Source: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
No one can argue that Nashville looked like a completely different team this time around when it came to a road trip; especially compared to the previous one. Perhaps it was a change in the lineups, a stern lecture from the coaching staff, or a combination of a multitude of factors. Whatever it was, something connected within the team out in Western Canada and the Predators now have a record to prove it. After losing 4-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks last Tuesday, the Predators hit the skies for Manitoba to take on divisional opponent the Winnipeg Jets. In their first meeting with the Jets back on November 14th in Nashville, the Predators dominated the former Atlanta Thrashers 7-0. After that? The Jets returned to Nashville on January 5th, crushing the home team 4-1. And after that? The Predators nabbed their only point in their previous road trip, losing to Winnipeg 5-4 in OT. Despite a blaring concern in the goaltending department, the Predators pulled themselves together and started to dig – as a team – out of the hole they currently find themselves in, defeating the Winnipeg Jets 4-1.
Next on the schedule was Taylor Hall and his Edmonton Oilers. Nashville and Edmonton have only met once this season, which was back on October 10th in Nashville when the Predators defeated the Oilers 2-0. For some reason, the Oilers have always been a team that, despite their not-so-great record over the years (they currently sit in last in the Western Conference), a team that the Predators have struggled to beat. That wasn’t the case on October 10th nor was it the case Saturday when Nashville claimed victory in Edmonton, winning 4-1.
The Vancouver Canucks were Nashville’s next opponent on the schedule, another team that has held Nashville back many times before. Strangely enough, this was Nashville and Vancouver’s first meeting of the season. Though Nashville is ahead of Vancouver in the standings, that means nothing to the Sedin twins. Thanks to a first minute of the game goal by Craig Smith, the Predators held onto that momentum, even after the Canucks tied it shortly thereafter. It would be James Neal who sent the Predators up 2-1 early in the third period that would seal the game in favor of Nashville.
And lastly, we come to last night’s game against the Calgary Flames. In their first meeting of the season, back on December 15th, the Flames barely slipped by with the 2-1 OT victory. Nashville, high from winning their past three games, were no doubt itching to claim victory. Pekka Rinne was given the start in the previous three games, but last night was Carter Hutton’s time. And boy, did he shine. It is no secret that Predators fans are a bit hard on their team’s goaltenders. Despite a terrible game from the rest of the team, if a loss happens, somehow, someway, the blame falls to the goaltender. Sometimes though, it is an issue with goaltending. There’s no denying that Rinne has been in a rut lately and Carter Hutton, who is usually the subject of ridicule, has been playing rather well. However, this road trip undeniably showed the strength of both goaltenders and boy, was it something to behold.
Just six minutes into the first period, Mike Ribeiro notched his sixth goal of the season with assistance from Craig Smith (6) and Mattias Ekholm (16). Surprising that Ribeiro would score, as he tends to drop pass more than anyone in the league it feels like, but Nashville would hang onto that 1-0 lead through the remainder of the first period. Calgary would get the upper-hand three times alone in the first period due to penalties on the Predators, but Carter Hutton and the defense held their own to remain in the lead.
In the second period, however, Calgary would be at the disadvantage the most, taking four penalties throughout its course. Perhaps Calgary was called for so many penalties because of… this:
Dennis Wideman, apparently a little ticked that the officials missed the hit Miikka Salomaki jarred him with, cross-checks a linesman in retaliation. The more you watch it, the less case Wideman has to say it was “an accident”. There’s a good chance he’ll face a ten-game suspension at minimum. It’ll be interesting to see what the League does… or does. Wideman was not penalized during this game for this hit, by the way.
But, thanks to so many penalties, Shea Weber was able to launch one of his signature slapshots Karri Ramo to give Nashville the 2-0 lead on the power play. Weber’s 12th goal of the season, he was assisted by Roman Josi (25) and Ryan Johansen (27).
The Predators would continue to hold onto that 2-0 lead until about five minutes left of the third period when Flames captain Mark Giordano and his team crowded the net, finally catching Hutton off guard. Similar to Tuesday night’s showdown in Vancouver, Nashville would take a last minute penalty to give Calgary at 6-to-4 man advantage. The defense did what it does best and Hutton kept his cool, holding back the Calgary Flames to seal the 2-1 victory and to sweep the Western Canada road trip 4-0-0.
The Predators and the rest of the NHL have descended upon Nashville for this weekend’s All-Star festivities and holy crap am I excited. As are you, I bet. It was just recently announced – as I was writing this – that James Neal will now replace the sick Jonathan Toews in the All-Star lineup. Yay! We have four All-Stars now! Another injury to note, Alexander Ovechkin, will not make the trip here either and has been replaced with Evgeny Kuznetsov who also plays for the Capitals.
Four victories in a row. It’s a nice feeling, isn’t it? Very reminiscent of last season, yes? Now the question is, will Nashville lose its strength and momentum with this All-Star Break? Honestly, it’s not that big of a break. They are technically missing one day in which their could be a game (normally); they’ll be back at it against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. I guess we’ll just have to see. But for now, we’ve got some sure fire goaltenders and a spot in the wildcard for the playoffs.