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Nashville Predators 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 1: Newcomers shine in home opener

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Erik Haula and Luke Kunin made positive impacts in their first game with the Preds, while Juuse Saros was great.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Nashville Predators Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Tonight’s home opener began with a tribute to the first responders who responded to the Christmas Day bombing on Second Avenue, as well as the Nashville residents who were affected by it.

In spite of the very limited viewer attendance—not open to general fans at all, though about 200 healthcare workers, player families, and so on were present—not one but two catfish hit the ice before the game started. The second catfish was wearing a mask, a change from previous, more festive catfish apparel for the fashionistas among our piscine friends.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Nashville Predators Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

By four minutes in, while both teams had had some time in each others’ defensive zones, Juuse Saros was the only goalie to have had to make any saves; Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo had gotten some help from a post and some misses. Another minute and a half later, Filip Forsberg took the Nashville Predators’ inaugural penalty of the 2021 season, which was unlikely to help the offense.

The Predators’ penalty kill looked okay, but it was Saros who had the biggest moment of the kill, stopping a very dangerous shot—the Jackets’ first of their power play—with two seconds remaining.

It was Matt Duchene’s line, with a lot of help from Roman Josi, who finally got Korpisalo to need to make a save, almost nine minutes into the game. It hadn’t been the best start for the Preds’ offense, but as the offense woke up the defense fell asleep. Boone Jenner got the puck, got past Dante Fabbro, and scored on a breakaway.

Seconds later, Fabbro drew a penalty by Oliver Bjorkstrand. The Predators put some effort in on the power play, adding four shots on goal to their previous one, but without any luck. They almost allowed the Blue Jackets to expand their lead in an awful scramble at the netfront, and only a quick stick save from Mattias Ekholm kept the score deficit to one. At the other end of the rink, Korpisalo was sharp to end the period, making great saves on Viktor Arvidsson and Colton Sissons. Saros, too, was called on to make some big saves, as the Preds’ defense continued to wobble.

With seven seconds left in the period, and during a great shift from the third line, Nick Cousins took an interference penalty over 200 feet from his own net. The Blue Jackets started the second on the power play again, though they weren’t able to score. Newcomer Matt Benning blocked a few shots and then lost his stick, which added to the excitement as the penalty kill went on. Cousins had a breakaway of his own on his first shift out of the box, but Korpisalo was able to make the stop.

Erik Haula had another good chance partway through the second; he’s a part of the Duchene line, which has impressed offensively so far, though by that point in the game the lines were already slipping around.

We then got the Mattias Ekholm and Brad Richardson net-crashing action we’d all been waiting for, with predictable results (Richardson did not score after Ekholm was unable to get the shot and passed). The offensive performance we were actually waiting for followed a few minutes later, as Luke Kunin streaked into the zone and buried a shot to tie the game, off a great zone-clearing pass from Haula.

With eleven seconds left in the second period, Mikhail Grigorenko barely managed to avoid taking a delay-of-game penalty by clearing the puck over the glass, but the third would start 5v5.

Filip Forsberg got the go-ahead goal with a 2-on-1 rush early in the third period, breaking a six-minute stalemate. Blue Jackets defender Vladislav Gavrikov went flat on the ice to block a hypothetical pass to Calle Järnkrok, the other Preds skater up, which...sure? I guess? I, a Preds fan, am not complaining, but...okay then. The goal seemed to briefly revitalize the Predators before play settled back into a more even give-and-take, complete with almost-matching defensive plays at each end.

(The eye test suggested that balance, but looking at the shot totals afterward the Predators actually had a huge edge in the third period, outshooting the Jackets 21-7 at 5v5 and giving up only two unblocked shots at 5v5 all period.)

With eight minutes left in regulation, Max Domi took a penalty, giving us another look at the Preds’ hopefully-improved power play. The Blue Jackets’ penalty kill was a lot more aggressive this time, not just clearing but challenging, and they were able to kill the penalty off.

Once the teams were back at even strength, Joonas Korpisalo made a series of spectacular pinwheeling saves as Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson swarmed the offensive zone looking to expand the lead, and Jackets player Alexandre Texier was called for a slashing penalty that may not have occurred at all to put the Preds right back on the power play, but the Jackets were able to kill that one too—the reset, and an offside call on Forsberg, killed off the Preds’ momentum as well as the penalty.

With 1:50 left in regulation, Korpisalo headed for the bench for the extra attacker, and Järnkrok scored the empty-netter off a pair of very smart passes from Roman Josi and Rocco Grimaldi. Korpisalo returned, then left again, but the score stayed at 3-1 Predators, despite the best efforts of both the Blue Jackets and of Luke Kunin, in opposite directions.

Miscellaneous Observations:

Not many tonight, as I was busy getting back in the proverbial groove and keeping track of all the new and reused numbers.

  • There’s definitely going to be the potential for chippiness as the season goes on.
  • Ryan Johansen as the only Preds skater north of the faceoff dots is a hair-raising experience.
  • Forsberg breaks his scoring tie with Shea Weber on the Preds’ all-time list.
  • Good to see Pekka Rinne leaving the ice with Saros, looking pleased for his mentee; it’s rough having someone other than Rinne start the season, and it’s nice to know that he seems to be finding the silver lining in it.

Takeaways:

The offense looks a little better than the offense we’re used to seeing, but not a lot, and doesn’t look like what’s been going on at camp and scrimmages. The team might have relapsed into some bad habits, but the first power play definitely looked better, so change is coming. I’d like to see some of the offensive confidence we saw when the Preds had the skater advantage while trailing continue while they were leading, but even then, the Preds seemed willing and ready to move both the puck and their bodies, which was good.

The fourth line was a disaster, but I don’t think that surprises anyone.

The defense, however, was just...bad. The Blue Jackets aren’t noted for having a flashy offense, and I don’t think their offseason upgrades changed that, which makes how discombobulated the Predators looked in their own end even more concerning. If they can’t sort that out pretty quickly, they’re going to have a bad season.

Still, Saros was very good in net—a concern, since he usually starts the season slower—and the team got their act together after giving up the first goal; their performance with the long change wasn’t great, but starting off with a comeback win is a good thing to build on.

OTF’s Super Duper Stars of the Game:

3. Luke Kunin — nice goal in his debut (major credit also to Erik Haula), and several other good chances throughout the night.

2. Filip Forsberg — the go-ahead goal, a new spot on the team leaderboard, and the reason we’re going home happy tonight. Or, uh, staying home.

1. Juuse Saros — stopped some good chances and kept the team in the game for long enough for them to rally.