I had an in-depth intro completely written out for this recap. I was going to mention the Predators’ fast start — maybe their best period of hockey of the season — and gradual let-down as the game went on. I wanted to mention John Hynes’s first win as head coach and the series of small changes we noticed during the game. I also planned to talk about the Predators defense buckling down and playing tough in the last five minutes against a Blackhawks offense that was on fire in the last ten minutes of the game.
And then I deleted it all.
Because of this...
In 2020, the year of our Lord, PEKKA RINNE SCORED A GOAL IN AN NHL GAME. It wasn’t one of those cheap “the other team accidentally passed the puck into their own net and the goalie happened to be the last one to touch it” goals either (looking at you, Chris Mason). This was a snipe from 200 feet away.
I love everything about this; from Rinne standing still watching his puck trickle in, to the wild celebration behind the Predators’ net, to the Hawks fan in the front row shrugging in the background — which, for the record, I feel the same way.
I’m wrapping up this recap as fast as I can so I can log off and watch this play on repeat as I drift off to bed, with visions of sugarplums dancing 200 feet across by head, courtesy of a Finnish goaltender snipe.
What a moment.
We’ve talked about the Preds getting off to cold starts in several games this year. But this? This was about as perfect of a first ten minutes as you could have asked for.
It starts with a quality chance for Arvidsson from the mid-slot just 20 seconds into the game, courtesy of a great set-up from Ryan Johansen. Just a minute later, Matt Irwin jumps into the play, finds some open ice, and nearly wrists a shot past Corey Crawford. (Yes, you just read that entire last sentence correctly.)
The hot start pays off. Roman Josi dekes his way past three Chicago defenders and backhands a shot that bounces off Arvidsson and goes in. 1-0 Preds. Arvy gets credit for the goal in the same way I once got an A+ on a group project in which I left to go to a bar halfway through. Josi still gets credit for an assist, pushing his point streak to 12 games.
The Predators make it 2-0 just five minutes later, thanks to Colin Blackwell’s first career NHL goal. This one was a great all-around effort from the fourth line. Kyle Turris’s aggressive forecheck forces Duncan Keith to turn the puck over; Yakov Trenin then beats Boqvist to the puck and fires the puck to Blackwell, who one-times it in.
That FIRST NHL goal celly!— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) January 10, 2020
Frame this, Colin Blackwell. pic.twitter.com/ctOEM9AbLh
The Blackhawks counter with their three best chances of the period, all from just outside the crease to Rinne’s left, but Pekka slams the door shut on all three. The most impressive save may have been on Kane, who tries to sneak a wrist shot up and over Rinne’s glove. No dice.
The Predators would take advantage of another Blackhawks turnover right at the end of the period. Toews’s break-out pass is too far ahead of John Quenneville and instead lands on Mattias Ekholm’s stick, and Ekholm passes behind the defense to Matt Duchene. Duchene beats Crawford one-on-one to make it 3-0 Predators.
With how critical we’ve been of the Predators at times this season, I think it’s important to give credit where it’s due. This was maybe the best period of hockey we’ve seen the team play all season long.
The Preds keep pushing to start the second period. Mikael Granlund SHOULD have made it 4-0, but the puck starts to roll JUST as he snaps it towards an open net, and it flies over the crossbar. (Poor Granlund, he’s been snakebitten on a bunch of high-quality chances this season.)
The Blackhawks get their first sign of life seven minutes into the period. Dominik Kubalik takes a drop-pass from Toews on an odd-man rush, and snipes a shot over Rinne’s shoulder and just under the bar. Ekholm got caught pinching into the zone at the other end, which led the rush.
You could tell that goal gave Chicago a little bit of a boost. They started becoming a bit more aggressive in the defensive and neutral zones, which led to a few more breakout chances on the offensive end. And while the Predators could have played a little bit cleaner in the time frame, I thought they did a good job of hustling back to disrupt the rush, and limit the quality of shots Chicago would get on those chances. Keeping the game 3-1 to end the second period could easily be considered a win for Nashville.
...Especially since the third period start wasn’t ideal.
The Blackhawks get the first five shots of the period. They still have momentum when Josi takes a hooking penalty, and on the ensuing power play, Alex DeBrincat capitalizes on a complete defensive breakdown, and scores to make it 3-2. Hynes calls a time-out to try and settle things down.
The Preds do play more soundly after that timeout, but Chicago still continues to push. They outshoot Nashville 11-2 over the next 14 minutes. Rinne comes up with several big saves down the stretch, the Predators come up with a MASSIVE penalty kill, and Yannick Weber breaks up a 3-on-1 rush with a timely backcheck on Toews.
The Preds’ effort pays off when Chicago pulls the goalie. Nick Bonino banks a shot off the board and into the empty net to make it 4-2. But honestly, who cares because 15 seconds later PEKKA RINNE SCORED A GOAL BY SHOOTING THE PUCK 200 FEET DOWN THE ICE AND INTO THE OPEN NET!!!
What a way to end the game. The Predators win 5-2.
The Good Stuff
- Eureka! Movement on the Power Play!: They didn’t convert on either chance, but notice how much more chaotic it is for the penalty killers when you skate on the man advantage! The Predators were able to open more passing lanes, which led to chances like the one Forsberg had that rang off the crossbar. I can’t tell if this was a full formation change (because honestly, who could tell what the Preds were even trying to do previously) or just something that’s been emphasized over the past two games. But more of this please.
- On that same note, the Preds’ forechecking was much more aggressive tonight, and you saw the payoff on the second and third goals. The second goal was a direct result of Turris and Trenin battling their men behind the goal line, and on the third, the Preds put just enough pressure on the breakout attempt to force Toews into the mistake that led to the score.
From my article the other day:— Bobby Misey (@Bmisey) January 10, 2020
Who’d have guessed, when you’re willing to actually take a hit once in a blue moon, the forecheck improves pic.twitter.com/1mBqlLjGax
It's dead quiet in Chicago lmao— Bryan Bastin (@projpatsummitt) January 10, 2020
- PEKKA RINNE SCORED A GOAL
The Bad Stuff
- It wasn’t as bad as the Boston game, but one of the Preds’ biggest issues continues to be the structural breakdowns in the defensive zone. The Blackhawks’ second goal was a prime example of that. Ekholm skated out to the boards to try and pressure Toews, but no one went back to cover the slot, leaving Hamhuis to defend two guys (which...didn’t exactly work out). There were a couple of other instances of that which didn’t result in goals, but that was the most glaring example.
OTF’s Super-Duper Stars o’ the Game
3. Yannick Weber: We don’t shout out the other Swiss defenseman a lot, but he’s held his own since coming back into the lineup. And he may have had the best defensive play of the game in stopping a potential game-tying 3-on-1.
2. Roman Josi: A 12-game point streak, and the best-looking accidental assist you’ll see this year. Not to mention a 27-minute game. His Norris resume grows.
1. Pekka Rinne: Several big saves down the stretch and ALSO DID I MENTION HE SCORED A GOAL???
The Predators travel to another division foe Sunday afternoon, when they take on the Winnipeg Jets at 1:00 P.M. CST (an hour before the first NFL Playoff game starts).
The Blackhawks host the Anaheim Ducks this Saturday night at 7:30 P.M. CST.