Tonight the Nashville Predators faced off against the Ottawa Senators on the road. The Predators were coming off of a high-intensity win Tuesday night at home against Central Division rival Minnesota Wild, but have struggled this season against lower-ranked teams in the league. The Predators couldn’t afford to “play down to the competition” tonight, as they face one of the toughest April schedules in the league and need every point to stay in the playoff race.
Tonight Eeli Tolvanen returned to the line up with Mikael Granlund and Matt Duchene on the second line while Michael McCarron, who is out with an injury, was replaced by Matt Luff. Luke Kunin joined Luff and Nick Cousins on the fourth line, and Phil Tomasino started his second game on the top line with Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg. Juuse Saros returned in net for Nashville.
The Ottawa Senators entered the game on a three-game win streak. Although the Sens are second to last in the Atlantic Division rankings, this is a team with plenty of offensive firepower in Brady Tkachuk, Joshua Norris, and Connor Brown. Anton Forsberg has played well in net, and while the Senators were eliminated earlier this week from the postseason, they had plenty of determination to play spoiler tonight.
The second line of Tolvanen, Granlund, and Duchene generated some solid offensive chances in the first few minutes of the game. Nashville earned an early man advantage on a hooking call against Ottawa’s Connor Brown. Ottawa’s aggressive kill limited Nashville’s chances, and the teams returned to five a side.
Shortly after the power play ended, Brady Tkachuk took exception to a hit from Jeremy Lauzon and the two dropped gloves. This was Lauzon’s second fight in the last two games. Both players headed to the box for five minutes.
Granlund received a clearing pass from Roman Josi and made his way into the offensive zone with Matt Duchene on a two on one. Granlund sauced the puck to Duchene, who buried the shot, giving the Predators the lead at 8:32. Josi’s assist tied him with Paul Kariya for points in a single season at 85.
The intensity of the game again spilled over as Luke Kunin and Mark Kastelic dropped the gloves at 13:16. Kunin earned himself an extra two minutes for roughing, and the Senators went on the power play. The Predators were able to kill off Ottawa’s man advantage.
With a little over a minute left in a physical period, Mark Borowiecki—returning to Ottawa for the first time tonight—was called for a tripping penalty, and the Predators worked to kill a penalty for the second time. The Predators shot themselves in the proverbial skate as Mattias Ekholm was called for a questionable kneeing penalty with :26 remaining, giving Ottawa a brief five on three as the period ended.
Nashville started the second period playing two men down for :50. The Predators held firm defensively and sprung Borowiecki from the sin bin to make it five on four. Despite getting five shots on goal, the Senators couldn’t break through, and Nashville was able to escape the consequences of their decisions again.
Penalties continued to be a story in the game as Artem Zub was caught holding Eeli Tolvanen. The Predators went on the power play, logged four shots on goal, but couldn’t capitalize.
Juuse Saros stopped two point-blank chances, but in the ensuing netfront scrum, Ryan Johansen pushed former Nashville Predator Austin Watson over the crossbar. Johansen took a turn in the penalty box, and the Predators went on the kill for the fourth time. Nashville played aggressively and easily managed the shorthanded two minutes.
The period continued with back and forth, physical action. The Senators were finally able to beat Saros on a breakaway at 15:32 when Matthieu Joseph caught Nashville in a line change and found the back of the net.
The goal by Joseph seemed to swing momentum the Senators way. Nashville was able to finish the period with two solid offensive chances, but the game remained tied 1-1.
Ottawa started the final period with offensive pressure, but it was their defensive pressure that led to a turnover and the go-ahead goal at 4:36 from Josh Norris.
The Senators didn’t let up the pressure once they took their first lead of the game. The Predators struggled to push back, but Roman Josi took over the game—and the single-season point record—with a slapshot from the blue line to tie the game at 7:48. [Note: The NHL reviewed this goal and later awarded it to Tanner Jeannot on a tip in, giving Josi the primary assist.]
The next high-danger scoring chance came as Brady Tkachuk received a long pass and headed to the net all alone, but Juuse Saros made a great save. Saros was called on a few minutes later on a cross ice play by Ottawa, but Saros showed off his efficient lateral moves to make the save again.
The first penalty of the final period came at 12:31, compliments of a hook by Cole Reinhardt. The Predators' power play made short work of the man advantage, taking just :07 for Ryan Johansen to give Nashville the lead once again. There appeared to be some question as to whether there was a high stick on the play, but ultimately the Senators decided not to challenge the goal.
The quick go-ahead goal gave Nashville momentum, and they worked hard to keep the Senators away from the high danger shot areas. A fight for the puck with 3:46 remaining resulted in a boarding call against Brady Tkachuk and left Mattias Ekholm down on the ice after the hard hit.
The power play didn’t start well for Nashville, as Saros had to stop a wraparound shorthanded try early in the two minutes. The Predators only got one shot on the power play, and the teams returned to five a side with just under two minutes in the game. Anton Forsberg abandoned the net in favor of an Ottawa extra attacker, but Nashville held off a last minute push to win 3-2.
Roman Josi is having a record breaking season...and has earned serious consideration for the Norris and the Hart. Tonight Josi broke Nashville’s single season points record set back in the 2005-06 season by Paul Kariya, and Josi’s contributions this season go far beyond just collecting points. His talent defensively and on special teams makes him a strong candidate for two significant post season awards.
Penalties are a waste of time. While Nashville had a strong kill all game, they lost 18 minutes of five on five play. Nashville plays an aggressive style of hockey, but they will not be facing many teams the rest of this month who won’t make them pay for committing unnecessary and unwise penalties. This is an area that may come to haunt them down the stretch.
Nashville didn’t dominate this game, but they earned two critical points. This wasn’t as clean a game as Nashville played against the Wild, but the Preds were able to grind out a hard earned two points. There aren’t going to be many easy games coming up for the Predators. There will likely be more “grind it out” games in the near future.