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Nashville Predators 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 4: Rittich strong but Preds fall in shootout

McCarron, Johansen, and Cousins score, Nashville gets a point but not the win.

NHL: DEC 30 Predators at Blue Jackets

After riding a seven game win streak into the modified Christmas/COVID break, the Nashville Predators dropped their first game back in Washington D.C. before heading to Ohio for the second game in a back to back. Tonight the Predators were still without Captain Roman Josi and centers Tommy Novak and Colton Sissons. David Rittich took his place in net against the Columbus Blue Jackets, giving Juuse Saros a night off, and Matt Luff came into the lineup in place of Mathieu Olivier.

Columbus had their own missing pieces as points leader Oliver Bjorkstrand was placed in COVID protocol earlier in the week. His absence was offset by the return of Patrick Laine to their lineup in his first game back after injury. Elvis Merzlikins tended the net for the Blue Jackets.

In the last matchup played at Bridgestone Arena, fans lost their headgear as Filip Forsberg earned a hat trick plus one in a statement game. Would the Predators have their winning mojo tonight or would Columbus earn the revenge win?

Period One

After a very slow start in last night’s matchup against the Capitals, the Predators knew they needed to play identity hockey from the first drop of the puck. It didn’t take long for Matt Luff and Michael McCarron to show their commitment to sixty minutes of Predators hockey. Luff chased down a puck and found a streaking McCarron in the slot for the first goal of the game at 2:50.

The Predators continued their offensive pressure and controlled the next stretch of play, but a netfront tip by Boone Jenner at 6:26 evened the score on the Jackets first real offensive threat.

The goal energized Columbus, who pressured Rittich almost immediately again, but Big Save Dave held strong in net. Another change in tempo came as Matt Duchene drew a cross-checking penalty, giving the Predators a power play opportunity at 7:38. Ryan Johansen caught a glimpse of open space, but Merzlikins closed the door on Joey’s chance at the last second. Despite being able to set up and pepper the goal several more times, Merzlikins defended the blue ice well and the two minutes expired with no score for Nashville.

The Predators spent larger chunks of time in the offensive zone and limited the Blue Jackets’ chances for puck possession through the remainder of the first. A quick turnover in the defensive zone gave Columbus their best chance, but Rittich was able to stop the shot and smother the puck. The period ended with Nashville having double the Blue Jackets’ shots on goal total but still a tie score of 1-1.

Period Two

The second period didn’t start the way the Predators needed with a quick tic-tac-toe goal that put the Blue Jackets up 2-1 at just :24. The net came off the peg as Rittch pushed off to come back across for the save, but upon review the shot was confirmed a good goal.

Tomasino, McCarron, and Luff generated some quick offensive chances but were unable to convert. Two shifts later, Mikhail Granlund hustled to negate an icing and earned a bonus call of interference, putting the Predators back the power play at 3:54. The Predators struggled getting the puck through the neutral zone and weren’t able to convert the man advantage into a goal for the second time in the game.

Physical play at the boards ruffled some feathers and Tanner Jeannot and Andrew Peeke dropped the gloves at 7:21 to settle the issue. Jeannot won the fisticuffs but earned an extra two minutes of quiet time for roughing, giving the Blue Jackets a power play.

The Predators killed the penalty, with perhaps the best chance of the two minutes coming on a shorthanded spin shot by Yakov Trenin that had Middle Tennesseans gaping. Nashville needed to calm the puck and regroup from too many errant passes and chaotic breakouts after returning to five on five play.

Nashville tied the game as Matt Duchene streaked down the ice with the puck, paused for the Predators to complete a line change, and found Nick Cousins coming down the left wall. Cousins banked the puck off of Elvis Merzlikins at 15:31 to tie the game at two.

Merlikins was none too impressed with Cousins’s shot but was immediately back under pressure a mere twenty seconds later as Andrew Peeke was called for high sticking. On their third power play chance, the Predators made good on the man advantage as Ryan Johansen buried a rebound at 16:06.

Forsberg, Duchene, and Trenin each threatened offensively and Rittich came up with a big last-minute save off a turnover, but the period ended 3-2.

Period Three

The final period began with a frenzied back and forth for the first several minutes. Dante Fabbro blocked a shot and went down on the ice but was unable to leave play right away. Once Nashville regained possession, Fabbro headed off the ice and down the tunnel briefly.

At 6:43 the frantic pace of play resulted in Mattias Ekholm holding Justin Danforth and giving the Blue Jackets a power play. Benning broke his stick, Jeannot passed his stick to the D-man, and Jeannot hustled to get another stick and push his way into the play to break up the Columbus momentum. Mark Borowiecki took a puck to the inside of his knee blocking the shot and had to limp off the ice himself. The Predators killed the remainder of the penalty and both Boro and Fabbro were able to return to play.

Columbus applied the offensive pressure through the first half of the period while Nashville worked to tighten up defensively and wait for opportunities of their own. Unfortunately the Predators blinked first with a defensive zone turnover that resulted in a tying goal at 13:33 by Alexandre Texier.

Matt Duchene had Elvis Merzlikins beat but a Jake Bean sprawl and a pause a split second too long frustrated Duchene’s chance. The Predators couldn’t get out of their own way on breakout chances, but David Rittich kept the game tied through the end of the period.

Overtime

Johansen, Forsberg, and Ekholm began the overtime on the ice for Nashville. Ekholm and Forsberg had a beautiful two on one, but Merzlikins made an amazing save. Not to be outdone, Rittich had his own breathtaking save on a Laine shot.

Nearly halfway through the OT period, Matt Duchene committed a cross check and headed to the penalty box strongly disagreeing with not only the call but the lack of a call for interference against him just before.

Rittich made a terrific save on the power play, Ekholm broke up an open pass, Benning broke his stick but laid out on the ice to shut down a passing lane, and Rittich finally snagged the puck to stop play. The Predators were able to kill the remainder of the penalty thanks in large part to key saves by Rittich.

Shootout

The first three rounds of the shootout yielded no goals. Alexandre Texier got the puck past Rittich in the fourth round, but Mikhail Granlund evened the tally to keep the Predators alive. Gustav Nyquist made good on his fifth-round chance, but Eeli Tolvanen hit the post, giving Columbus the two points and the win.

Three Things:

The tenacity is there, the timing is still a little off. This Predators team plays with a tenaciousness that defines who they are as a team, and that was evident tonight with more consistency than last night’s game in D.C. While this game didn’t look like the Predators who were riding a seven game win streak earlier in December, a few tweaks to zone exits, neutral zone passes, and consistent energy and this team could be firing on all cylinders once again.

The defense has to cut off the back door shots. This was an issue against the Capitals last night and the second period opened with another defensive breakdown that allowed for a back door score.

The “big guns” need to get back to firing again. There was plenty of second, third, and fourth line offense, and having a productive supporting cast is key for any team’s success. Nashville has the top line of Forsberg, Granlund, and Duchene back together again, and they need to find their fall mojo again soon. While both Forsberg and Duchene have dealt with injuries and Granlund is coming back from being in COVID protocols, none of the three of them had the stellar performances Nashville will need down the stretch.

Nashville returns home to face off on Saturday afternoon against the Chicago Blackhawks.