The Nashville Predators’ 10-3-1 November that lifted them into the Central Division race masked a problem that finally cost them Thursday night.
In the last eight games, Nashville has allowed 14 third-period goals, and three in the final 9 1/2 minutes erased its 3-2 lead as the Vancouver Canucks left town with a 5-3 victory. It was just the Predators’ second regulation loss at Bridgestone Arena in 12 games.
So the task at hand Saturday night when they welcome the Anaheim Ducks for a rematch of last year’s emotional Western Conference championship series is simple: Play 60 minutes, not 40.
“We gave them too many odd-man rushes and that shouldn’t happen with 10 minutes left in the game,” defenseman Roman Josi said. “We just gave them too many good chances. We want to play to a certain standard tonight and we definitely didn’t do that tonight, so it’s obviously disappointing for us.”
Nashville (15-7-3) started its November surge with a 5-3 win in Anaheim, and should have a significant advantage in this matchup. The Ducks played Friday night, losing 4-2 in Columbus, and will be playing their second game in as many nights with a battered roster.
Their trade Thursday with New Jersey that landed centers Adam Henrique and Joseph Blandisi in exchange for defenseman Sami Vatanen was out of necessity. Five of their top nine forwards are on the sidelines, including captain Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, their top two pivots.
Henrique got top-line minutes Friday night and paid instant dividends, drawing an assist on Kevin Roy’s tying goal in the second period and also helping out defensively by blocking a pair of shots in 18 minutes, 14 seconds of ice time.
“I felt like I got better as the game went on,” Henrique said. “It’s an adjustment to a different hockey language. Guys did a good job talking to me on the bench, telling me what they were seeing on the ice.”
Anaheim (11-11-4) has done well to average a point per game. It’s given first and second-line minutes at center to Derek Grant and Chris Wagner, guys who coach Randy Carlyle would have never considered for those jobs in any worse-case scenario that might have popped in his head during training camp.
This will be the Ducks’ first visit to Nashville since May 22, when they coughed up three goals in the final six minutes of the game as the Predators scored a 6-3 win to earn their first trip to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Just as it did in that game, Anaheim will probably turn to its backup goalie, although it won’t be due to injury. Starter John Gibson played Friday night in Columbus, so it’s likely that Ryan Miller (2-0-3, 2.06, .935) will get the call.
Pekka Rinne (14-4-2, 2.38, .925) should start for Nashville after being touched for four goals Thursday night, the most he’s permitted since a 6-4 loss Nov. 16 in Minnesota. Rinne wasn’t exactly awful Thursday night, but was victimized by some lax defense.
“I thought that we lost our structure and they gained a lot of opportunities from it,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said of the loss to Vancouver. “We need to play better defense.”