It took 65 minutes of play and a shootout goal by Martin Erat for the Nashville Predators to extinguish the Florida Panthers by a 3-2 score at the Sommet Center on Saturday night. The expected return of former Pred Tomas Vokoun was limited to a fall over a puck when first stepping on the ice during warm ups and very limited skating after that.
The real story of the evening was the second of back to back stellar performances by Pekka Rinne in goal. Time after time with the Preds trailing and tied for the better part of the game, Rinne stoned the opposition with goaltending not seen in the Pred’s net this season. Let me be the first to say that we do have a goaltending controversy. Dan Ellis will have to return to his level of play last year to fully reclaim the number one position.
The game itself for the most part was not a fun one to watch. Both teams did a good job of clogging up the neutral zone and keeping each other off balance. There was never any free flowing up and down the ice skating to keep the crowd in the game. It was actually as quiet of a Sommet Center Saturday night crowd as I have seen in recent years. With only 14 minutes of penalties and no fighting there was little excitement in the power play/penalty kill arena other than Shea Weber’s first period Power Play blast.
The volume did rise significantly after Marty Erat’s third period goal at 9:51. The biggest cheers were for Pekka Rinne who was a wall to the 10 shots that Florida laid on him in the third period. A couple were break away odd man situations where Pekka guessed right. Rinne’s perfect keeping carried over into the shoot out where he was a perfect 3 of 3 allowing Martin Erat’s lone shoot out goal to stand as the game winner. It is too bad that this was one of the 13 untelevised NHL games this season because film could have captured an entire highlight film of Rinne’s efforts.
The Predators are in much better shape this year than last at the same point. Through 11 games and headed on a six game road swing, the Predators have garnered a 6-4-1 record and 13 points second only to Detroit’s 16 points in the Central Division. Through 11 games last year the Preds were 4-7 and again headed west. A strong 8-2-2 November including a 5-1-1 road record was where the team formed it’s identity. Building on a better start, I am hopeful that this upcoming two week road trip will have the same bonding effect for this years much younger group.
I really feel that the combination of youth, skill and defense that David Poile has put together may be the best of all Predator teams in the franchise’s short history. The way things come together in the next two weeks will go a long way in seeing if my thoughts are correct.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass