Predators aim to improve defense against Hurricanes

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — From the 5:01 mark of the second period on Dec. 13 to the 8:05 mark of the first period Tuesday night — a total of 163 minutes, five seconds of ice time — the Nashville Predators didn’t allow a goal.

And then they allowed five more after the first one to the Winnipeg Jets, leading to a 6-4 defeat in a game they could have won. Two of those occurred in the final 1:26 of the game, including an ugly go-ahead marker by Brandon Tanev from a bad angle that skipped through goalie Pekka Rinne’s pads.

Nashville will try to tighten up defensively Thursday night when the Carolina Hurricanes arrive at Bridgestone Arena for the teams’ second and final meeting of the season.

“I thought we could have done things better defensively,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought we were missing the pace a little bit in the first two periods and then picked it up a little bit in the third period. I think we have to play better.”

One area of concern is that Nashville (21-8-4) has been outshot in the past three games. It has ceded a territorial advantage in the first period, getting outshot 22-4 by Edmonton, 12-6 by Calgary and 13-11 by Winnipeg.

While the Predators were able to make up for it in the previous two games, the slow start Tuesday set a tone Nashville couldn’t quite change, even with a strong first 10 minutes in the third period.

“No team is good enough to play only one period in this league and win,” left winger Filip Forsberg said. “The third period was good, but the other two periods could have been better. We have to look ourselves in the mirror.”

Nashville will have to fight for space in front of that mirror with Carolina (14-12-7). After winning three consecutive games, the Hurricanes were embarrassed Tuesday in Toronto, absorbing an 8-1 drubbing.

Carolina allowed four goals in the first period and four more in the third period. Goalie Scott Darling took the entire thrashing, dropping his record to 8-10-6 with a 2.87 goals-against average and an .896 save percentage.

Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk absolved Darling of the blame.

“We didn’t do him any favors,” Faulk said. “That’s the bad part of what happened is we’re down and still giving up opportunities, two-on-ones, getting out-competed. That’s real bad on us. This one is just embarrassing.”

In his first season as a No. 1 goalie after backing up Corey Crawford the last three seasons in Chicago, Darling has struggled enough that veteran Cam Ward (6-2-1, 3.06, .906) has looked like a better alternative at times.

Meanwhile, Rinne (18-5-3, 2.36, .927) has enjoyed one of his best seasons in goal, even though the tiebreaking tally Tuesday night was not one of his better moments. Rinne actually played well in that game prior to that goal, making five or six outstanding saves on point-blank chances.

The Hurricanes won the season’s first meeting, taking a 4-3 shootout win on Nov. 26 in Raleigh as Victor Rask and Justin Williams each garnered a goal and an assist. Mattias Ekholm bagged a goal and an assist for the Predators.