Nashville, TN -- Without the services of one-third of their defensive core, the defensively-stingy Nashville Predators found themselves in a offensive exchange with the Tampa Bay Lightning only to be decided in a shootout with Nashville earning the two points via a 5-4 victory.
Heavy dose of Jones and Ekholm
Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis was out of the lineup Tuesday night against the Lightning. However, so was Barret Jackman. With both out, Victor Bartley and Anthony Bitetto earned their first minutes of playing time in the 2015-16 season.
It left Nashville with somewhat of a hole in its defensive core pairings. Ellis and Jackman both play a significant amount of minutes for the Predators and head coach Peter Laviolette has done a great job early at limiting the minutes of Shea Weber and Roman Josi.
It was reasonable to assume Weber and Josi's minutes would increase, but the spread of minutes found itself distributed a bit further than that.
"I thought our team effort was good," said Laviolette when speaking about Nashville's defensive balance against the Lightning. "It had to be. Everybody had to show up and play."
Both Seth Jones and Mattias Ekholm -- who ended up paired together for the evening -- found themselves relied upon heavily during the early proceedings, netting 7:30 and 6:25 respectively in the first period. Both numbers were much higher in the first handful of minutes, yet seemed to even out as the period waned on.
Jones and Ekholm maintained their pace throughout the remainder of the game and both finished with 24:31 and 22:46 time on ice, respectively.
With the walking wounded still labeled as "day-to-day", it will be interesting to see how the ice tilts on Thursday night against the Anaheim Ducks and Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Both teams have deadly offensive weapons and the Predators could use the services of both Ellis and Jackman.
Rough outing for Bartley and Bitetto
While Nashville rolled its remaining top four defenseman unscathed by injuries, Bartley and Bitetto were essentially thrown into the fire against a quick-strike Lightning team.
There's a small part of it that can't essentially be blamed on the duo, however both ended up hemmed in their own zone on more than one occasion.
"There's one or two things when you're playing a team like [Tampa Bay] that you wish you could do over," said Laviolette. "For not playing for a little bit, I thought they came in and gave us really valuable minutes."
What made it worse was that at least once during the course of the game, Bartley and Bitetto ended up desperately trying to clear the puck without an icing due to a previous icing. There may be nothing more frustrating to a defenseman who can't get off the ice.
"It's definitely tough," said Bitetto. "A couple of tough bounces where you feel like you go off the glass high and it hits a stanchion and comes back in, but in those situations you just got to stay calm as best as possible, bear down and get it out."
"You have to be hard all over the ice. When there's a play to be made, you have to make that play."
Back and forth finish kickstarted by unusually crazy second period
The middle stanza has been one of problems for the Predators this season, and the bulk of last season as well. However, both teams on Tuesday night gifted those watching with a very pleasant and lively second period.
Nashville saw its one-goal lead evaporate early into the period and then fell behind around the halfway mark. A Weber blast from the point tied the game at two nearly 90 seconds afterwards, but the Lightning regained the lead with a little over two minutes to go in the period.
Yet, Predators forward James Neal felt it was fitting to tie the game just a minute later, making the score 3-3 going into the third.
It was the most active second period that Nashville has participated in this season, at least from my perspective.
"I think the game overall was kind of lively," said Weber. "I can't stop saying that [the Lightning] are a good team. We're a good team too and it was a competitive game both ways."
It's not to say that the Predators haven't been extremely competitive in the middle frame, but in reality they haven't been. Tonight's game bucked the norm and showcased what Nashville has the capability to do when they pour pressure on.
Blame it on score effects or just facing off against one of the Eastern Conference's best teams, but it was spectacular to watch.
As the game continued on, both teams traded chance after chance with the final horn ringing only after Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov found his shootout attempt stopped by Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne to seal a 5-4 win and the extra point for Nashville.
Exciting hockey like this is why we watch the game. It may not have been the most defensively-sound contest, but the Predators escaped with two critical points against a non-conference opponent on a night where one pointed seemed like a tough grab.
James Neal, Nashville Predators -- Neal's goal-scoring ability is truly a spectacular thing to witness live. Being fed a cross-ice backhanded pass by Filip Forsberg, Neal notched his second of the night to tie the game at four, ending the night with three points (two goals, one assist).
Shea Weber, Nashville Predators -- Weber's slapshot is by far one of the deadliest in the league. So, when he fires a blast from his cannon, odds are it has a decent chance of finding twine if it makes it to the goaltender untouched. That's exactly how Nashville tied the game in the second period
Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning -- One of the best players in the NHL is one of the best for a reason. Stamkos could have easily had two goals against Nashville tonight, however one ended up off the post instead of in. He finished with a goal and a +1.