemed content to go into the first intermission tied at zero. The second period saw less defense, but the goaltenders shined. Pekka Rinne stopped 16-of-17 shots, the lone goal coming from Brendan Gallagher. On the other end, Carey Price saved 11 shots, the lone goal being scored by Scott Hartnell after a beautiful tic-tac-toe set up. Once again, the game was tied at intermission, but this time it was all knotted up at one apiece.

The final period of hockey was another offense-driven period. Both teams were getting their shots off, but Rinne and Price were not budging — until about midway through the perio, that is. Fiala took a feed from Johansen and was able to flip it up over a sprawling Price. The period went on, and with the way Rinne was playing, the game seemed destined for a Nashville win.

However, with a minute and a half left, Montreal pulled Price and sent out an extra attacker. Jonathan Drouin took a feed from the point, reared back and was able to put a goal past Rinne on his blocker side. Montreal rejoiced and carried the momentum into the overtime period.

Nashville’s offense pretty much disappeared in overtime, as it only generated 2 shots. On the other side, Montreal excelled. They had 10 shots on Rinne, tying the most shots on goal in a 3-on-3, five-minute overtime period. Rinne stood on his head though, making ridiculous save after save. He sent the game into the shootout, and just like the overtime period, didn’t allow a goal. Ryan Ellis was able to beat Price in the first round of the shootout, and that was all the Preds needed to get the two points. It wasn’t the prettiest game from Nashville, but it was a win, and the rest of the squad owes Rinne a beer.

WHERE THEY STAND

Following the clutch week, Nashville currently sits atop the Central Division standings. After 54 games played, Nashville has 75 points, good enough for third in the entire league. Winnipeg is right the Preds them with 73 points, and the St. Louis Blues are behind the Jets with 71.

It’s important to keep in mind too that Nashville still has games-in-hand on both teams. This is significant because the Predators have gained more points while playing less games. This will be handy at seasons end.

As for the rest of the Central Division, the Dallas Stars occupy the first wildcard spot. They have 70 points and are close to taking over one of the top three spots in the division. Behind them are the Minnesota Wild with 66 points. The bottom two teams in the division are the Avalanche and the Blackhawks with 62 and 56 points, respectively. They might not be right in the thick of things right now, but they certainly are not out of playoff contention.

WHAT’S NEXT?

The Predators return home to Bridgestone Arena for three games this week. The week starts off on Tuesday with a huge Central Division match up. St. Louis will be in town with big implications on the division standings. The Calgary Flames will be in town on Thursday. They are a team just outside of a wild card spot, so every game is extremely important for them down the stretch. Lastly, on Saturday, an old rivalry is renewed when the Detroit Red Wings make a trip to the new Hockey Town. Detroit is not a good team by any stretch of the imagination, but there are bound to be fireworks when these two teams meet up.

Tuesday (2/13) vs. St. Louis Blues 8 p.m. EST

Thursday (2/15) vs. Calgary Flames 8 p.m. EST

Saturday (2/17) vs. Detroit Red Wings 8 p.m. EST

THREE STARS OF THE WEEK

THIRD STAR: NICK BONINO

Nick Bonino had himself a great week. While he did not manage to score a goal, he did produce four assists. This was good enough for the most points by a Predator this week. The shuffling of the lines has been good for him, and he it could launch him to carry the play into the weeks to come.

SECOND STAR: P.K. SUBBAN/KEVIN FIALA

P.K. Subban and Kevin Fiala both had similar weeks, both finishing with three points for the week. Fiala had three goals and P.K. had two goals and an assist. Subban had two goals against Ottawa, including the game tying goal. Fiala had two goals against the Islanders and the game tying goal against Montreal. Both players are trending upwards and should each eclipse the 20-goal mark for the first time in each of their respective careers.

FIRST STAR: PEKKA RINNE

What else can you say about Rinne at this point? He is the reason the Predators did as well as they did on this trip. He kept them in games that Nashville had no business of being in. On the trip, he played in three games and made a total of 101 saves, his highest mark being a 47-save performance against the Canadians, the second best mark of his career.  Rinne finished the week with a .926 save percentage. With him in net, Nashville has a chance to win any game.

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