Preds stay undefeated in non-TV games…

For the second time in a week and a half, no TV cameras captured the Nashville Predators in action for any audience in any market.

And, for the second time in a week, the Nashville Predators skated away with a win.

No wonder nobody in Canada believes this team can win.

The best team in the NHL visited the Sommet Center on Tuesday night and left with their fin tucked between their… um… legs? (you know what we mean) as the Predators won 4-3 in front of 13,324 fans.

Nashville seemed to want this one from the opening face-off. Even though San Jose was credited with the first three shots on goal, it was the Predators who controlled most of the play.

Just four minutes in, David Legwand and Jerred Smithson found themselves on a 2-on-1. Legwand, the puck carrier, decided to use Smithson as a decoy when he should’ve passed and Sharks goaltender Thomas Greiss made the stop. Just minutes later, Jordin Tootoo drew a penalty and then, a minute after that, Steve Sullivan drew one to put Nashville on the 2-man advantage. Sullivan then buried his third consecutive goal to put the Preds up 1-0.

The Sharks answered less than a minute later, however. (Well, okay… two former Predator players did.) Jed Ortmeyer put a perfect centering pass right on Scott Nichol‘s tape. Nichol, while crashing the net, defelcted the pass top shelf, tying the game.

Then, it was time for Legwand and Smithson to make right. They broke in on another 2-on-1. Legwand had obviously realized the error of his ways just a few minutes before as he sent the pass over to Smithson this time, who buried his fourth of the season to put the Preds up 2-1.

After All-Star defenseman Dan Boyle was sent to the box for tripping JP Dumont, the Predators tallied yet another power play goal, this one by Joel Ward. Ryan Suter let a rocket go from the blueline and Ward deflected the puck past Greiss to go up by two.

Then, just two and half minutes later, Legwand took a feed from Ward and got his second goal of the season, putting the Preds up by three.

San Jose got on the board in the closing seconds of the 2nd period as Joe Thornton found the back of the net to seemingly give the Sharks some momentum going into the 2nd intermission.

After a back-and-fourth 3rd period but still being down by two, the Sharks took their first of what was essentially three timeouts. Their official timeout came at 18:28 of the 3rd so they could set up a play to try and get back in the game. Well, it worked. Former Sharks captain Patrick Marleau bagged his 13th of the season to bring the visiting team within one.

Then the second timeout occurred.

After Marleau had scored, the clock ran off 0.7 additional seconds. After a couple minutes trying to correct the problem, play resumed. With a mere three seconds left, the Preds iced the puck. San Jose touched up, allowing them one more face-off in their attacking zone. And this is where their third timeout took place.

The Sharks touch up the icing call with roughly three seconds remaining but the clock ticks down to zero. The crowd, in sarcastic fashion, rips into applause and conveniently calls the game over. Another few minutes go by – all the while San Jose’s best players are resting up – until the officials fix the clock.

Being the face-off master that he is, Smithson wins the ensuing draw, getting Nashville out of harms way, and into the win column once again.

Nashville has now won three straight and seven of their last nine. And an argument could be made that they should have won five straight and eight of the last nine. Too bad they had to visit San Jose last week.

Nashville deserved to win when they visited the Bay Area but were dealt a heart-breaking loss after a couple of soft goals found their way behind Dan Ellis in the waining minutes. And, whereas in previous years, Nashville would’ve felt sorry for themselves and just used it as an excuse, this season they used that type of loss as motivation. Which is a good thing considering the proverbial powerhouses in the league are down right now.

Detroit, the pre-season favorite (since 1989 it seems like) to win the Central Division has had all kinds of injury trouble and thus is only 7th in the Western Conference and – *gasp* – third in the division. Vancouver, with all kinds of fire-power and an all-world goalie in Roberto Luongo, struggled out the gate and are sitting third in their division as well, not to mention 10th in the West. The Anaheim Ducks are supposed to have two starting-caliber goaltenders yet they’re guarding the Western Conference basement with only six wins so far this season.

The Predators need wins now. They need to secure a wealth of points early in the season (as opposed to their typical second-half climb surge) so when Detroit, Vancouver and Anaheim all decide to start winning, they won’t be left on the outside looking in for the second straight year.

Nashville beat the top team in the West on Tuesday night. Can they beat one of the top teams in the East just 48 hours later? If they want to extend their win streak, they’re going to have to. The New Jersey Devils and, arguably the best goaltender of all-time, Martin Brodeur will be in town in an inter-conference showdown. The Devils are 9-1-0 on the road this year and sport the second best record in the Eastern Conference. Not to mention Brodeur is going for NHL history.

With his next shutout, Brodeur will tie Terry Sawchuk for most all-time with 103.

The Predators would like to take no part in that history.

 

GAME NOTES:
* Both Legwand and Ward had a goal and two assists. They were also named first and second stars of the game, respectively.
* The Ward-Legwand-Smithson line was not only the best line statistically but was the best line period. They generated good scoring chances, controlled the play while they were on the ice, held down the league’s best power play unit while on the penalty kill and they each finished with a plus-1 rating.
* The Predators are 4-0-0 this season when Sullivan scores a goal and 6-0-0 when he scores a point.
* After taking 11 shots on goal against Montreal, Sullivan fired just one on San Jose. He made it count though as he scored the first goal of the game for Nashville.
* Has he returned to his 2008-09 should’ve-been-Calder-winning form? Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne has amassed an impressive .940 save percentage in his last seven games, only allowing 10 goals during that span.
* Boyle and Marleau each finished with a plus-2 rating, the highest rating for anyone on either team.
* Smithson clicked at a 71% success rate inside the face-off dot on Tuesday night, including the possible game-saving win in the closing seconds.
* Nichol fired four shots on Rinne during his 13:50 of ice time.
* Suter was called for a phantom holding penalty with almost 11:00 gone in the 3rd period. He was behind the Sharks attacking player and took his left hand off his stick to get better body position. The referee, anticipating instead of reacting, called him for holding despite not having touched the puck carrier. The Sharks failed to convert on the power play. Later on, Thornton was high-sticked deep in the Nashville zone and play continued as both officials missed the penalty. So, consider those events a wash.
* Despite winning seven of their last nine, the Predators are still the second worst offensive team in the Western Conference with 43 goals scored. Only St. Louis has scored fewer goals (41), but they’ve played one less game.
* Saturday’s game against Columbus is the Second Harvest Food Drive. Be sure to bring canned foods with you to the Sommet Center.
* Your Martin Erat spin count was 1.