The Nashville Predators ended their five game losing streak by defeating the Atlanta Thrashers 4-3 at the Sommet Center in Nashville on Saturday night. With the win, the Predators have 63 points and remain in seventh place in the Western Conference.
Jason Arnott had the game winning goal off the opening face off in the third period. Joel Ward and Marty Erat each had a goal and an assist. Jerred Smithson had the other Predator goal.
Pekka Rinne got the win in net for the Preds as he stopped 23 of 26 Thrasher shots that included several big saves at critical times.
Atlanta was led by Bryan Little who had two goals and Chris Thiorburg who had the other Thrasher goal. Johan Hedberg took the loss as he stopped 27 of 31 Predator shots.
In spite of the inclement weather, the crowd was fairly lively. A contingent of over 400 Atlanta Thrasher fans in the Sommet Center added to the hearty Predator fans that braved the elements to make it downtown on an evening where the streets were as slick as the ice at the rink.
The Predators started the game with plenty of energy and struck early when Joel Ward scored on a backhand flipping the puck over the shoulder of Johan Hedberg at 3:59 to give the Preds an early 1-0 lead.
The Predators continued to apply the pressure and it paid off when Jerred Smithson put the puck past Hedberg at 9:27 to give the Preds a rare (of late) 2-0 lead.
At 13:50, Atlanta came close to getting a goal when Pekka Rinne made a big save that ended a delayed penalty against Francis Bouillon and put the Thrashers on the power play. Seven seconds into the man advantage Bryan Little put the puck past Pekka Rinne to pull the Thrashers within a goal at 2-1.
At the end of the first period both teams had ten shots with the Thrashers leading in Corsi numbers 17-15. It was one of the few times lately that the Predators had led at the end of the first period.
The Predators went on their first power play of the game early in the second period at 2:39 when Boris Valabik was called for interference on Ryan Jones. At 3:15, Chris Thorburn was called for tripping Steve Sullivan giving the Preds 1:24 of two-man advantage. The Preds were unable to get a shot on goal 5 on 3. The Preds got two shots in the remaining man-advantage time but failed to score.
The Predators dodged a bullet at 6:55 when the whistle was blown due to coincidental roughing minors that were issued to Steve Sullivan and Jim Slater. Meanwhile, play continued and the puck ended up in Predator net but was waived off by the officials.
The Preds regained their two goal lead at 11:12 when Martin Erat shot the puck as he skated into the high slot, received a pass from Joel Ward, and put it past Hedberg to make it 3-1.
Shortly after the Preds goal, at 11:59, Tobias Enstrom was called for holding Steve Sullivan. After a sloppy give-away by Steve Sullivan at the blue line, Marty Reasoner took the puck to the Pred's net and the puck was blocked by Pekka Rinne. Unfortunately, Rinne turned his back to the net giving Chris Thorburn an easy shot into the open net for a short-handed goal to make it a 3-2 game.
The Thrashers tied the game 3-3 at 15:02 when the Preds turned the puck over again and Ilya Kovalchuk shot the puck and it was blocked by Rinne but the rebound was picked up and buried in the net by Bryan Little. Pekka Rinne was obviously disgusted with the Pred defenders for not clearing the rebound when they clearly had an opportunity to do so.
In spite of the Atlanta 2-1 edge in goals for the period, Nashville out shot the Thrashers 11-6 in the second period. The Preds led the Corsi numbers 21-10. The Preds only had three shots in 4:35 of man advantage time in the period and allowed the short-handed goal.
Seven seconds after the after the puck drop to start the third period, Jason Arnott put the Predators back into the lead 4-3. Arnott's goal was a new record for the quickest third period goal, breaking the old 13 second record held by Adam Hall.
Ryan Suter possibly saved an Atlanta goal in front of the Pred's net when he hooked Max Afinogenov at 1:18 to put the Thrashers on the power play. The Thrashers did not get a shot on goal on their man advantage.
Jason Arnott was sent to the penalty box at 8:54 for holding Jim Slater to put Atlanta on their third power play of the evening. Again, the Preds held Atlanta to no shots.
On a horrible call by the officials, Jason Arnott and Boris Valabik were called for coincidental minors at 11:47 when Arnott was slew-footed by Valabik and amazingly the officials did not see what the replay showed. Valabik was called for tripping and Arnott was for interference.
Atlanta called a time out at 1:42 and pulled Hedberg. Play was intense through the end of the game but the Predators held on and the game ended in a scuffle in front of the Predator net.
The Predators and the Thrashers each had ten shots in the third period. The Preds out shot Atlanta 31-26 and led in the Corsi numbers 52-44.
Storylines From The Game
A Win, Finally!...
The win was in no way a thing of beauty as many of the issues that led to the five game losing streak were still apparent in Saturday's game. Turnovers, sloppy defensive play, and special teams troubles did not magically disappear.
In the post game interview, Barry Trotz admitted that it wasn't pretty or one of their best games but indicated that it may have been their best game at overcoming adversity.
The Predators had played on Friday in Detroit and had travel issues getting home. Atlanta had been in Nashville since Friday and were much better rested.
The Preds lost focus for a while during the second period and things appeared to be spiraling out of control once again but they were able to regain focus and comeback for the win.
Will Pekka Get Two Starts in a Row?...
Pekka Rinne played a fairly solid game stopping 23 of 26 Thrasher shots but received limited support, at times by the Predator defense. On the game tying goal, the Hamhuis-Klein pairing stood watching instead of clearing the puck after the initial rebound. On several other occasions Rinne was hung out to dry and made the save.
If the Predators are to make the playoffs, one of the two goalies will have to get hot enough to carry the load. Pekka Rinne has been thought to be the one that would be the better choice but has failed in his last two attempts to play consecutive games when the recent goalie rotation was disrupted.
The Need to Play Atlanta More Often...
Atlanta had a contingent of over 400 spirited fans that made the trip to Nashville to take in the game and the Nashville nightlife. The boisterous nature of the visiting fans added a lot to the atmosphere in the Sommet Center.
In a rarity, the Preds will pay a return trip to Atlanta this year on March ninth since the Thrashers were designated as one of the wild card teams from the east. It is a real shame that the Preds and Thrashers do not play more often and allow the rivalry to develop in to a regional battle that both teams and their fans would enjoy.
The Predators have three more games on the current homestand playing Phoenix on Tuesday, Colorado on Thursday and San Jose next Saturday. They will then hit the road for four final games before the Olympic break.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass