They say any win, no matter how ugly, is a good win, and that certainly applies to tonight's 4-3 victory by the Nashville Predators over the Atlanta Thrashers. The power play was completely ineffective (including a shorthanded goal given up), and there were some horrific defensive miscues, but at critical junctures several Predators made pivotal plays to earn the win. Jason Arnott scored the game winner just 7 seconds into the 3rd period, and the Preds held on from there.
Check the right-hand sidebar for the game highlights (via the spiffy new NHL widget, click "FULL" for a full-screen view once the video starts), and follow after the jump for a few points from tonight's game...
Pekka Rinne stopped 23 of 26 Atlanta shots, and while he didn't earn a "Star of the Game" designation, he well could have. He made several key saves that prevented the game from getting out of hand, including a breakaway stop on Ilya Kovalchuk early in the 3rd. I'm guessing that he'll get the next start as the team tries to build momentum behind him.
Among the skaters, it was the guys returning from injury recently who contributed most notably. Joel Ward, Jerred Smithson, and Arnott all scored goals and helped carry the play into the Atlanta end, while Jordin Tootoo may have played his best game of late, getting physical at times, putting the puck on net, and dishing a couple nifty passes in the offensive zone.
One incident will bear watching in the next day or two. At 11:47 of the 3rd period, Boris Valabik came up from behind and slew-footed Jason Arnott, and the two went dangerously down to the ice. What was stunning was the refs called coincidental minor penalties on the play. The league office can, however, give Valabik a suspension if they so choose (and as is often done with take-downs like that).
The Achilles Heel of the Predators continues to be the power play, which went 0-for-3 tonight, including 1:24 of 5-on-3 time during which Nashville couldn't even get set up in the Atlanta zone. Later, on another power play, the Preds gave up a shorthanded goal as Chris Thorburn tapped home a loose puck after a Marty Reasoner breakaway. If there is any single area of the team which needs the most help right now, it's probably the power play.
There was one other episode worth noting, which kept an Atlanta goal off the board early in the second period. After Kevin Klein made an ill-considered pinch at the blueline, the puck got chipped around him leading to a Thrashers breakaway and a score - but a second or two before the shot went in, referees whistled the play dead because Steve Sullivan and Atlanta's Jim Slater were having a tussle back in the Thrasher's end of the ice. Each received minor penalties for roughing, and the teams skated 4-on-4 for two minutes, but that breakaway goal was nullified.
While only a fraction of the announced crowd of 16,646 made it downtown tonight due to the weather, full credit goes to the 500 or so members of the Atlanta Thrashers Fan Club who made the road trip up to Nashville for the game. They were loud and proud, taking up a couple sections of the lower bowl and making themselves heard all night long. I also got the chance to catch up with The Falconer from Bird Watchers Anonymous during the intermissions.
The Predators can build upon this victory as they continue on home ice Tuesday against Phoenix. The word is that Marcel Goc may well be ready to return to the lineup for that game. Barry Trotz said during the post-game press conference that he was very close to playing tonight.
I'll try and get the advanced stats for this one posted tomorrow.