The Predators faced off against the Columbus Blue Jackets again this Saturday night, and it was as hotly contested as you’d expect. The Jackets tend to play highly defensive and structured hockey, while the new-look Preds enjoy a very deliberate offense and focus on pushing play to the perimeter; all of this is a recipe for grit & grind hockey, which is exactly what we got.
The opening minutes saw Columbus come out hot, dominating Nashville in shot attempts early and getting the vast majority of the chances. Juuse Saros looked hot from the moment he made his first save, a good sign for Preds fans at home wondering if he can handle becoming the team’s de facto starter. The team looked a bit lost in transition and struggled to break the tough shell of John Tortorella’s stout defense, but after allowing the first goal (bad coverage of the netfront allowed Michael Del Zotto to drive the net, with Nick Foligno cleaning up the rebound) they started to figure things out. Nashville largely dictated play in the closing half of the period and even got a weak goal off a Rocco Grimaldi rush attempt, taking us into the first intermission with plenty of momentum. Ryan Ellis had an incredible block to keep things tied at 1-1 (thanks for the minor heart attack, Juuse)
Ryan Ellis to the rescue. pic.twitter.com/s9Im8jXzCJ— FOX Sports Tennessee (@PredsOnFSTN) January 17, 2021
Quick side note, I’m loving the job Terry Crisp has done subbing in for Hal Gill and Chris Mason. The old fella’s still got it.
The middle of this game was a lot of heavy forechecking and missed opportunities from both teams. Nashville largely seemed to hold Columbus in check while responding on the counterattack, but the Preds leaked a few big chances from the high danger areas; luckily, Matt Benning and Mark Borowiecki are actually good players who can clear the crease effectively. I don’t know about y’all, but I almost forgot what it feels like to have a good bottom pair. Saros looked great this entire period and the team defense did a good job of mucking things up, but the offense sputtered a bit and struggled to get established zone time or cycle the puck. Mathieu Olivier had a really nice sequence where he laid a guy out before making a controlled entry and setting up a cycle; I like what I’ve seen from him tonight, even if I’d prefer to have Yakov Trenin in the lineup.
Nashville’s best chance of the period saw Luke Kunin fail to bury a rebound; the puck went off of his skate before getting covered up by Elvis Merzlikins. The puck eventually found the back of the net, but the play was blown dead beforehand. The game remained tied headed into the final period left in regulation.
The first five periods of Nashville Predators hockey this year were all pretty normal, but we all knew that at some point all Hell would break loose. That happened in the third period tonight.
Both teams looked sloppy with their defensive coverages the entire way. Filip Forsberg kicked things off with a beautiful steal followed by a snipe off the rush to make it 2-1 Nashville, but the Jackets responded rapidly with a miraculous bounce that made it past Saros. The teams traded chances with multiple odd-man rushes in what could only be described as pure chaos, much to the chagrin of cardiologists everywhere. Juuse Saros stopped a Pierre-Luc Dubois breakaway; Matt Duchene blows a tire on a 4-on-2 that results in a giveaway; everyone screams at their television a lot while Terry Crisp lets loose laughs that could cure cancer. Are you having a wonderful time yet? Anyways, the Blue Jackets seemed to slow things down a bit towards the middle of the period, beginning to yet again chip away at the Preds with crisp puck movement and good neutral zone discipline. All of sudden, things look grim.
Then, Mattias Ekholm and Brad Richardson decided to share a brain, combined for a beautiful sequence of sustained offense and scored a goal. Richardson nets his first as a Predators, and I pass out on the couch from the emotional whiplash of this game. Yeesh.
Juuse Saros has looked unbelievable for much of this game, making save after save despite not having a ton of support in the front of the net. Something for Coach Hynes to work on in practice, if I’m him. Olivier keeps making Crisp cackle by laying big hits and dodging attempted revenge checks from Max Domi, so he’s officially my favorite player.
Oh hey, Luke Kunin just took a fluttering puck and nailed it just under the crossbar to make it 4-2. That’s pretty neat, eh? I wasn't a big fan of Kunin’s overall play in the first game, but he’s looked much better tonight and he continues to launch himself into the high danger areas with gusto. That’s a good recipe for the talented youngster to have a big year on Nashville’s second line. As I write this Colton Sissons just scored off of a beautiful little play from Arvidsson. The Preds are fun again, y’all.
The power play remains anemic, something I still need to see Hynes correct in the near future. Calle Järnkrok drew a penalty after getting smacked in the face by a Columbus stick, but the Preds struggled to do much with it, getting denied on zone entries and failing to do much besides shoot from the perimeter. It’s late in the game and Nashville has a three-goal lead, but the lack of aggression I saw on earlier opportunities with the man advantage suggest that this isn’t a product of circumstances. Hopefully the return of Mikael Granlund will help solve this issue. Nashville wins 5-2 on the back of four goals in the third.
Three Big Things
- Juuse Saros played out of his mind tonight. The team has a lot to clean up in terms of playing consistent team defense in front of #74, but if he keeps playing on another level the Preds will have a legitimate chance to beat anybody they play this year. If Saros breaks out, this team will make some serious noise; mark my words.
- Luke Kunin looked pretty solid tonight and had a really nice goal. I loved his willingness to go to the dirty areas and play physically along the wings; he’s looked tangibly better since the end of the second period in the first game of the season. He has the shot and instincts to be a good top-six player, so let’s hope he can keep this up.
- Mathieu Olivier had a fantastic game within his role; he mucked up play along the boards, battled hard for pucks and pissed off Max Domi so badly that the diminutive winger tried (and failed) to square him up for a revenge check. Olivier is probably the last guy you’d want on the roster out of all the young players, but he played well tonight and I can’t take that away from him.
Nashville next plays against the Carolina Hurricanes on MLK Day, so be sure to stay tuned for the preview for that game alongside podcast content that takes a look at the week ahead. Good win tonight y’all; go Preds.