Originally posted on Inside Smashville  |  Last updated 3/25/12

By Seth Lake

Entering Saturday night’s game in front of the 22nd sold out crowd of the season at Bridgestone Arena and featured on televisions across North America as part of the weekly Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, the Nashville Predators faced an unfamiliar opponent in the Winnipeg Jets that were fighting for their playoff lives and riding an emotional high coming off a come from behind victory the previous night at Washington.

After Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec stole the show in the first period, the Predators skated to a 3-1 victory on the strength of second period goals from Matt Halischuk and Gabriel Bourque, a late third period power-play tally from Shea Weber, and 24 saves from Pekka Rinne.

  • Predators strike first – Allowing the first goal in each of their last four games (1-3-0), the Predators entered the game 13-21-4 when allowing the opposition to score first this season. Matt Halischuk got the Predators on the board first on a partial breakaway just 2:56 into the second period.  The goal was Halischuk’s 13th of the season and first in 23 games. With the win, the Predators improved to 30-3-4 when scoring first this season.
  • Scoreless streaks snapped – Picking up assists on Gabriel Bourque’s game-winning goal midway through the second period, Nick Spaling (12 games) and Andrei Kostitsyn (6 games) each broke their scoring slump. The goal was Bourque’s fifth of the season and first in 10 games.
  • Power play remains No. 1 – After failing to convert on their first two attempts of the evening, Martin Erat drew a third power play for the Predators late in the third period giving the team a final attempt at the man-advantage. With Pavelec pulled for an extra attacker with under 0:12 remaining at a neutral zone faceoff, Mike Fisher won the puck cleanly back to Shea Weber standing at the red line who quickly deposited it into the vacated net. On the season, the Predators have scored 51 goals on 237 attempts for a league-best 21.5% success rate.
  • Rinne hits 40 wins – After falling short in his first four attempts, Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne hit the 40 win plateau for the first time in his NHL career.  Heading into Sunday night’s game at Chicago, Rinne is now again tied with Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury for the league lead in wins this season.
  • Instant impact by Gaustad – Paul Gaustad provided an immediate impact in the faceoff circle last night after missing the last four games due to injury. Coming over the boards for almost every defensive zone draw, Gaustad took a team-high 20 faceoffs on the night, winning 60% of his draws (12-8).  Playing a strong game on the penalty-kill as well, Gaustad played 12:35 overall on 24 shifts – tied with Sergei Kostitsyn for the second most shifts among Nashville forwards.
  • Gill finally finds a partner? – Playing with his fourth partner since Roman Josi was injured on March 10th, Hal Gill looked comfortable playing alongside Kevin Klein.  The two worked together to keep the Winnipeg attack to the perimeter for most of the night, controlled the slot well, and finished on the night with a +1 rating in almost 17 minutes of ice time as a pair.  Francis Bouillon teamed with Ryan Ellis for the third pairing and Jack Hillen sat as a healthy scratch.
  • Klein with the save of the night – With 7:38 remaining in the first period, the Jets looked like they were going to get on the board first as Rinne slid across to his left to make an initial save on a backdoor chance by Blake Wheeler, but was unable to control the rebound. Seeing the puck slide towards the goal line, Klein swooped in behind Rinne to clear the puck out of the crease, however Jim Slater then hopped on the loose puck in the slot and took a point-blank shot from the top of the crease, without hesitation, Klein dropped to his knees in a butterfly stance on the goal line to make the critical save to keep the game scoreless. Officially, it went as a save for Rinne, but the save of the night definitely went to Klein last night.
  • Predators start third period slow, finish strong – After playing relatively quiet hockey throughout the first 40 minutes, the Jets ramped up the pressure in the third period and gave the Predators a lot of trouble breaking out of their end leading to at least 8 or 9 icings and eventually leading to their lone goal on the night. From the final TV timeout on-ward the Predators responded keeping the play deep in the Winnipeg end of the rink and keeping Pavelec on the ice until under a minute remained in the contest. While the Jets controlled much of the third period, the Predators stepped up their game in the end and came away with the two points.
  • Bourque misses just one shift – Early in the third period while defending out at the point on Dustin Byfuglien, Bourque immediately threw off his gloves and grabbed at his knee after blocking a slap shot from Byfuglien taken less than a few feet away.  After being attended to by the trainer and assisted off the ice by a teammate, Bourque re-appeared several minutes later showing no ill effects from the shot. In all, Bourque missed one shift, however depending on the location of where he took that puck, it will be interested to hear an update on his status leading up to Sunday’s game at Chicago after the adrenaline wears off and the swelling begins.
  • Chalk it up to development time – In his first game back on Nashville ice in four seasons, Alexander Radulov was the best forward, and it wasn’t close.  Now 25 years old, Radulov is at the beginning of the prime of his career and has returned to the NHL bigger, stronger, and faster with a better grasp of how to play away from the puck, create space for his teammates, and with a much more refined skill set than he had when he left for Russia. Radulov made smart decisions with the puck all night long, rarely forcing plays and when doing so, only deep in the offensive end where he could recover if needed. Clearly he is still adjusting, but tonight he set up teammates on several occasions and forced Pavelec to make several highlight reel saves to keep him off the scoreboard. It is going to be fun watching him continue to adjust back to the NHL cause when he does, watch out.

Starts and Stops

  • Martin Erat took and won 7 faceoffs tonight. Erat commonly takes faceoffs in the offensive zone from the left side on the power play, but did so tonight at even-strength and in the defensive zone tonight as well. He was the only Predator outside of Gaustad to win more draws than he lost last night.
  • The Predators won 35 of 69 faceoffs tonight for a 51% winning percentage. It was the first time they have won more draws than their opponent since Gaustad was injured against San Jose.
  • Jordin Tootoo was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Scoreless in his last 10 games, Tootoo now owns the longest scoreless streak on the team.

 

  • The Predators are 4-5-0 on the second night of back-to-back games this season, but won earlier this season at Chicago on January 24th after playing in Columbus the night prior.
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