The Nashville Predators entered tonight’s contest after a tough loss earlier in the week against a strong Toronto Maple Leafs team. The Predators, who had won 8 of their previous 10 games before falling to Toronto, had benefited from strong play up and down the line up and in net in November.
Despite a Stanley Cup Final appearance last season, the Canadiens have had a difficult start to their season this go round. The offense has struggled to put pucks in the net - no players has more than four goals so far this season. The goaltending has been shaky as well, and the Canadiens haven’t gotten much help from a lackluster special teams.
After a postponed game (due to COVID) Thursday in Ottawa, the Nashville Predators got a chance to exhale before tonight’s match up against the Montreal Canadiens. Would the extra time off help or hurt the Predators against an average at best opponent? Would the return of Nick Cousins and Alexandre Carrier boost the Predators back into the win column?
The game began with Juuse Saros in net for the Predators and Sam Montembeault taking his place 178 feet down the ice. The Predators first good chance came with Ryan Johansen trying twice to get the puck past Montembeault to no avail.
The Canadiens make their first chance count as Artturi Lehkonen pushed the puck past Juuse Saros at the opposite end seconds later at 2:41.
The Predators came right back with close and consistent pressure on the Canadien net minder after spending too much time against Toronto taking shots around the perimeter, but Montembeault protected his net. The early goal by Montreal seemed to shake the last remnants of lethargy off the guys in gold, and they increased the tempo and physicality of the game.
What looked like a tying goal was waved off because it was “directed into the net” by Luke Kunin’s hand. The Predators shook off the disappointment and continued to pressure Montreal with shots and physicality. A moment of panic for the Preds as Matthieu Olivier turned the puck over in the D zone, but Saros bailed the team out with a key save.
The Predators continued to pepper the net as time in the first period expired, but the Canadiens headed into the locker room with a 1-0 lead.
The second period quickly stunned the Predators as the Canadiens scored their second goal at just 1:06 by Dvorak on a back door shot.
That second goal rocked the Predators. Moments later Matthieu Olivier was called for tripping and the Montreal Canadiens headed on the power play. Olivier barely got sat down in the sin bin before the Canadiens immediate tic, tac, toe goal by Brendan Gallagher at 3:32 put them up by three. That score was a right hook to the team, and head coach John Hynes called a time out to recenter and refocus the Predators.
Nashville struggled to regain their footing on the ice. Another flurry in front of Montembeault resulted in more frustration but no goal. Instead, the Canadiens’ Ryan Poehling scored goal number four at 9:31.
Piling on insult to injury, Poehling scored on his very next shot at 10:08. With a 5-0 deficit, Hynes pulled Juuse Saros and sent in David Rittich. Hynes then told the bench exactly what he thought about their performance in this period and what needed to change.
Hynes’ message didn’t seem to take. Ryan Johansen sent the puck over the glass and headed to the sin bin for delay of game, giving the Canadiens a second power play. This time the Predators were able to kill off the penalty. Montreal had a breakaway chance, but Rittich was able to protect the net.
Montreal continued to control the period, and tempers finally boiled over with the biggest duel between Olivier and Josh Anderson. While the referee went to call five minutes for fighting on those two, a whole new scrum broke out between pretty much everyone on the ice not in black and white stripes. Once the teams were separated and the second brawl was sorted out, the game remained five on five. A disastrous second period came to a close and the Predators staggered to the locker room.
Nashville returned to the ice hoping to change the tone of the game with the final twenty minutes, but the period started with the Canadiens controlling the game much as they had in the second. Finally at 6:07 the Predators caught a break when Tyler Toffoli was called for hooking against Mikhail Granlund.
Matt Duchene skated the puck into the offensive zone and sent a shot past Montembeault to finally put the Predators on the board at 6:36.
The power play goal didn’t swing the momentum of the game for the Predators like they needed it to, and David Rittich had to make several saves to keep the deficit to four. The Predators caught a break when a bloodied Artturi Lehkonen was called for a hold at 12:45 and Nashville earned a man advantage. Matt Duchene made quick use of the power play and sent slot shot past Montembeault at 12:53.
Almost immediately after returning to five a side, Montreal’s Ben Chiarot was whistled for roughing against Luke Kunin. The first power play unit peppered the goal with shots but couldn’t find the back of the net, and the second unit wasn’t able to keep the puck in the offensive zone. The two minutes expired without a much needed goal.
Matt Duchene decided to take the offense on his back and scored a natural hat trick 16:27 bringing the Predators within two.
David Rittich headed to the bench for the final minutes hoping the man advantage could quickly get the Preds back in this game, but the only scoring was compliments of Tyler Toffoli’s empty net goal at 18:30. The Predators limped off the ice with a 6-3 loss to the Canadiens.
- The difference between the play in the first period and the second period were the difference in this hockey game. Playing well for twenty minutes does a team no good if they forget to show up for the next twenty minutes of the game. Nashville dominated the first period in every way except the score. The second period started with Nashville down one and ended with them down five. That was twenty minutes of critical ice time they couldn’t get back or dig out from under.
- Nashville’s defensive breakdowns in front of the net need to be addressed and cleaned up before facing off against a team like Anaheim on Monday. Juuse Saros will need to sage his locker and find his inner peace before Monday after an uncharacteristically bad game as well. The team as a whole needs to get back to that “identity” hockey that earned them several statement wins in November.
- Matt Duchene was the one bright spot in an otherwise painful game. He may have been “snakebit” last season, but he is Midas with the puck this season. His 12 goals so far this season have been critical to the team’s overall success. It’s good to see his hot streak continue.
The Predators return to Nashville and will face off against the Anaheim Ducks Monday evening at 7:00 at Bridgestone Arena.