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Here’s What Worked: Neal, Josi, and a worn out Blues team

Breaking down a 6-3 win over the Blues is not what I thought I would be doing today after the first 20 minutes last night.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

That’s more like it!

The Predators turned on the jets in the 2nd and 3rd period last night, overcoming a 3-0 deficit and pounding the Blues by a score of 6-3. While going down 3-0 early in this game isn’t what you want, you love the way this team fought back to tie it and then bend the Blues to their will down the stretch.

Here’s today’s look at what worked in last night’s win.

Roman Josi, with 0 points, had a whale of a game

With the return of defensive partner Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi turned in one of the most dominant defensive performances from a shot attempt standpoint that the Predators have ever seen from him.

In just over 19 minutes at even strength, Josi helped generate 32 shot attempts while only allowing 10 at the other end. That’s a shot attempt percentage of 76.2%, far and away the highest percentage of any skater on the night. While Josi did not end up on the scoring sheet, he helped keep the game going in the offensive end of the ice, generating chance after chance. He was out there for 15 Predators scoring chances, while only allowing three at the other end. He had two shots on net as well.

Not only that, but the Josi/Ellis pairing completely dominated the Blues top players. Here’s a look at the 5v5 matchup according to HockeyViz:

Josi and Ellis saw plenty of minutes against the Tarasenko-Schwartz-Fabbri line, as well as the Bouwmeester-Pietrangelo pairing, holding all five of those players to just two points (Tarasenko had two assists).

While Josi didn’t play terribly with Matt Irwin in the previous two games, his production wasn’t nearly this good. Welcome back Ryan Ellis!

James Neal is the catalyst of the offense

The Preds are 8-2-1 when James Neal scores at least one goal. When he’s out there sniping lasers, it always seems to get other guys going. He is such a dangerous shooter that other guys tend to have a little more room on the ice as defenders have to account for Neal’s ability first.

Take a look at the scoring network for the Preds this season. Assists on the left, goals on the right.

Take away Viktor Arvidsson’s eye opening hot start and James Neal is the most obvious goal scoring threat on the team. Other guys are threats—Johansen, Subban, Smith, Forsberg—but none have the firepower of Neal. This is what the production of a career 12.2% shooter looks like when he is used properly.

(Side note: notice who has the most assists at even strength on the team? Colin Wilson. Hmmm.)

As far as last night goes, the Predators were dead in the water down 3-0 in the 2nd period. They were generating chances, but they just couldn’t overcome the defensive mistakes and inconsistency (Ryan Reaves scored a goal for crying out loud). It was looking like “another one of those games” for the Preds.

Enter James Neal.

When the face-off is won, he knows exactly what to do. Get in a scoring position, fire a shot on goal, aim it at an uncomfortable spot, this time underneath the glove arm of Allen, and do it all as fast as possible. It all happened so quick and was so effortless on his part that you had the feeling the Blues might be reeling a bit, despite a 3-1 lead. Add to that the venue of last night’s game and you’ve got the beginnings of a snowball poised at the top of a very large hill.

Neal’s goal was merely the start of an offensive onslaught for the Preds, but it was an important goal for changing the momentum of the game. Filip Forsberg scored a couple minutes later and the Preds then poured on three more goals in the 3rd period.

The Blues were tired and so was Jake Allen

Call it what it is: the Blues, and Jake Allen, looked tired in that 2nd and 3rd period. And for good reason. The Blues were playing their fifth game in seven days with Jake Allen starting all five. This includes an overtime win over Montreal last Tuesday, back-to-back road games in New York and New Jersey, a road loss at Minnesota, and then last night’s loss to Nashville. That’s not an easy road trip.

After giving up five goals on 33 shots, Allen was pulled in favor of Hutton after Mike Ribeiro’s goal made it 5-3. Several of the goals he gave up were great offensive plays, including the Ryan Johansen surprise snap shot and the Fisher goal off the sick pass from Wilson. But the Forsberg goal was one that Allen usually stops (though Forsberg does play well against him) and the Neal goal looked like it caught Allen completely off guard.

Playing Allen every night goes against Coach Ken Hitchcock’s typical routine, where a rotation in goal is the norm. However, as Preds fans all know, Carter Hutton (love ya) isn’t Brian Elliott and really has no business sharing equal duty in between the pipes with Jake Allen. This leaves Hitchcock with the unenviable position of playing Allen more than he would like, including when he is tired, which we all know is a terrible idea.

The Predators did a good job of taking advantage of a tired team and a tired goalie.