If Nashville Predators fans were wondering what a more balanced attack would look like this season, last night’s 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild was a good first glance.
The Predators had five difference players score goals, including Filip Forsberg, Mikael Granlund, Austin Watson, Viktor Arvidsson, and Ryan Ellis. The also eclipsed the Wild in shots on goal (32 to 24), shot attempts (68 to 46), and high danger chances (10 to 5).
“I thought all the lines played really well. There was good balance,” head coach Peter Laviolette said after the game. “They all chipped in offensively.”
While last night was hardly the first time the Predators have displayed offensive dominance over a team, it had a different feel than times in the past. Mostly because newcomer Matt Duchene was helping to fuel the effort, collecting three assists on the night and helping mix up the offensive balance throughout the lineup. It was also because they didn’t need superstar efforts from elite offensive players like Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg in order to get it done.
And incidentally, the Preds had to come from behind in the 3rd period to win the game, which makes last night’s win all the more impressive.
Quick Preds turnaround in the 3rd
Having turned in a 2nd period that left much to be desired, the Preds found themselves down 2-1 to start the 3rd period.
But that quickly changed. First, Mikael Granlund redirected a Roman Josi slapshot by Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk just 27 seconds into the 3rd period to tie the game at 2-2. Then a short while later, Austin Watson poked the puck through Dubnyk’s pads while laying on the ice in the slot, which made it 3-2 Preds.
The home crowd, perhaps a bit frustrated with the first 40 minutes, erupted.
The Preds did not let up, continuing to pour on the pressure in the Wild zone. That led to a great chance for Viktor Arvidsson in front, who ripped his first goal of the year by Dubnyk to make it 4-2 Preds.
More pressure from the Preds kept the Wild at bay after that. An empty netter by Filip Forsberg iced the game at 5-2, leaving the Predators fans with a nice finish to a great night on home ice.
Pekka Rinne, who stopped 22 of 24 shots on the night, credited Peter Laviolette for the turnaround, saying that their coach was not pleased with their effort in the 2nd.
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Rinne did not reveal specific details on what Laviolette said during the 2nd intermission, but it’s safe to say it woke the team up.
While no hockey team plans on being down a goal in the 3rd and having to rely on igniting a comeback to win games, this is exactly what good offensive teams can do. They keep putting pressure on the opponent until a crack in the armor emerges. They are never out of it, often “scoring themselves out of trouble” in games to collect wins. We’ve seen this with plenty of Stanley Cup winning teams over the years.
Duchene the difference maker
Of course it also helps when you add a world class offensive player to the team in Matt Duchene.
While he did not score a goal, Duchene was all over the ice in the offensive zone, helping create dangerous chances for his linemates Filip Forsberg and Mikael Granlund. Those two combined for 10 individual shot attempts at even strength (iCF) on the night, including four in the high danger area.
In this look at the team’s even strength shot attempts, you can see the Duchene-Forsberg-Granlund line with a nice concentration of shot attempts in some dangerous areas.
For fans of the Nashville Predators, a team that has consistently lacked dangerous scoring chances over the years, that has to be encouraging.
It wasn’t just stat grabbing either. Duchene’s teammates and coaches all acknowledged his presence on the ice and noting the difference he makes in the offence.
“He was great,” Captain Roman Josi said after the game. “It doesn’t surprise me to be honest, he was unbelievable in the preseason. You can tell how good he is. We’re really glad to have him here, he’s an unbelievable player.”
Great start, more to come
After the game, Laviolette mentioned that though tonight was a great result for his line, there will be more to come from Duchene’s presence.
“[Duchene] had some nice plays and some nice helpers,” Laviolette said. “I thought for the first showing in a regular season game, they were good. I think that the chemistry would build from there.”
Chemistry is everything in this sport it seems like, and so far this Preds team has it. But there’s a lot of hockey left and Preds fans will need to see consistent scoring improvement in order to feel good about the team moving forward.
Let’s not forget that the Nashville Predators disappointed a lot of people with their first round exit to the Dallas Stars last season. It will take a lot more than a home opening win over the Minnesota Wild to forget that awful performance last April.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —