Despite falling in a shootout to the San Jose Sharks Thursday night, the Nashville Predators have to consider their western road trip a success, earning 6 out of a possible 8 points and maintaining a top 8 position in the Western Conference playoff race.
Right off the opening faceoff the Preds appeared ready to skate with the Sharks, with a steady pace of up-and-down action lasting for several minutes. It looked like Nashville was going to get the first big special teams opportunity when Devon Setoguchi got whistled for knocking down Dan Hamhuis near the Preds net in order to free himself up for a pass. Shortly into the Nashville power play, however, David Legwand committed pretty much the exact same infraction at the other end of the ice, and when he got sent to the box, the two teams skated 4-on-4.
Vern Fiddler then went out and committed his 4th tripping penalty in recent games, upending Rob Blake as he carried the puck behind the San Jose net, a horrible penalty to take when you're all the way down the ice from your own end and there's no chance of stripping the puck away. A similarly egregious foul gave Anaheim the decisive power play in last night's OT loss.
It took only a short while for these penalties to sort out into a 5-on-3 Sharks advantage, and they converted for a 1-0 lead on a long shot by Rob Blake.
From there on, the Preds continued to battle well, and it only took a couple minutes for them to tie the game. A seemingly harmless point shot from Hamhuis was tipped on its way through heavy traffic, and Joel Ward got credit for the score.
Towards the end of the period there was a bit of controversy as Ryan Jones chased down a puck near the San Jose net, but got dumped before getting his shot attempt off; no call was made, but seconds later deep in the Preds zone Jordin Tootoo got whistled for boarding. On the ensuing PK, Fiddler got a breakaway and used his patented "deke to the backhand and roof it" move to put the Preds up 2-1. The euphoria was short-lived, however, as the Sharks tied it back up at 2-2 with 4 seconds left in the period, as a major scrum around the net led to the goal.
The first period ended up with a Total Shots advantage of 30-11 for San Jose, but the Preds came back stronger in the second. Despite no goals being scored, Nashville tipped the Total Shots count by 20-17 back into their favor.
The big highlight in the second period was a fight between Tootoo and Brad Staubitz. The two stood toe-to-toe and threw repeated bombs at each other, but Staubitz leveled a few shots with his elbows, and Tootoo buckled under and left with a bloodied nose, only to return in the 3rd with a visor on.
Both the second and third periods were evenly fought in terms of quality opportunities, but both Pekka Rinne and Evgeni Nabokov kept the score at 2-2. Rinne made a huge toe save on Jonathan Cheechoo in the final minutes of regulation, while earlier on Nabokov turned aside a breakaway by David Legwand.
By making it to overtime, the Predators earned another critical point in the standings, one that most observers would have written off heading into this game; without Jason Arnott or Radek Bonk, playing on consecutive nights at the tail end of a long road trip, that's usually a recipe for a team mailing it in and giving a token effort. Holding the Sharks scoreless through the 2nd, 3rd, and overtime periods was a huge accomplishment.
In the shootout, Fiddler got the lone score for the Preds, and oddly enough, he used the exact same move on Nabokov that he did to score shorthanded; deking to the backhand and roofing the shot from in close. Cheechoo put the Sharks ahead 2-1, which left Legwand as the final shooter for Nashville, and he missed the net.
To be honest, my first reaction was "why isn't Erat or someone else going instead of Legwand?" But perhaps this decision was a reward from Barry Trotz for the effort that Legwand has put in the last four games. In Arnott's absence, he's picked up extra ice time each game and performed admirably. Now, the team can head home for a weekend off, as they don't play again until Tuesday at home against the Ducks. For the fans, it'll be a busy few days watching the scoreboard and hoping other teams don't overtake them in 8th place...