This game may not have felt like much of a win for the Nashville Predators (11-3-3), however they scored just enough goals to best the Anaheim Ducks (6-9-4) who outplayed Nashville for the majority of the contest.
Predators increasing their physicality
One thing you can't really say about the Predators for the past season is that they've been one of the more physically-imposing teams in the NHL. Last year, Nashville had the fifth lowest total of penalty minutes in the league and was tied for third-fewest majors taken.
They haven't been known for fighting and, at times, weren't really a team that seemed like they wanted to be overly physical at all -- seventh-fewest in hits last season, as well.
Over the past handful of games, things have changed a bit for Nashville. I'm not sure if I'm just noticing it now or if it's been there all along, but the Predators no longer seem to be letting teams just take liberties against their players. Against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday and Anaheim on Tuesday night, both teams enjoyed their fair share of physicality.
After a combined 156-penalty minute performance between both teams on Saturady, Nashville and Anaheim combined for 35 penalty minutes on Tuesday -- not exactly the barnburners against the Jets, but it didn't include all the post-whistle square dances, hoe-downs and box socials among the extracurricular activities throughout the night.
Through the first 17 games of the 2015-16 season, the Predators find themselves seventh overall in the NHL for penalties taken -- quite a difference from last season.
Pekka Rinne being Pekka Rinne
What more can you say about the Finnish netminder?
Yes, he may have let in a goal that could've been deemed a tad soft in the first period, including a third period marker that was out of his control, but completely redeemed himself for the remainder of the contest.
One thing to note about Rinne has been his ability to really dial his focus in when he gets on a roll. He seems to really loosen up once he's allowed a goal in the game. That's not to say that he isn't trying to stop 100 percent of the shots that head his way, however there are plenty of nights that I've watched Rinne and thought he's played more at the top of his game once he's proved his goaltender mortality.
On Tuesday, Rinne finished the night with 38 saves on 40 shots -- only allowing two goals, to Rickard Rakell and Mike Santorelli. It could have been much worse, as Anaheim put everything they could toward the net.
While most of it was stopped by an overall fantastic goaltending outing by Rinne, Nashville's backcheckers helped out by getting their sticks down and breaking up a slew of plays along the way.
How Nashville survived the Ducks all-out attack
For a team on the tail-end of a back-to-back, the Ducks sure didn't seem very tired as the game progressed.
Anaheim amassed a walloping 78 shot attempts at the Predators net, with only 40 of them making it through. 23 of those were blocked and 15 were outright missed.
Below are a handful of reasons why Nashville was so successful Tuesday night in blocking or forcing wide nearly as many shots that made it towards Rinne.
18:57 remaining, third period:
With two Ducks players sitting down low in front of Rinne and only Jones to defend, both Wilson and Fisher find a way to immediately clog up the lane for the incoming Anaheim shot from the point.
The left-to-right view shows just how little of a lane Nashville's defensive zone effort is providing for the shot, while the more vertical shot depicts exactly how the shot had zero chance of getting past Fisher, who ultimately blocked it.
18:01 remaining, third period:
Here's a perfect example of something Shea Weber does extremely well: blocking shots. Roman Josi may be one of the best in the league at it, but Weber's hulking frame allows him to get his body in the way of incoming traffic and deflect it away from high-danger areas such as the above.
Anaheim was able to get the puck deep into Nashville's end with the back-door play ready to connect. Without Weber's knee down, stick forward, and remaining skate blocking the gap, the pass would have connected and the Predators would have been looking at a slimmer 3-2 lead prior to Santorelli's goal later in the period.
14:51 remaining, third period:
Yes, Nashville may have spent plenty of time in its own zone during the third, however look at the five-man coverage with the Ducks attempting to circulate around the zone.
All five Predators players on the ice were covering their man correctly, with at least two of them pulling double-duty and making sure the closest player -- as well as the trailing connector -- would have plenty of trouble connecting with any type of outlet pass.
9:36 remaining, third period:
Here's where things get interesting for roughly the next 20 seconds.
Nashville is heavily pressured in its own zone. No one is able to change out and Anaheim just continues to fire the puck away towards Rinne. What's important here is to see exactly how the Predators closed out the lanes and made large amounts of space on the ice shrink near-instantaneously.
