After a seven-game winning streak in the modified Christmas / COVID break, the Nashville Predators left their first game in Washington DC before heading to Ohio for the second game in a row. Tonight the Predators were still without Captain Roman Josi and the centers Tommy Novak and Colton Sissons. David Rittich has his place on the net against that Columbus blue jackets, Juuse Saros released one night, and Matt Luff came on the lineup instead of Mathieu Olivier.
Columbus had its own missing parts when front runner Oliver Bjorkstrand entered the COVID log earlier this week. His absence was made up by the return of Patrick Laine to his line-up in his first game after injury. Elvis Merzlikins was in charge of the Blue Jackets network.
Fans lost their hats in the final matchup at Bridgestone Arena when Filip Forsberg scored a hat trick plus one in a statement game. Would the Predators have their winning mojo tonight or would Columbus deserve the vengeance win?
After a very slow start to their game against the Capitals last night, the Predators knew they had to play identity hockey from the first drop of the puck. It wasn’t long before Matt Luff and Michael McCarron showed their commitment to Sixty Minutes of Predators Hockey. Luff chased a puck and found McCarron streaking at 2:50 in the slot for the first goal of the game.
The Predators continued their offensive pressure and controlled the next leg of the game, but a net tip from Boone Jenner at 6:26 compensated for the Jackets’ first real offensive threat.
The gate powered Columbus, who almost immediately put Rittich under pressure again, but Big Save Dave held strong in the net. Another pace change came when Matt Duchene took a cross-checking penalty, giving the Predators a power play opportunity at 7:38. Ryan Johansen caught a glimpse of the open space, but Merzlikins closed the door at the last second on Joey’s chance. Merzlikins defended the blue ice well, despite being able to prep and pepper the gate several times, and the two minutes passed without a goal for Nashville.
The Predators spent more time in the offensive zone and limited the Blue Jackets’ chances of puck possession through the remainder of the first leg. A quick turnover on the defensive gave Columbus the best chances, but Rittich was able to stop the shot and choke the puck. The period ended with Nashville scoring twice as many shots on goal as the Blue Jackets but still a 1-1 draw.
The second section didn’t start the way the Predators needed, with a quick tic-tac-toe goal that put the Blue Jackets 2-1 ahead at just: 24. The net went off the peg as Rittch held back to save, but upon review, the shot was confirmed as a good goal.
Tomasino, McCarron and Luff created some quick offensive chances, but could not use them. Two shifts later, Mikhail Granlund hurried to negate the icing and earned a bonus shout of meddling, bringing the Predators back to the power play after 3:54. The Predators struggled to get the puck through the neutral zone and were unable to convert the man advantage into a goal for the second time in the game.
Physical play on the boards ruffled some feathers and Tanner Jeannot and Andrew Peeke dropped their gloves at 7:21 to solve the problem. Jeannot won the scuffle but earned an extra two minutes of rest for roughing, which gave the Blue Jackets a power play.
The Predators took the penalty, with perhaps the best chance of the two minutes coming when Yakov Trenin shot a shorthand spin that left the Middle Tennesseans gaping. Nashville had to calm the puck and regroup from too many bad passes and chaotic outbursts after returning to a five-on-five game.
Nashville drew the game when Matt Duchene pounded the ice with the puck, paused for the Predators to change lines, and Nick Cousins came down the left wall. Cousins dropped Elvis Merzlikins’ puck at 3:31 p.m. to cover the game at two.
Merlikins wasn’t too impressed with Cousin’s shot, but was under immediate pressure again just twenty seconds later when Andrew Peeke was called to high stick. On their third power play chance, the Predators made up the man advantage when Ryan Johansen buried a rebound at 4:06 p.m.
Forsberg, Duchene and Trenin each threatened offensively and Rittich shot a big ball throw at the last minute against a ball loss, but the game ended 3-2.
The closing stages began with a hectic back and forth in the first few minutes. Dante Fabbro blocked a shot and went down on the ice, but was unable to leave the game immediately. After Nashville regained the ball, Fabbro briefly walked off the ice and down the tunnel.
At 6:43 am, the frantic game resulted in Mattias Ekholm holding Justin Danforth and giving the Blue Jackets a power play. Benning broke his cane, Jeannot passed his cane to the D-man, and Jeannot hurried to fetch another cane and force his way into the game to break Columbus’ momentum. Mark Borowiecki shot a puck in the back of the knee and blocked the shot and had to hobble off the ice himself. The Predators did the rest of the penalty and both Boro and Fabbro could play again.
Columbus put offensive pressure in the first half while Nashville worked to tighten defensively and wait for their own opportunities. Unfortunately, the Predators blinked first with a defensive zone turnover, which led to a draw by Alexandre Texier at 13:33.
Matt Duchene had defeated Elvis Merzlikins, but a Jake Bean sprawl and a split second break thwarted Duchene’s chance. The Predators couldn’t avoid each other on breakout chances, but David Rittich kept the game a tie until the end of the third.
Johansen, Forsberg and Ekholm started extension on the ice for Nashville. Ekholm and Forsberg had a nice two-on-one, but Merzlikins put in an amazing save. Not to be outdone, Rittich had his own stunning parade on a shot from Laine.
Nearly halfway through the OT period, Matt Duchene did a cross check and headed to the penalty area for not only disagreeing with the call, but also with the lack of a call for interference shortly before.
Rittich parried superbly in the power play, Ekholm broke off an open pass, Benning broke his stick, but put it on the ice to close a pass lane, and Rittich finally grabbed the puck to stop the game. The Predators were able to wipe out the rest of the penalty, mainly thanks to Rittich’s key parades.
The first three rounds of the penalty shoot-out resulted in no goals. Alexandre Texier won the puck past Rittich in the fourth round, but Mikhail Granlund tied the balance to keep the Predators alive. Gustav Nyquist made up his chance in the fifth round, but Eeli Tolvanen hit the post, giving Columbus the two points and the win.
The tenacity is there, the timing is still a little off. This Predators team plays with an insistence that defines who they are as a team and that was seen with more consistency tonight than the game last night in DC December, a few tweaks to zone exits, neutral zone passes and constant energy, and this team could fire on all cylinders again.
The defense must cut off the back door shots. This was a problem against the Capitals last night and the second section started with another defensive failure which allowed for a back door score.
The “big guns” have to fire again. There have been a lot of second, third, and fourth row attacks, and having a productive sideline is key to any team’s success. Nashville has the top line of Forsberg, Granlund and Duchene back together and they will soon have to find their fall mojo again. While both Forsberg and Duchene are struggling with injuries and Granlund is returning from COVID logs, none of the three have had the stellar performances Nashville will need on the track.
Nashville is returning home to face the Saturday afternoon Chicago Blackhawks.