Recap: Nashville Predators 4, Winnipeg Jets 6: Youth shine in ugly game

It was a rough night, but there were some definite bright spots.

The Nashville Predators embarked on their first road trip to meet up with some Central Division foes in the Winnipeg Jets. With fans finally back in the stands

First Period:

The Predators, and more specifically Tanner Jeannot, began the game with lots of physical play. On Jeannot’s first shift, he threw his body around, and it paid off. The Jets tried to pass out of the zone, and the captain Roman Josi came out of nowhere on the blue line to steal the puck. Nick Cousins and Jeannot found a connection through the means of a drop pass, and the line struck gold on a pass from Jeannot to Colton Sissons at the back door.

The lead didn’t last long, though, as the Jets came back almost immediately. Adam Lowry was able to slip by Philippe Myers at the blue line, and with a pass from Dylan DeMelo, he made Myers pay by sliding it five-hole on Juuse Saros. Both teams were able to score on their first shots of the game, and even though it was a very back-and-forth pace, the rest of the period was dominated by goaltending.

Juuse Saros made so many excellent saves off of bad turnovers, which was another theme of the first period. Neither team was able to keep the puck on their sticks, and some errant passes were made as well. Of course, it wouldn’t be a wild first period without a fight, so that’s exactly what happened. Jeannot got two-thirds of the way to a Gordie Howe Hat Trick after dropping the gloves with Nathan Beaulieu. Both players got some good punches in and were sent to the locker room to think about what they did. After that, it was relatively quiet until the buzzer sounded.

Second Period:

The next period started out with the Predators making a few attempts in the Jets’ zone, but first blood was drawn when a screened Juuse Saros gave up a goal to Pierre-Luc Dubois less than two minutes in. Almost immediately, Dubois followed his goal up by drawing a penalty. With Dante Fabbro in the box, Mikael Granlund got a good shorthanded chance, but it was the Jets who converted on their power play—credit for the goal going to Paul Stastny.

The Predators did not react terribly well to that goal. A scrambling, discombobulated shift (that felt like it lasted at least ten minutes) forced Filip Forsberg to play netfront defense while Saros made several sprawling desperation saves. Eventually the Preds did escape their own end, with Josi helping to lead the attack and Eeli Tolvanen getting a good chance in. Hellebuyck held firm, though, and the Jets’ lead held.

Once again, with the period almost half-over, the Jets got a couple of great chances—this time a Nikolaj Ehlers one-timer that ricocheted off the boards and went to one of his teammates before making it safely back away from Saros.

The Predators returned from the commercial break still two goals down, which made their decision to try to set up in the offensive zone by having Mattias Ekholm shoot for a tip from the center point even stranger. Some more encouraging tactics came after the next commercial break, when the Sissons line crashed the net, made some passes in that high-danger area,  got a good chance, and finally drew a penalty. Brendan Dillon threw Cousins to the ice, then did a great impression of a cat being put in a cat carrier as he was escorted to the penalty box.

Still two goals down, the Preds got to try their power play against the Jets’ struggling penalty kill again. This time, in spite of some good early defense from the Jets, Cousins was able to pick up a rebound and put it past Hellebuyck. Both Tommy Novak and Philip Tomasino got their first NHL assists—and Novak’s first NHL point—on that goal, which is great to see for the rookies.

Now only trailing by one, the Preds continued to press the attack when play returned to even strength, and an unattended Kunin had a great chance to tie the game up but missed his shot. Ben Harpur had had some rough shifts earlier this game, but made a solid defensive play on Ehlers to help Saros keep the Preds’ deficit at one.

That alarming moment past, the Preds briefly went back on the attack before the ice tilted back again. A flurry deep in the Preds’ end forced Saros to make several more high-speed dramatic saves as the Jets turned the defensive zone into a pinball gallery. Before the Preds could get out of danger, though, Harpur was called for hooking. The Preds’ penalty kill stood firm, but as the penalty elapsed and with only eleven seconds left in the period Kristian Vesalainen—who’d had several great chances earlier in the game—tipped a shot past Saros to restore the Jets’ lead.

Third Period:

Early in the period, the Preds finally got the lucky bounce they needed as a Roman Josi shot bounced off a Jets defender before landing in the net behind Hellebuyck. Seconds later, though, the Jets restored their lead as a very similar deflection went right past Saros, getting credited to Stastny again.

Harpur took another penalty, and despite a shorthanded chance by Jeannot, Kyle Connor was the one to convert. The youth line responded well, despite the widening gulf in the score, and the top line tried to build off their momentum.

With ten minutes left in the period, Tolvanen had a great chance and Tomasino drew a penalty, but the Jets were able to kill it off. Matt Duchene drew another penalty with seven minutes remaining, and after some real shenanigans the Preds were able to capitalize.

There was a lot to like about that eventual score, so I’m going to break it down a little further:

  • John Hynes sent the second power play unit, with Cousins and the youth line, out to start the power play. They’ve looked great all game; they deserved that chance.
  • The Preds’ first goal of the power play, scored by Cousins (with Novak diving for the same puck), was overturned on an offside review. Alexandre Carrier was pulled into the zone by the Jets’ DeMelo, despite a truly valiant attempt—including a full split—to keep his skate in contact with the blue line until the puck made it in. Even though it didn’t work, it was a very smart play by Carrier.
  • Hynes sent the same power play unit back out for the neutral zone faceoff, and six seconds later Tomasino put the puck past Hellebuyck again./

For a team that’s struggled with resilience and with trusting players on performance and not just reputation for the last several years, this was a fantastic sequence to see.

However, despite that rally, the Preds weren’t able to pull out a point from this debacle. With Saros pulled, they piled on the pressure in an offensive flurry, but it wasn’t enough for even one goal, let alone two.

OTF’s Stars of the Game:

  1. Philip Tomasino — great play pretty much throughout.
  2. Tommy Novak — I would not have guessed he was not just a rookie but a post-opener call-up. Three assists tonight, and he earned them all.
  3. Nick Cousins — he generated offense in multiple senses of the word, drawing penalties and putting pressure on Hellebuyck, and was rewarded on the scoresheet.
  4. Honorable mention to Eeli Tolvanen, who was a key part of his line’s production.

Three Thoughts:

  1. This is the first half of a back-to-back, and it’s not how you want one of those to start. The Jets are fairly obviously a weaker team overall than the Minnesota Wild, but the Predators had to leave everything on the ice tonight—including heavy icetime for most of their best players—just trying to stay in this game. Although the Wild also played tonight, it’s not a great setup.
  2. Tanner Jeannot has been one of the team’s best forwards this season, which is bad for the team though it’s been good for him (tip of the hat to Eamon for mentioning this as an thought worth having). I would really like to be seeing more production from the top-six, apart from Granlund, than we have been. That said, I like what I’ve seen from the youth line, and I like even more than John Hynes has been willing to give a forward line of three rookies icetime in important moments. This is something the Predators need if the painful parts of this season are to turn into something productive.
  3. Saros didn’t have a great game and I won’t pretend he did, but the Preds’ defense gave him almost no help. The Jets consistently got to the immediate front of the net and took shots from there; the fact that they scored four goals practically or entirely in the blue paint. I would really like to see the team as a whole clean up their defense as well as their passing.