This was a game the Predators absolutely needed to have, and to their credit, Nashville came through with one of their best performances in the past few weeks.
Just days removed from an abysmal shutout loss to Vegas, and with the team’s playoff chances hanging by a thread, Nashville earned two critical points on the road against Winnipeg. Their 2-1 overtime win now puts them even with the Jets in the standings, and two points out of a wild card spot.
Apart from the standings, the game checked all the boxes of what you wanted to see after the Vegas loss. We saw a positive response after another rough early start, a “Player of the Game” performance from Juuse Saros (who finished with 33 saves) after a string of bad games, and some late-game heroics from Mikael Granlund, who seems to be having a renaissance under new coach John Hynes.
Let’s break it down.
The first period was a mixed bag for the Preds. The start was atrocious, but after what happened against Vegas on Saturday, the response was exactly what you wanted to see if you’re a Nashville fan.
The Jets get the game’s first goal less than three minutes into the game. Mason Appleton comes streaking down the left wing after a chip play from Nikolaj Ehlers, and backhands a shot under Saros’s pads for the 1-0 lead.
There was a lot that went wrong for the Preds on that play. Irwin pinched at the blue line, which sprung Appleton loose; Hamhuis got caught in no-man’s land; and Saros lets what turned out to be a weak shot through his pads.
Not even 45 seconds later, the Predators find themselves short-handed when Viktor Arvidsson gets tagged for interference. The Preds’ penalty kill actually does a good job of keeping the Jets power play (which has been on fire lately) to just one decent chance. The advantage gets cut short when the Jets take a too many men penalty. The Preds power play does nothing, because of course they don’t.
But after that is when the ice started to tilt in Nashville’s favor a bit. The Grimaldi - Bonino - Smith line led the charge with a couple of great chances. The first one was a Jets turnover that led to a 2-on-0 Preds breakaway. Smith and Bonino set up the play well, but Hellebuyck shut the door with a great blocker save, easily his best of the night.
That same trio would get some redemption towards the end of the period. Grimaldi forces a turnover on the forecheck, then feeds Bonino a one-timer from the right circle that beats Hellebuyck.
That takes us to the intermission. 1-1.
There’s not a ton of excitement to start the second period. The Preds get a power play six and a half minutes in, which generates a number of great chances. Filip Forsberg rings a shot off the post, while Kyle Turris has a clear look at the open net before Luca Sbisa hustles over to block the shot. The Preds don’t score, but overall, you had to like what you saw that time with the advantage.
The biggest highlight of the period comes via a Patrik Laine penalty shot, which was after a Jarred Tinordi “hook.” And yes, there are quotations around the word “hook.” Regardless, Saros makes a blocker save on Laine’s backhand attempt, then throws down his stick while shouting “PUCK. DON’T. LIE.” in an adorable Finnish accent.
(Disclaimer: Part of the above paragraph actually happened, another part didn’t. It’s up to you to decide which is which.)
There’s not much else to say about the second period, but given that it’s been the Preds’ Achilles heel over the past handful of games, that’s probably not a bad thing.
While it was ultimately uneventful on the scoresheet, we did see the action start to pick up a bit to start the third. A Tinordi shot almost sneaks past Hellebuyck after two deflections. That is followed by Saros making back-to-back saves on Laine, including one on an odd-man rush following a Preds turnover. For all the grief Saros has taken over his performance this year (and deservedly so), he kept the Preds in the game tonight.
The Jets get a power play chance with eight minutes left, courtesy of a Turris interference call. Saros once again comes up with a pair of big saves to keep Winnipeg off the scoresheet, first on a Pionk slapshot, and then on the ensuing rebound attempt. Each team gets a few more quality opportunities, but Saros and Hellebuyck keep the game 1-1 at the end of regulation.
Definitely need the two points here, but I’ve liked how the #Preds have played tonight.— Chase McCabe (@ChaseOnGame) February 5, 2020
The Predators almost win right off the bat. Mark Scheifele breaks his stick on the opening faceoff, and Johansen leads the Preds down on a 3-on-2. Hellebuyck winds up making the save, but...
A minute in, Mattias Ekholm sends a pass across the ice, and Mikael Granlund one-times the puck past Hellebuyck for the game-winning goal. Predators win it 2 to 1.
OTF’s Super-Duper Stars o’ the Game
3. Rocco Grimaldi: Forced the turnover that led to the Preds’ first goal. Love for the smol fast boi.
2. Mikael Granlund: Please don’t get traded.
1. Juuse Saros: Perhaps #74’s best game of the season.
Other Random Takeaways
- Tony Bitetto: forever my guy
- After a few quiet games, the Craig Smith - Nick Bonino - Rocco Grimaldi line was fire tonight. Grimaldi in particular did a great job in forcing Winnipeg into a couple of bad plays, which in turn led to some quality chances for the Preds.
- Likewise, the power play has made some noticeable strides since Hynes took over, now they just need some consistency. That sequence in the second period was exactly what you want to see with the man advantage: good movement off the puck and an emphasis on shots from the slot and circles. If THAT effort on the power play becomes the norm, goals will start to follow.
- The Jets have a Mason Appleton and a Jansen Harkins and suddenly I don’t know if I’m watching a hockey game or getting legal advice from an 1890s law firm.
- If you were hoping the Predators would clear up the question marks surrounding their depth defenders... this game probably isn’t ideal for you. Irwin was caught out of position on two plays early, including the one that led to Winnipeg’s first goal. Tinordi, who admittedly HAS played better lately, is still very hit-or-miss. And while it’s clearly unrealistic to expect Hamhuis to have the same jump he had ten years ago, the number of “bad awareness” plays he’s had this season is alarming for a veteran with his experience. Even when Ellis comes back, you get the sense David Poile may need to add one more blueliner at the deadline... assuming they’re still in the playoff push.
- Hal Gill: “Twenty Miles, Twenty Smiles.”
Chris Mason: “Twenty Mins, Twenty Grins.”
Nick: “Please stop.”
- Never forget:
The Predators continue their tour of
franchises that would rather play in a barren, snow-filled, God-forsaken wasteland in the middle of nowhere than Atlanta Western Canada when they travel to Calgary Thursday night.
The Jets head to St. Louis to battle the Blues Thursday, a game the Preds will be watching closely for playoff purposes.