Nashville, TN: It was a hockey night in Nashville with a bout between the Pittsburgh Penguins (Metropolitan Division, 4-2-1) and the Nashville Predators (Central Division, 5-1-2).
The Penguins handed the Predators their first regular season loss.
It was the first match between the two teams since the monster trade that sent former Penguins left winger, James Neal, to the Predators in exchange for right-winger Patrick Hornqvist and centerman Nick Spaling.
Hornqvist is known as an excellent net-front presence and Spaling resides on the third line as a centering anchor.
From puck drop, the Predators forced the Penguins to play the wall with their shut-down style of defense from blue line to blue line.
After a Nashville offensive turnover and an ensuing odd man rush, the Penguins were the first team to light the lamp.
At 6:21 in the first period, Sidney Crosby remained unmanned in the offensive zone and after heavy traffic in front of Preds’ goaltender, Pekka Rinne, Crosby wristed the puck in for his fifth goal of the season, assisted by Olli Maata and Patrick Hornqvist.
The goal was a result of a rush up the ice and a centered pass that slid by Hornqvist‘s stick, which eventually made it back around to the crease for a tap in.
Penguins’ netminder, Marc André Fleury, stopped all 8 Predators shots in the first period, including a wrap-around shot from Assistant Captain, James Neal, and a high slapper from Mike Ribeiro. Face-off wins remained tied at 7 at the end of the 1st.
On the opening draw in the second period, the puck sailed into the Nashville zone with a quick shot by Pittsburgh as a result of their aggressive forecheck. Close neutral zone coverage and fast skating by both teams made for a systematic game at the beginning of the second period. Nashville’s limited puck possession in the offensive zone resulted in 2 shots in the first five minutes. A debatable holding call against Nashville’s Olli Jokinen at 5:15 in the second period put the Penguins on their first 2:00 minute power play of the game.
The Penguins’ first power play unit consisted of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Patrick Hornqvist, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz. The only scoring chance was a breakaway by Chris Kunitz, turned aside by the Predators’ defense. With the last rush of the power play, the Predators forced the puck to the wall and time expired. Momentum shifted seconds later, when Pittsburgh’s Steve Downie took an offensive zone hooking penalty at 7:54.
Nashville’s first power play unit consisted of Ryan Ellis, Seth Jones, Fiilip Forsberg, James Neal, and Colin Wilson, leaving many to wonder why Shea Weber was not on the ice, as he is a fixture on the first PP unit. The Preds’ power play was 26th in the league coming into this game and did not garner a result with their first power play opportunity. Late in the second, Nashville went back on the man advantage, with a call on Pittsburgh’s Maata for Too Many Men on the Ice. The Predators’ second power play did not result in a goal as the Penguins pushed back, clearing pucks down the ice to knock time off the clock. A flurry of back and forth play and solid defense peppered the rest of the second period, but the score remained 1-0 at the end of 2nd. Shots tallied in favor of Pittsburgh, 22-12.
After a scoreless second period, a Penguins’ steal at the start of the third was stopped by solid Predators defense. Seconds later, Predators’ left winger Nystrom, wrapped up Olli Maata in Nashville’s offensive zone for a holding call to send the Pens on the power play at 1:04. With a crisp cross-ice pass from Sidney Crosby to Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins went up 2-0 early in the 3rd. Nashville quickly found themselves a man down once more, after a hooking call on James Neal sent the Penguins back on the power play, with a different look from the first power play unit, as Malkin started the PP on the bench.
After 1:10, the Predators were able to clear the puck from their defensive zone and get a much-needed line change, but on the next play, the Penguins’ Pascal Dupuis reached a career milestone with his goal: 400 career points. The goal was assisted by Steve Downie and Sidney Crosby, Penguins 3, Predators 0. Pittsburgh gave Nashville a chance when they iced the puck, resulting in a Predators’ offensive zone faceoff.
Nashville’s James Neal showed promise with smooth skating across the blue line and a shot that ricocheted off the post, with goalie Marc André Fleury looking on. The push by Neal breathed a little life into the Predators’ play, keeping play away from their goaltender for a time. As time ticked down in the 3rd, Nashville went on the power play for the last 21.6 seconds due to another Too Many Men on the Ice penalty by Chris Kunitz.
With a final stop from Fleury, 25 saves was enough for the win as Nashville could not capitalize on the few scoring chances they had. Pittsburgh played with patience, persistence, and a strong power play, which elevated them to the win. Even though the Penguins lead the NHL with the strongest power play, Pittsburgh has struggled to close out games, recently dropping two, late in the third period to Dallas and Philadelphia – until tonight. Pittsburgh’s next game is at home versus New Jersey.
Final score, Pittsburgh 3, Nashville 0.