The Nashville Predators played one of their best 60-minute games of the year and defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-2 on Thursday night to move back into eighth place in the tightly bunched Western Conference race.
The Predators, playing with an injury depleted line up, started out with a lot of energy and jump, keeping the puck in the San Jose defensive zone for much of the first period. A questionable high sticking call at 14:45 against Scotty Nichol set up a power play goal by Joe Pavelski to put the Sharks up 1-0. The Preds out shot the Sharks 10-7 in the first stanza.
The Sharks scored again on another power play 3:12 into the second period on a goal by Devin Setoguchi to put the Sharks ahead 2-0. The officials had called Jordin Tootoo for boarding on what appeared to be a clean hit. He was immediately hit by a couple of Shark players who received no time in the box.
Coach Barry Trotz was biting his tongue after he game on the two penalty calls, but said, “The first penalty, I think it was it was actually Zanon’s (not Nichol’s) stick that hit the player, on the second I was a little disappointed because I didn’t think Toots did much, but they called it and they had two or three guys going in and bumped him, run him over and punch him and all that, and I felt at that point it should have been evened up, but we can’t worry about the referees, if you are in the penalty box, it’s a penalty.”
Trotz was confident even with the Preds down 2-0, saying, “The first period was maybe one of our strongest periods that we’ve played in a while, we were down 1-0. I didn’t think they had anything other than the power play, for the most part for two periods. After the first I kept saying, you keep doing what we were doing in the first, keep the pace, keep pushing it and things will fall into place.”
I’m sure the ever confident coach wasn’t expecting what followed. The Preds went on the power play on a Jody Shelley hooking penalty at 7:02 in the second and Radek Bonk scored 32 seconds later to start the comeback. A couple of minutes later, Marty Erat scored to bring the contest into a 2-2 deadlock. The final item in the trifecta was 39 seconds later when Greg Zanon buried a shot from past the slot for the game winning goal.
Zanon, who had three goals on the year coming into the game, described the shot, “It wasn’t a hard shot, I was just trying to get it on the net and I know Toots was near the hash marks, and I don’t think he saw it, and it hit his pads and kind of went in. It’s one of those things we work on just to get pucks to the net.”
It was Greg’s first game winning goal of his 222 game NHL career.
The Predators played tenacious defense for the remainder of the game and kept pushing the puck into the Sharks defensive zone. The Preds out shot the Sharks 33-31 on the game but the Preds were much more aggressive throwing the puck in the vicinity of the net as they has 13 shots blocked and 15 misses compared to the Shark’s 10 and 7. The shot gap closed substantially in the third period when the Sharks were playing desperate hockey.
The normally aggressive San Jose squad was visibly tired after having lost in overtime in Chicago the night before. One of the more telling statistics was that the Preds out hit the Sharks 38-19.
Steve Sullivan summed it up after the game, “They were a tired team tonight after a long game in Chicago, so we took it to them early and often in the first period, and carried that momentum well into the second period. Even though they had the 2-0 lead, we thought we were the fresher team and if we kept going after them good things would happen.”
Pred goaltender Pekka Rinne again had a stellar performance. Pekka did not allow an even strength goal, stopping 29 of 31 shots.
Ryan Suter was called for cross checking at the 17:30 mark in the third giving Rinne one last shot to hold off the league’s third ranked power play unit. When asked what were his thoughts he replied, “Probably not too much, empty mind, you know, the guys did a great job, a couple of big blocks by Greg Zanon and Jerred Smithson, and then I made a couple of stops, you don’t really think too much, just try to bounce all over the place.”
The Predators played without the services of Captain Jason Arnott, David Legwand, Ryan Jones and Wade Belak. Cal O’Reilley was called up from Milwaukee and centered the second line for much of the night finishing with a plus-one rating.
Trotz spoke highly of O’Reilley’s effort, “I give a lot of credit to Cal coming in, relaxing, playing his game, but I give a lot of credit to Sullivan and Erat who sort of took him under the wing and said, hey, you’re going to get it done for us. That showed me a lot about our team, and what we talked about as a group of twenty, a Band of Brothers. We have eight more games and we’ll see where we finish.”
The near capacity crowd played a big part in the game staying behind the team even as the Preds fell behind. Trotz acknowledged that the crowd was a big motivator after the game.
One oddity occurred after the Preds scoring surge when Shark goalie Evgeni Nabokov appears to have lost his cool and took a swipe at one of the snow shovelers during a TV time-out. The referees immediately descended on the scene to calm Nabokov down.
The Predators ended the evening in eighth place in the West with 80 points, the same number as seventh place Anaheim, but the Preds have one less victory. Edmonton and St Louis are one point behind at 79 and Minnesota is at 78 points.
Nashvhille returns to action in a late Saturday afternoon match with the Los Angeles Kings. The game was moved up to 5 p.m. in order that the Predators could participate in the “Earth Hour” celebration where many downtown Nashville buildings will turn off all their lights for one hour starting at 8:30. The Preds then travel to Detroit, Columbus and Chicago on a trip that will require them to continue to play with the same level of intensity as the last couple of games.
On Thursday night, Trotz pulled another rabbit out of his hat to bring home the win. We will see how many more are residing in that big hat of his.
Postgame Video footage available at PredsOnTheGlass.com