Kukla's Korner

Predators struggle with the Blues

Tonight’s one of the games for which I enjoyed press access with the Nashville Predators; a key Central Divison matchup as the Preds took on the St. Louis Blues.  Even Commissioner Bettman was in the house for this one, so let’s get right to the action…

In the early going it was a sloppy game on both sides; lazy passes up through the middle getting picked off, pucks getting mishandled at the blueline, etc. The best opportunity early on came to T.J. Oshie who stepped into the slot and fired a good wrister that Pekka Rinne turned aside.  The big scare came when Kevin Klein was ridden into the corner in his own end with a St. Louis forward alongside; Klein’s skate twisted awkwardly and he went down quickly, immediately clutching his ankle.  So much for that trade request, Ville Koistinen!  Actually, Klein came back to play another shift towards the end of the period, but with Alexander Sulzer already on the shelf, nobody needs to see another defenseman go down.

After killing an early penalty, however, the Preds started to assert some pressure, first on a shift by the Erat/Legwand/Fiddler line, then the top line came through with a goal by Steve Sullivan, his first on home ice in his remarkable comeback.  He took a feed from Jason Arnott from behind the goal line and slipped a quick shot past Chris Mason to put Nashville up 1-0.

Rinne was tested occasionally, most notably when, with just under 8 minutes left in the 1st, Brad Boyes stormed in alone, got stopped on the initial shot but had two whacks at the rebound.  The trailer on the play, Brad Winchester made a further push as Rinne covered up, and the refs blew the play dead.  They went upstairs for review, but the call stood; the puck only crossed the line because Winchester pushed Rinne into the goal.  Shortly afterwards, St. Louis took a Too Many Men penalty giving the Preds their first chance on the power play.  Although they failed to score, the unit seemed much more crisp in terms of puck movement and shooting than in previous games.

The second period was a pretty dull affair until Andy McDonald tied the game at 1 with a goal that was quite similar to Sullivan’s, taking a feed from behind the goal line and darting a one-timer past Rinne at 14:06.  Tempers flared later on when David Backes boarded Greg Zanon deep in the Nashville zone, giving the Preds another power play.  While again moving the puck well and getting some clear shots, the 2nd ended at 1-1, with Nashville outshooting St. Louis 21-17.

In the third, the Blues began getting far more offensive chances than you’d like to see; Rinne was very sharp turning away several close-in shots.  Despite dominating on the faceoff dot 58%-42%, the Preds ended up getting outshot by St. Louis 36-29, with the gap coming entirely in overtime. Martin Erat got caught flat-footed as he struggled with the puck just inside the St. Louis blueline, which led to a breakaway for Carlo Colaiacovo; Erat tried to stop the threat with a hook, but Rinne still had to make the save and Erat headed to the box for a 4-on-3 power play.  The Nashville PK did a fine job generally with the kill but just as it expired Keith Tkachuk got a loose puck down low that he buried to win the game for St. Louis. It was a game the Preds absolutely should have won, but the Blues kept bringing the fight back to them and stole out of town with the two points.  Full marks also have to go to Chris Mason, who was outstanding for the Blues once again (28 saves) in a return visit to the Sommet Center.

Jason Arnott on the situation the Predators face now: “We’ve still got time, we just gotta battle and take it one game at a time.  It’s tough not to look at the other teams and what they’re doing, but we’ve got to focus on what we do.”

Sullivan on his goal: “J.P. did a great job keeping the puck in and fed it along to Arnie who made a great pass to me… it was a bang-bang play.”

Trotz on Sullivan heating up offensively: “We got Sully scoring, but we need someone else to contribute, he’s been doing all the scoring for the last two games.”

It’s interesting to note that since running the Tennessean ran the headline “Sullivan skates, but not much else”, Sullivan has 3 goals in 2 games, the only goals Nashville has scored.  The two teams meet again Saturday night in St. Louis.

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