The Predators went into Columbus last night and fought their way to a 4-3 victory. It was their first win since the long week off, so hopefully this means the bye week blues are long gone.
Though they did manage to blow a 3-1 lead when Zach Werenski scored early in the 3rd period to tie things up, the Preds persisted. The smooth skating of Filip Forsberg and the quick shooting of Mattias Ekholm gave the Preds a 4-3 lead, one they would not relinquish. Juuse Saros had a solid game in net, stopping 35 of 38 shots for his sixth win of the year.
Here’s a look at some of what worked in last night’s win over the Jackets.
Stopping the Big Guns
The Blue Jackets boast some incredible talent up front. Cam Atkinson has 27 goals on the year, Nick Foligno has 20 goals along with 22 assists, while Brandon Saad had 17 goals going into last night. While Saad did get a redirect on net for his 18th of the year, the rest of the Jackets big guns couldn’t get anything going against the Preds.
Atkinson and Foligno combined for zero points on four shots and a -1 rating on the night. Atkinson was especially hindered by the Preds, only generating a 36.6% 5v5 shot attempt percentage on the night. Foligno was able to control the puck much better, but was unable to get anything in the net. Juuse Saros stopped Foligno on a couple of really close chances, including this one:
Shout out to Matt Irwin on that play for forcing Foligno wide enough to make the save easier for Saros. Great teamwork guys!
Even the Jackets’ secondary scorers, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner, and Sam Gagner, were held off the score-sheet. Those three combined for zero points on seven shots and a -2 rating.
To shut down the Jackets shooters, you’re gonna need a good performance in net. Saros was a huge reason why the Jackets only put up three goals in this one. He was on his toes all night, stopping multiple attacks at once, including a crucial series in the 1st period where he stopped Oliver Bjorkstrand and Brandon Saad right on the doorstep.
Haha, that last one totally wouldn’t have counted. Saad soccer kicked that one on net. Juuse saved it anyway.
Hey! They Attacked The Net!
It has become a running complaint of the Predators over the last couple seasons that they simply don’t get to the front of the net enough. Net presence is what helps good teams become great teams. See: Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, San Jose Sharks, etc.
But last night, the Preds got a lot of shot attempts right in front of Sergei Bobrovsky. Take a look at the 5v5 shot heat map provided by Natural Stat Trick:
That big ole blue circle indicates a ton of shots right in the most dangerous area of the ice. Two of the Preds’ four goals were on shots right in front of Bob. Kevin Fiala’s dangle-and-score was a bit of an oddity, but Calle Jarnkrok’s goal was a product of exactly what I’m talking about: hard work in front by Calle and James Neal that eventually put the puck in the net.
The Preds finished the night leading in high danger shot attempts, 14-11. That hard work to get to the most dangerous area of the night pays off in the long run.
Ekholm & Subban Shut It Down
Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban were just great last night.
The two combined for the best shot attempt differential of any pairing on the ice, though Seth Jones and Zach Werenski were quite good as well. Subban’s 70.3 shot attempt for percentage and Ekholm’s 65.0 percentage are just about as much as you could ask for. They both generated a ton of shot attempts in the offensive end and also shut down opposing shot attempts.
That’s what you want from your top defensive pairing.
They also accounted for three points on the night, including Ekholm’s game winning goal. Subban has seven points in his last five games, all while putting up some ridiculous puck possession numbers. If he is still ailing, it’s not affecting his play too much.
As for Ekholm, he continues to show why he should remain a part of the Nashville Predators for the foreseeable future. He hasn’t missed a game this season, leading all Predators in ice time, and he is 2nd on the team among regular defensemen in shot attempts allowed per sixty minutes at 50.4, trailing only his partner Subban. He also allows the second least amount of high danger shot attempts per sixty minutes, behind Matt Irwin.
#Preds Mattias Ekholm talks to @LyndsayRowley about his GWG, Juuse Saros and how much fun this time of the year is. Number one star tonight! pic.twitter.com/Lh5jinOX9a— FOX Sports Tennessee (@PredsOnFSTN) February 20, 2017
The Subban and Ekholm pairing has been on fire as of late. Trading a guy like Ekholm would upset the proverbial apple cart, forcing the defense to find itself once again over the last 24 games. Probably not a great idea. #TeamStandpat