The fans piled out onto the concourse after the first period on Tuesday night and there was not much joyful chatter, as the team was trailing St. Louis by a 2-0 score.
The first eight minutes of the period seemed to go in Nashville’s favor, but a defensive zone face off draw was lost and the puck came back to Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who fired a shot that hit Nashville rearguard Roman Josi’s pants and fluttered past a surprised Pekka Rinne and the Preds were behind and deflated. Moments later, in a complete defensive breakdown, Blues fourth-liner Ryan Reeves was left all alone in the slot as he received a pass and rifled one past Rinne.
As I said, by the time the period was over, the crowd was stunned and the team was faced with the daunting task of trying to come back against a team on paper should have been able to maintain its lead.
Early in the second period, with St. Louis on the power play, minor league journeyman, Brad Hunt, a recent callup to the Blues, slapped a one-timer into the Nashville net. Now, trailing by three, it seemed as if the Preds were done like yesterday’s dinner. But a few minutes later, James Neal’s shot went through traffic and eluded Blues goaltender Jake Allen. A faint pulse was heard in the distance.
The heartbeat got substantially stronger when Filip Forsberg netted his third of the season about two and a half minutes later. There was no further scoring in the second frame, but the Preds put on a clinic for a few minutes, keeping the puck hemmed in the St. Louis zone and not giving the Blues any chance of adding to their now slim lead.
Cautious optimism flowed out onto the concourse in between the second and third frame, but no one could have predicted what was to happen next.
Four third period goals, all by Nashville turned a 3-0 deficit into a truly marvelous 6-3 victory, and what started as a miserable game turned into the character building exercise that might just turn a mediocre start into a juggernaut for the Nashville Predators.
Captain Mike Fisher had two goals, including the game winner, Ryan Johansen offered up the tying goal and added an assist. Viktor Arvidsson continued his strong play with a pair of helpers, and now has a four game point streak. Mike Ribeiro chipped in his fourth of the season, and the fans headed to their cars feeling like they just witnessed something truly special.
Flash forward to Thursday, and the team will skate against the Minnesota Wild. The Wild are led by goaltender Devan Dubnyk and are the stingiest team in the NHL, usually giving up just 2.0 goals per game. They are also the 6th best team on the penalty kill, if Nashville thinks it can exercise its’ will with the man advantage. Minnesota holds a six-point edge over the Preds, so this Central Division matchup is what’s known as a “four-point game.”
A regulation win would do wonders for the Preds as they try to gain ground within the ultra competitive Western Conference. Nashville, despite the win on Tuesday has not been trending well as a team over the past couple of weeks. Once rivaling Minnesota for the defensive honors throughout the league, Nashville is now 20th in goals against, giving up 2.8 per contest.
Additionally, the penalty kill has been a real Jeckyl and Hyde affair, having been among the league’s worst in October, and vaulting into elite status in November, but has now slipped to 20th overall (they were as high as 6th about three weeks ago.) The team’s power play, off to a fast start at the beginning of the season, is now ranked 12th, and has been slumping significantly over the previous 8 games, scoring just once in twenty-five attempts.
On Saturday, the New York Rangers come to town. Expect to see a reasonable amount of blue mixed in with the gold at Bridgestone, as recent trips to town by New Jersey and Philadelphia yielded an inordinate amount of support for the visitors.
The Rangers, with 41 points in the eastern Metro Division feature an incredible balance of both offense and defense, with their squad currently the second best offensive team, and top five in both power play and penalty kill. The Rangers goaltending tandem of Henrik Lundqvist and Antti Raanta have both been excellent, as the Blueshirts have allowed the 7th fewest goals in the NHL.
As a side note, this will be the first regular season appearance by Ranger forward Jimmy Vesey, a former Predators draft choice who decided against signing with Nashville late last season when his college (Harvard) career was completed. Vesey is big, and has adapted nicely to the NHL, with 10 goals and 7 assists through his first 30 NHL games. He wears #26, and you can be sure the Preds fans will express their displeasure with his decision each time he takes the ice.
The team will fly east for back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday with both Philadelphia and New Jersey. Philadelphia has a current winning streak of ten consecutive games, and New Jersey having beaten the Preds in overtime at Bridgestone earlier this month are currently riding a three game losing streak, and tonight face a Blues team that should be pretty upset at their collapse vs. Nashville on Tuesday.
As we hurdle towards 2017, our wishes are for your happiness, and safety throughout the holiday season.
Watch out for flying pucks, as well as reindeer!