by Forechecker on 02/06/09 at 06:17 PM ET
The Nashville Predators have done an admirable job reversing their 1-4 slide into the All-Star break with a 4-1 record since then, but there’s little time for rest or celebration as the team heads into Minnesota tonight and Dallas on Sunday.
Last night’s victory over Anaheim was an impressive, whole-team effort; Pekka Rinne continued his strong play in goal, the defense stood toe-to-toe with a tough, physical set of Ducks forwards, and the Nashville forwards kept bringing the pressure even while holding down a late lead. While it was refreshing to see them light the lamp four times, two Preds goals in particular gave me cause for hope…
The first came early in the second period, with the game tied at 1-1. Jason Arnott won a faceoff deep in the Ducks zone, and Steve Sullivan fed the puck back to Dan Hamhuis at the point. As Arnott headed to the front of the net, Hamhuis sent a wrister through traffic that J.S. Giguere couldn’t contain, and the captain scooped up the rebound for a quick score. Let’s just say I love it when a blueliner opts for a quick wrist shot rather than wind up the big slapper every chance they get. The wrister has a better chance of being on-target, and the rebounds are usually left right around the goaltender, whereas with a harder shot you don’t know where the puck will end up.
The second such moment came ten minutes later, when Martin Erat pushed the Nashville lead to 3-1. He was the recipient of some nice hustle and passing by Antti Pihlstrom, who came steaming out from behind the net and slipped a backhand pass right through the crease to Erat for the backdoor slam. Pihlstrom, despite some decent Corsi totals and his obvious willingness to skate hard and hit anybody, has contributed little offensively to this point, and hopefully this will get him rolling.
So the good news, then, is that this critical month (15 games in 28 days) is off to an excellent start. What I wonder, however, is how the team’s depth will answer the challenge of this difficult schedule in the weeks ahead.
How will Dan Ellis respond tonight in his first start since getting torched by Atlanta on January 17?
How will Steve Sullivan hold up physically? Will he continue to play 18 minutes a game?
Will Patric Hornqvist start punching in some goals?
Game tonight in Minnesota is 7:00 Central; Owen Nolan is out of the Wild lineup, depriving Minnesota of their #3 goal-scorer. Expect a tight, low-scoring affair this evening.
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