Starting strong and doing something with it
Too often as of late has Nashville started a game with a great burst of energy and found it to be rather useless when the opposing team cashes in despite plenty of quality shots and chances towards the net.
It's been one of the most glaring issues, other than the penalty kill, that the Predators have been looking for a way to correct: how to score goals with all the opportunities they are producing?
I'm not entirely sure what head coach Peter Laviolette said to his squad prior to their game against the Blackhawks on Thursday night, but Nashville came out of the gates hotter than they have in any of the great starts experienced over the previous 11 games and found a way to actually start burying some chances.
Not just one, though. Three.
To top that off, Nashville ended the first period with 18 shots on net to Chicago's 7 -- only six shots off the current franchise high of 24 in one period.
"We were ready, but we were ready to play fast," said Predators forward Craig Smith. "We just wanted to hit holes and regardless of what happened just move our feet and play fast. I think that way you can kind of catch their defense, if there is a quick scrum and the puck kind of slips loose, you can catch them. If you turn it over, you still have speed to get back and create something to go the other way."
When the bounces go your way, they go your way
We've talked countless times this season about how Nashville's stretches of poor hockey were partially the result of bad luck.
They were, it's really hard to argue it.
Bad bounces have been the name of the game for the past month and the Predators have been the poster child.
And then, you have games like Thursday's against Chicago which are a very good example of bounces going the right way for a team like Nashville.
Besides a very fortuitous first period for the Predators, they had to hold off a storm by the Blackhawks for the duration of play -- including multiple chances by Patrick Kane, who ended up increasing his lengthy scoring streak to 24 games on a controversial goal midway through the third.
It wasn't just the puck being frozen quickly by a seemingly reinvigorated Rinne -- who looked much better than he's seemed for nearly a month, stopping 35 of 36 shots -- but the same bounces that had gone against the Predators were finding themselves either being quickly cleared out by Nashville or gloved down by its Finnish netminder.
"We haven't been getting a lot of breaks," said Rinne. "We did a really good job. Guys sacrificed and we made really good clears. All the right things."
Nashville finished the game with a PDO of 106.6, the highest since November 25th against Buffalo. That's at least one way you know things are going according to plan.
Look at it this way, though: the Predators haven't had a PDO of over 100 since that November 25th game and only the sixth time they've finished over 100 since the start of November.
Watching a brush fire encompass a forest and feeling helpless to fight it
You can say a lot about how score effects determine the course of events throughout a hockey game. There's plenty of underlying numbers to correlate that as well. In a nutshell, when a team leads by multiple goals, statistics show that the opposing team tends to increase their activity in the offensive zone while the the team who leads will play more defensive hockey.
Or, in other words, protecting a lead.
Plenty of teams do that and plenty of teams play incredibly well when down by more than one goal -- including Nashville, who sit near the top of the league in possession and shot production when trailing by two or more goals.
Yet, one thing the Predators haven't done very well is pressuring the opposition even with a large lead. In fact, they've blown a couple of leads this season in the process -- most recently a two-goal lead against the Detroit Red Wings, ultimately losing in overtime.
It appeared as though Nashville was going to have the same trouble against Chicago, seeing a double-digit lead in shots evaporate and a three-goal lead cut down by one in the third before James Neal and Eric Nystrom stretched the lead to four goals.
That may not seem like a fair comparison, but Pekka Rinne did everything he could to save Nashville in this game and did exactly that. Without his play, the Predators may have ended up with a repeat of the Red Wings game.
"I thought in the second period there was pushback from [Chicago]," said Laviolette. "They're a good hockey team. I told the guys afterwards that you can't expect to play 60 minutes the way you like against Chicago. You have to hope to play more good minutes than they do."
To an extent, you almost assume that the tide of the play will be coming -- especially with teams like Chicago, they're too good not to push back when down. However, it was still a bit disconcerting that the Predators seemingly had no answer for it until the Blackhawks carved one into their three-goal lead.
"I really liked our response from that point on," Laviolette said. "I thought down the stretch for the last 10 minutes of the game we were good defensively; we were tight. We had a little bit of pushback offensively and got our game going again. It's to be expected when you play them. We could've played better in the second. We could've played better to start the third."
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators -- Thursday was an episode in vintage Rinne, something I hope we see a lot more of here over the next few months. Stopping 35 of 36 shots, Rinne stopped some of the most high-danger scoring chances I've seen allowed in the past month. He's had it rough since late November, but this 5-1 win was something he desperately needed.
James Neal, Nashville Predators -- Neal may be one of the most penalized forwards in the league, but the man sure knows how to score a goal. His two goals against Chicago extended his team-high in goals to 12.
Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks -- The streak continues. Whether or not you think it should've been a goal or not, Kane had the frame of mind to scoop out the loose puck and roof it before anyone knew it was free. That's talent.