Last week the Nashville Predators traveled out West to face the three Californian teams. This began their toughest stretch of the remaining season. The team faced the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday, The Los Angeles Kings on Thursday, and the San Jose Sharks on Saturday. When all was said and done, the Predators took home four of a possible six points. After losing in overtime to the Ducks and Kings, the Predators beat the Sharks to cap off the trip. Against conference rivals, these points become even more valuable for the Predators as they look to maintain their position in the playoff race.
Evaluating the Nashville Predators West Coast Trip
Tuesday, March 7th – Anaheim
The Predators began their West Coast swing in Anaheim. They jumped to an early lead in the first period. Colin Wilson and Ryan Ellis both tallied for the Predators before the seven-minute mark. Ellis’ goal, his 12th of the season, came on the power play. The Ducks would not answer until eight minutes later when Ryan Getzlaf scored on the Ducks powerplay.
Filip Forsberg stayed hot in the second, scoring a shorthanded goal for the Predators to give him 27 goals, three shorthanded, on the season. Then, the Predators saw their lead slip away on consecutive goals for the Ducks from Nick Ritchie and Rickard Rakell. Neither team scored in the third period or the overtime, sending the game to the shootout.
Thursday, March 9th – Los Angeles
The Thursday game against the Kings carried larger playoff implications for both teams. Again the Predators struck first. Calle Jarnkrok scored his 14th of the season in the opening frame on a forced turnover. This would stand as the only goal in the period.
The Kings scored the lone goal in the second while on the power play. Veteran Jarome Iginla did exactly what he was acquired to do: score goals, especially on the man advantage. The Predators regained the lead on a goal from Kevin Fiala 1:31 into the third, but it would not hold up. Again, the Kings and Marian Gaborik cashed in on the power play to tie the game.
In the overtime period, the Predators took a too many men penalty on a lazy line change, sending the Kings back to the powerplay. This would prove fatal, as Iginla scored again in the extra frame, and the Kings went a perfect three-for-three on the powerplay for the win.
Saturday, March 11th – San Jose
After giving up leads in both prior games, the Predators went into San Jose on Saturday desperately needing to avoid overtime. They turned to backup goaltender Juuse Saros. The move paid off. Saros and the Predators allowed the first goal to Paul Martin in the first period, but the netminder was perfect the rest of the game.
The Predators scored in the first from Johansen. James Neal scored in the second to give the Predators the lead. Viktor Arvidsson added the insurance goal, another one shorthanded for the Predators, to secure the win.
After allowing three powerplay goals to the Kings, the Predators shut down the Sharks powerplay on four opportunities. It was Saros who really stole the show, making big, timely saves.
Forsberg was buzzing in the Anaheim game, posing multiple threats in regulation and in the overtime. Although he scored only once in the three games, he looks dangerous every time he touches the puck. The young forward should crack 30 goals this year to give him two consecutive seasons with 30 plus.
The Predators received balanced scoring during the trip with seven goals from seven different players. This includes two goals shorthanded. This indication of depth bodes well for the Predators. They will need balanced scoring to compete with teams throughout the playoffs. Last year, the team ran into a deeper, faster Sharks team in the playoffs, but this version of the Predators is more balanced offensively.
Saros played phenomenally for the Predators in San Jose. The only goal he allowed he could not see, with Jannik Hansen screening the shot from the point. Coach Peter Laviolette sang Saros’ praises: “He was excellent… He tracked well and put himself in a position to make big saves for us.” Down the stretch the Predators may be hesitant to give him too many starts, as they want to maintain their playoff position. Pekka Rinne is still the more trusted, known commodity. However, if Rinne gets hurt, or his play falls off, the Predators have a reliable backup in Saros. Through 15 starts this season, Saros has eight wins, a 2.25 goals-allowed average, and a .927 save percentage.
Trade deadline acquisition P.A. Parenteau made his debut against the Sharks after missing four games with a hand injury. Parenteau received 11:35 of ice time, with one shot on net and two hits. As Parenteau adjusts to his new home, he should start to show up on the score sheet.
The Predators win in San Jose snapped a four-game losing streak. Even losing in Anaheim and L.A., the Predators were still able to steal a point in both games. This gave them over half the total points available over the three games. Not terrible for a tough road trip. With those points, the Predators sit in third in the Central division with 77 points in 68 games. The St. Louis Blues are their biggest threat. The Blues hold the second wild card spot with 75 points in 67 games. The Predators must do all they can to hold onto the divisional spot to avoid having to compete with the Oilers and Kings for the wild card.
The Predators schedule now lightens up some as they return home tonight to play the Winnipeg Jets. The Jets are all but out of the playoffs at this point, with 66 points, but the Predators still should not take them lightly. Patrik Laine, Mark Scheifele, and Nikolaj Ehlers have the ability to take over a game, so shutting them down will be the Predators number-one priority. After the Jets, the Predators go back on the road to face the stumbling Capitals on Thursday and the Hurricanes on Saturday.
All player and game statistics from NHL.com and current as of 03/13/2017 at 5:15 PM CST.