The Nashville Predators looked like a completely different team in their 3-2 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils at a sold-out Bridgestone Arena on Saturday night, making huge strides forward after a lackluster performance in their opening night loss on Thursday against Phoenix.
The team was back to playing their trademark “Predator Hockey,” with team defense and goaltending leading the way in a gritty, hard to play style that sends the opponent to the plane feeling the bumps and bruises levied against them both mentally and physically.
Barry Trotz explained, “There was a lot more ‘Predator Hockey’ there. We had a lot more detail, we battled harder. Unfortunately we didn’t manage the game. If we had managed the game better, we would have had a win.”
No player epitomizes the “Predator” style more than Jerred Smithson who echoed Trotz’s comments. “We came out with a better effort and a good start. Our downfall was that we put a team on the power play that has a dangerous power play and they made us pay. We killed a few off in the first period but we kept giving them more chances and sooner or later those guys start to click and made us pay.”
“It was frustrating. We did give away an extra point there but we’ve got to take away some positives. We played a lot better. We just have to be better in our own zone with stronger play and finish out games when we have the opportunity.”
Smithson had his first goal of the year at 13:53 in the second period to give the Preds a 2-0 lead at the time. “It was nice. I did the easy part honestly. Toots made a great play and the goalie was down and I had an open cage. It was a great play by him and it was nice to get that first one.”
The Vernon, B.C. native, has only one career power play goal and his goal tonight was, for all intents and purposes, a power play as it came two seconds after David Clarkson left the box. When it was pointed out how close it was to being a man-advantage goal, Smithson laughed “Power play? I don’t know.”
“We knew the guy was coming out of the box and we wanted to get a quick shot on net before it was five on five. He (Tootoo) made a good play and I found the net.”
The Predators penalty kill had only allowed one goal in twelve chances but a big goal on the power play by Ilya Kovalchuk started the Devils comeback. That was the only goal in five chances that the Predators penalty kill unit allowed.
Smithson prevented a power play goal early in the second period by stopping the puck with his back. “I got it in the ribs, nothing major. It stung at the time.”
“Our role as penalty killers is to sacrifice, keep the puck out of the net and do whatever it takes. We’ve got a lot of guys in this locker room that are willing to do that and hopefully our penalty kill will get back on track and start climbing again.”
The Predators will leave on Sunday for Western Canada and play Edmonton on Monday, Vancouver on Thursday, and Calgary in a matinee next Saturday.