Nashville Predators 4, Anaheim Ducks 5 (SO): Skills Competition Ends Comeback

Rocco Grimaldi put in a fantastic effort in the loss.

The Nashville Predators looked to build off their victory in Los Angeles last night, while the Anaheim Ducks looked to break a losing streak. Juuse Saros, as expected, got the start for the Predators, while John Gibson was back in net for the Ducks—a matchup of two struggling goalies. Matt Duchene and Dante Fabbro were out again, while Alexandre Carrier drew into the lineup in place of Dan Hamhuis on defense.

The game started with a fourth-line-vs-fourth-line matchup, leading to an inevitable Austin Watson vs Nicolas Deslauriers fight off the opening faceoff and an equally inevitable Watson loss off the opening faceoff.

The Ducks had some good chances early, while the Preds struggled to get the puck deep into Anaheim’s zone. Rocco Grimaldi made a few tenacious defensive plays, and Roman Josi had an elegant one, but overall the first ten minutes of the game felt like nonstop action right in Saros’s face as the Preds struggled to clear the crease, let alone exit the zone. The Ducks were aggressive on both the forecheck and the backcheck, cutting off the Preds’ puck carriers all over the ice, forcing dump-ins and managing carry-ins of their own to counter.

A whistle as a puck went out of play gave us a much-needed breather, and the Predators got a cycle set up in the Ducks’ zone—only to allow a four-on-one rush with Viktor Arvidsson the only skater back. Saros managed a fantastic stop on what felt like a sure goal there, and then another as Mattias Ekholm fell over while trying to make a defensive play.

Eventually, Adam Henrique managed to put in a shot. Saros was screened by Josi and possibly one of the forwards, and also had faced more than twice as many shots and way more actual scoring chances than Gibson—it wasn’t remotely surprising that the Ducks got on the board first. The Predators responded with multiple shots at goal of their own, but somehow the Matt Irwin point shot didn’t get past Gibson.

Still, the Preds continued to put some effort in while trying to tie the game, and got a few more chances. A missed penalty call on Grimaldi, who definitely hauled his mark down at the defensive blue line, was followed by an extended stretch in the Preds’ zone anyway, but at least it was 5v5. With only five minutes left in the first, the commentators deigned to mention the shots on goal count: the Ducks have managed one a minute through the first fifteen, while the Predators have only three. I don’t want to think about how much worse they’ll be shorthanded.

With under fifty seconds left in the first period, Watson tipped a Colin Blackwood blast from the point past Gibson. The extent to which that goal was fluke good luck against the grain of play can’t be overstated—it took both heroic efforts from Saros and a bounce Gibson wasn’t expecting to get that game tied.

Six seconds later, Arvidsson was called for embellishment as Max Jones, who’s about twice his size, blatantly interfered with him. Even the NBCSN commentators felt the embellishment call was iffy. Saros made another sequence of big stops in the flurry during the ensuing 4v4 to send the game to intermission still tied.

As Bryan says, no.

The second period picked up about the way the first ended, but before too long Calle Jarnkrok found the offensive zone and made Gibson make a save. Baby steps, folks. Alas, it didn’t last; play returned to the Preds’ defensive zone as Jones crashed into Saros without a call. Then, at the other end of the ice, Cam Fowler knocked Filip Forsberg off-balance, sending him crashing into the endboards—fortunately skates-first. The arena booed loudly, but the refs still sent Fowler to the box, giving the Preds the first power play of the game.

After a nice sequence with the advantage, Kyle Turris sent a shot pass to Craig Smith, who’d shaken off his coverage during the passing plays and was waiting in the slot, and Smith tipped it past Gibson to give the Preds the lead.

Unfortunately, moments later, Turris took an interference penalty to put the Predators shorthanded themselves. Again, they had not, throughout this extremely lopsided game, previously been shorthanded. With 28 seconds left in Turris’s penalty, Forsberg hooked Ryan Getzlaf and put the Predators down two. An exciting thirty seconds or so of Turris on the penalty kill followed his release from the box, but eventually Saros was able to freeze the puck and the Preds were able to make a line change with a little under a minute left in Forsberg’s penalty. Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen got a shorthanded 2v1, but Ondrej Kase managed to block Arvidsson’s shot, and both teams escaped the extended special teams time without giving up a goal.

Cam Fowler scored to tie the game after all not long after that, following a sequence of bobbled defensive plays, and immediately after that Johansen took a penalty. The Ducks’ power play had some good motion, drawing the Preds’ defenders out of position, and after a moment of false hope when the Preds got a clear, Daniel Sprong scored to give the Ducks the lead again.

The Preds’ penalty kill has been struggling of late, both defensively and with goaltending, but it’s worth noting that the unit that got scored on had Jarred Tinordi and Matt Irwin as the defenders, with Watson as one of the forwards. That’s an AHL unit, with the exception of Jarnkrok as (I think) the second forward—and Jarnkrok shouldn’t be playing shorthanded anyway, because it’s not his strength. Get well soon, Ellis and Fabbro.

Almost immediately after that, Carrier took a penalty of his own, and Henrique tipped a Getzlaf pass to give the Ducks a two-goal lead. Same unit as last time, this time with Jarnkrok for sure. Please get well soon, Ellis and Fabbro.

Getzlaf rang another shot off the crossbar with less than a minute to go in the second, but the Preds were able to stop the bleeding after that and stumbled into the second intermission down by just two.

Josi drew a penalty seconds into the third period and the Predators went back to the power play with a chance to draw within one. Henrique had a great chance during that special-teams sequence, but Saros was able to make the stop and the Preds escaped their power play without going down any further on the scoreboard.

Craig Smith scored his second of the night when Fowler caught his skate on the endboards and left the puck uncontested, reaching ten goals on the season as he brought the Preds within one in the game. That seemed to give the Predators some life, as they started swarming in the offensive zone. Josi almost tied the game back up by banking a shot off Gibson from below the goal line, but Gibson managed to keep it out of the net.

However, very shortly after, Grimaldi scored, and the game was tied after all. Josi got tripped right before Grimaldi scored, but no use hoping for a penalty, and no reason to, given how their last power play went.

The Predators continued to attack after tying the game, pushing play into the Ducks’ zone and away from Saros—if they’d been playing like this all night, the game would have looked very different. Ekholm high-sticked Isac Lundestrom across the jaw during a scuffle, but the referees missed it, so play continued at 5v5 and we all braced for the makeup call.

As Jim Diamond wrote, the Grimaldi-Nick Bonino-Smith line is doing a lot of work; they had another great and persistent shift forcing the puck into the Ducks’ zone and trying to get it deep. Meanwhile, with about six minutes left in the game, Hampus Lindholm blocked a shot with his stomach and left down the tunnel, bringing the Ducks down to five defenders and leaving them without one of their leading playmakers.

A scramble in front of the Preds’ net almost let the Ducks’ top line score again, but the puck found its way out of danger. Lindholm returned for the Ducks with about three and a half minutes left in the third. A minute after that, the Predators messed up a line change and got caught with at least six skaters on the ice, sending them back to the penalty kill again.

At the last instant of the Ducks’ power play, as the Preds’ penalty killers had cycled around to being Tinordi, Irwin, Watson, and Forsberg, the Ducks got a fantastic chance on the side of the ice where Forsberg wasn’t, but Saros was able to make the stop. The final thirty seconds also passed without anyone scoring, and the game headed to overtime with one point awarded to each team.

Grimaldi almost managed his second of the night in overtime on a breakaway as one of his teammates was hauled down behind the play (no call), but Gibson stopped the puck on the goal line itself and nobody was around to tap it in while Gibson was down. Moments later, Grimaldi tried again to help finish the game, but lost the puck while stickhandling towards an open Turris in the slot, and moments after that was steered hard into the goalpost and then the endboards by Lindholm. Hockey ended without another goal, and the teams moved on to the skills competition.

Forsberg scored for the Predators in the shootout; Kase and Getzlaf scored for the Ducks.

Random Observations

  • The flourishes on the anthem are a little weird, but this guy can seriously sing.
  • Ah yes, a pointless fight that everyone had to know Watson was going to lose.
  • David Poile telling everyone that he’s not planning to make a coaching change but is willing to make trades with any GM who wants to call is...oof. What does he think he’s doing here?
  • Sure would be nice if NBCSN had shot-on-goal counts on the scorebug! I say this every game but I also mean it every game.
  • If the Preds dump one more puck I’m going to scream. Their transition game, or lack thereof, is killing them out there.
  • Preds really trying to add to my grey hairs count tonight.
  • The defense has been abysmal and the offense has been entirely absent. You can tell one of these teams played last night and the other didn’t, but this is brutal.
  • “He’s looking to make an impression,” says the color guy of Carrier, as Carrier steps completely over the puck against the boards and looks wildly around for it. He’s making an impression, all right.
  • Are the Ducks just going to keep icing the puck for the final two minutes of the first?
  • Can’t ice the puck if it’s in your own net!
  • I really dislike the paired penalty/embellishment call. Call one or the other, not both. If someone took a dive, it’s because there was no original infraction. If there was an infraction, you shouldn’t punish the players for making sure you actually noticed it.
  • Is it a Ducks game without blatant and uncalled targeting of the opponent goalie? We still don’t know.
  • Kyle Turris for new PP coach? Kyle Turris for new PP coach.
  • Hey, you’re not allowed to take the net off the pegs in order to put the puck into it, Anaheim.
  • Exciting of the Predators to turtle before they had the lead this game. Hopefully they got it out of their systems?
  • NBCSN commenting that Laviolette wasn’t concerned about Turris’s penalty is weird.
  • I almost feel better now that the Preds are trailing again. The suspense is over; I know exactly how they were going to blow it, because, well, they blew it.
  • Yeah, yeah, the Ducks have 35 shots on goal, but Saros has still allowed four goals on those 35 shots, and that’s still not ideal.
  • NBCSN intermission commentary: “On a good note, Mike Milbury will not be there [at the All-Star Game] for us, either.” Even the man’s own coworkers hate him. Fire him already, NBCSN.
  • I just texted a friend that the third period was starting and I had to go back to watching, and she told me to stay strong. Shoutout to her for being at least half the reason I am not just turning off the game and finishing this recap with puppy pictures.
  • Tinordi literally passed straight to a Duck at the defensive blueline but sure let’s keep giving him shifts.
  • Pretty sure Watson just shoved the Duck he was taking that faceoff against in the head at the dot, but I guess we’re not calling anything now that it’s the third period.
  • Josi just broke Shea Weber’s franchise record for longest point streak by a defender.
  • I do not want to see Tinordi, Watson, Jarnkrok, or probably Irwin on the ice for this penalty kill.
  • I said I did NOT want to see them.
  • Overtime, because it’s a Sunday-night game on the West Coast. Of course.
  • I’m genuinely not sure Gibson kept that puck out.
  • Okay, he did.
  • Shootout, because it’s a Sunday-night game on the West Coast. Of course./

OTF’s Super Duper Stars of the Game

  1. Craig Smith - two goals, good play.
  2. Rocco Grimaldi - goal, assist, tried his best to spark the team to a win.
  3. Nick Bonino - two assists, had a good clear on the penalty kill.

I don’t know what the Razzie equivalent of a Star of the Game is, but Tinordi deserves one for making Matt Irwin look good by comparison.