The above frame shows Bieksa's initial shot during this flurry. His trajectory would have never made it to the net in the first place, but two well-placed Predators sticks deflected the shot completely away from the net.
Puck luck would suggest that -- in an alternate parallel universe -- the puck would have deflected off a stick and towards Rinne. Yet, the play continued no worse for wear.
9:27 remaining, third period:
This was probably my second-favorite moment of the third period.
Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen does a great job of setting up the play from the point, faking Colton Sissons to believing he was going to shoot the puck and then taking a few seconds to decide what to do.
In the process, we can see the Vatanen has only two options: risk sending it through a sea of players in hopes it gets to Rinne or pass it off to Kevin Bieksa who appears to have plenty of room to get a great shot off on Rinne in an effort to tie the game at three.
What Vatanen doesn't appear to realize though, before passing the puck off to Bieksa, is that Ryan Ellis (whose outstretched hand is circled) is pointing Austin Watson over to cover Bieksa for an upcoming shot.
Ellis' ability to sniff out the upcoming play could have save a quality scoring chance from happening.
9:26 remaining, third period:
One second later from the above mentioned play, Vatanen sends the pass off to Bieksa who tries to launch a one-timer towards Rinne.
If not for the quick-thinking by Ellis to quarterback his fellow defenders, Watson may not have made it over in time to cover the Bieksa shot -- which luckily resulted in a broken stick for Bieksa and sent it flying into the netting.
9:20 remaining, third period:
The final play of this sequence saw Rakell swing around the net and find a trailing Chris Stewart low and to the right of Rinne, banging his stick on the ice sniffing for a pass in an attempt to outlet the puck to a streaking Nick Ritchie who had cut behind the Predators defense and was all-alone honing in on Rinne.
Ellis and Mattias Ekholm both block the entire lane with their bodies and sticks where Ritchie never had a shot of reaching the puck unless Stewart were to have miraculously lifted the puck over both defenders sticks and perfectly placed it on his blade.
1:00 remaining, third period:
The final minute of regulation saw a full six-on-five flurry by the Ducks in a desperation attempt to tie the game.
Salomaki had seen his stick snap just a few seconds prior, however still did a fantastic job of covering the man with the puck -- Sami Vatanen -- and keeping his eye on Hampus Lindholm as well. In fact, all five Predators defenders covered their repsective man and made it very difficult for Anaheim to set up a play for a possible scoring chance.
What does Vatanen do? Lindholm isn't really open, but Stewart at the top has the most space so the puck goes to him.
0:57.5 remaining, third period:
After Stewart collects the pass, he pulls a slap-pass over to a waiting Ryan Kesler who quite literally has an open net to shoot at if he would have immediately shot the puck when the pass reached him.
Unfortunately for Kesler, the time he took getting the puck on his stick and setting up his shot allowed Barret Jackman to slide over and successfully block the shot, killing the entire momentum of the Ducks attack.
0:34.0 remaining, third period:
The final real opportunity for Anaheim and Ryan Getzlaf has the puck on his stick. With all possible lanes covered by Nashville players, Getzlaf does the only thing he can by skating in closer and firing the puck towards Rinne -- with his shot going wide of the net.
Nashville's evenly-spread coverage forced Getzlaf to try and thread a needle through to Rinne, only to see his final shot of the evening sail safely past.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators -- He's one of the world's best goaltenders for a reason. Rinne stood tall against the Ducks in plenty of high-danger scoring situations, allowing only two on 40 shots to guarantee a Predators 3-2 victory and a 3-1-1 record in their five-game homestand.
Miikka Salomaki, Nashville Predators -- Salomaki has been an extremely impressive young player to watch in his time up from the Milwaukee Admirals. He was finally awarded a goal for all his hard work. Not only that, but Salomaki finished with a team-high four hits on only a little over 10 minutes playing time.
Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators -- Not only was Fisher's tooth-knocking brawl with Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa entertaining to watch, but the 35-year-old center tied for the team lead in shot blocks with four, had three takeaways and was 11 for 19 (58 percent) from the faceoff circle.