Sports, Thrill of Victory

Will the talented Predators find parity a problem in competitive NHL playoff hunt?

After being named NHL player of the month (Nov. 2016), a first in Predators franchise history, Pekka Rinne came up short against New Jersey, but rebounded with a win vs. Colorado on Tuesday. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

The Preds returned from a road trip, and had three upcoming home games this past week.

New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Colorado all came into Bridgestone Arena to face a team that had a sparkling 8-1-1 home record to this point in the young season. Fans were putting W’s in the points column before the opening face-offs were even held!

After all, the NHL had anointed the team’s starting netminder, Pekka Rinne as the league’s No. 1 star for the month of November. What could go wrong?

On Saturday afternoon, the teams took the ice at the non-traditional start time of 1pm. Both the Predators and Devils skated tentatively through most of the first period, but goals from rookie Kevin Fiala and defenseman P.K. Subban sandwiched a Devils tally from Taylor Hall, and the home team had a 2-1 lead after one.

In the second period, Fiala notched his second of the game, and defenseman Roman Josi padded the lead to 4-1. Three goal lead heading into the third period seemed to spell two points for Nashville, but on this day things got interesting pretty quickly.

First, the Devils scored a pair of goals within the opening minute of the third. Then, Preds coach, Peter Laviolette called his lone timeout to gather the troops and reset the team for the remainder of the frame. Things seemed to right themselves as the Predators put on a clinic in holding the Devils at bay, while supplying a constant barrage of shots on New Jersey’s goaltender Keith Kinkaid. But, a hooking infraction on Craig Smith put the Devils on the power play and it took but one shot from Devils forward Adam Henrique, the only shot the team got after the timeout, and before the end of the period, and the game was tied.

After a brief, and productive stint in Milwaukee, forward Kevin Fiala returned with a seemingly new level of confidence. The former first round pick has tremendous skill and he recently followed a two-goal game with his first NHL assist. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

After a brief, and productive stint in Milwaukee, forward Kevin Fiala returned with a seemingly new level of confidence. The former first round pick has tremendous skill and he recently followed a two-goal game with his first NHL assist. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

The teams went into the 5 minute 3 on 3 overtime, and the Preds absolutely dominated, holding the puck for close to 4 minutes and coming close to beating Kinkaid on a couple of occasions, but when the Devils regrouped and came down the ice, with less than 30 seconds to go in extra time, Mike Cammalleri netted his second of the game with 18 ticks of the clock remaining, and the Devils skated off with the 5-4 win, and Nashville only received a single point for the bitter overtime loss.

While shots favored Nashville for the game (42-22) and the team had extended their impressive penalty kill streak to 43 of 44 before giving up the Henrique goal, this was a tough loss to swallow, with the home team up by three goals heading into what should have been the final twenty minutes of play.

The following afternoon the Flyers and Preds had a rare Sunday 5pm game, and Nashville went with rookie Juuse Saros in goal. Saros, a recent recall from Milwaukee, and generally thought of as the team’s goalie of the future, as Rinne winds down a superb career (not necessarily in the next year or so, but expect Pekka’s workload to be lightened considerably as Saros finds comfortability in the NHL crease. He was just awarded the player of the month award in the AHL, as both Predators netminders won this prestigious honor).

The Flyers scored late in the first period on a power play goal from the red-hot Wayne Simmonds. In the second period, Preds forward Calle Jarnkrok tied the game, but both teams ended up trading goals in successive order, with Simmonds grabbing a second power play goal, Colin Wilson converting a beautiful feed from captain Mike Fisher, and then an incredibly strong effort from Philadelphia’s Michael Raffl, and it was 3-2 Philly heading into the third period.

Nashville held a territorial edge on the Flyers in the final frame, and put 12 solid shots on goaltender Steve Mason but could not beat him. An empty net goal by the Flyers iced a 4-2 win for the Eastern Conference team that won its’ fifth consecutive game. No slouches these Flyers… or Devils!

After beating Colorado twice in the Mile High city since the start of the season, it was a reasonable certainty that the Avs were coming to town looking to return the favor and swipe two points from the suddenly reeling Preds, who had now lost three of their past four contests.

On Tuesday night the fans were treated to an entertaining game. First sign of encouragement was that team goal-scoring leader James Neal, who had missed a handful of games, was back off Injured Reserve and in the lineup. Neal would score a crucial goal at the end of the first period, after the Preds Viktor Arvidsson (a nifty unassisted breakaway) and Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon had traded tallies. In the second period, the Avs got a pair of power play goals from Matt Duchene, with P.K Subban netting his seventh of the season in between.

As with his mentor/counterpart, Juuse Saros received AHL player of the month (Nov. 2016) honors. The Finnish rookie was on the short end of the score vs. Philadelphia and was recently sent back to Milwaukee to continue his #1 goaltending duties there. He will return soon. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

As with his mentor/counterpart, Juuse Saros received AHL player of the month (Nov. 2016) honors. The Finnish rookie was on the short end of the score vs. Philadelphia and was recently sent back to Milwaukee to continue his #1 goaltending duties there. He will return soon. PHOTO COURTESY SLAPSHOT RADIO

The teams were deadlocked at three after two. A late second period penalty to Colorado meant the Preds had some power play time to begin the third period, and they capitalized as Josi picked up his fourth of the season, and it proved to be the game winner, Nashville outlasting Colorado 4-3.

The team now has a pair of road games, tonight in Dallas (Thursday @ 7:30pm CT) and on Saturday in Arizona (@ 7pm CT.) This coming Tuesday, the team returns home for a 7pm start against St. Louis as part of a three game home stand with Minnesota and the New York Rangers to follow.

As of this morning, the Predators are on the outside looking in at the post-season picture, but because of the incredible parity in the NHL this season, it just takes a couple of solid efforts to vault teams into contention. Believe me, nothing is even close to being decided yet.

Eight of the fourteen Western Conference teams advance to the post season. The Predators currently find themselves in ninth place in said race, but are just one point behind Winnipeg, two points behind Calgary (the two wildcard teams) and two points behind Minnesota, who are currently in third place in the Central Division. Some surprises around the league include the Ottawa Senators, second in the East, ahead of perennial mainstays Boston, Tampa Bay and Detroit. In the Metropolitan Division, it’s the Columbus Blue Jackets who find themselves leading last year’s President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals, as well as Philly and New Jersey. And, who would have picked Edmonton to be leading the Pacific Division over powerhouse teams like San Jose, Anaheim and Los Angeles?

Nashville still has some key injuries, including defenseman Ryan Ellis, and forwards Colton Sissons and Miikka Salomaki.

With the return of three regular contributors, the Preds should see more consistent results heading into 2017.

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