Red-hot Predators host reeling Canucks
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — If the Nashville Predators wish November had another 30 days, it is understandable.
After a mediocre October left some questioning if last spring’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals screamed fluke, Nashville enters a Thursday night home game against the Vancouver Canucks 10-2-1 in November, tying a franchise record for most points in the month.
The Predators have gone from being a .500 team to one that is 15-6-3 with points in 11 of the past 12 games. They are winning games in all sorts of ways, prevailing in shootouts, blowouts and defensive-minded contests.
Nashville’s 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday was a little bit of everything. The teams combined for 70 shots in a typically fast-paced contest, but the Predators prevailed behind Pekka Rinne’s 37 saves and their 18th power-play goal — Roman Josi’s slapper at 2:32 of the third period — in 11 home games.
“I think we have a lot of confidence in our team right now,” Josi said. “I think we have a lot of depth. It’s been a really good month for sure, and we’d better keep it up. There’s still a lot of things we can do better, and we need to work on those things, too.”
No team in the league has taken more penalties than the Predators, but they reined themselves in for the most part against the Blackhawks, committing only three minors. And although they have allowed 11 third-period markers in their past seven games, they were able to find a better balance Tuesday night between all-out attacking and all-out turtling.
Of course, having Rinne as an eraser on the back end helps. Rinne’s age-35 season is starting as one of the best of his career, as he enters Thursday night with a 14-3-2 record, a 2.29 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage.
“I think the coaching staff does a great job of keeping us accountable,” Rinne said. “Every day, we work and go through our five-on-five game. There is always room for improvement. If we want to be one of the best teams, we have to do it consistently. There are no days off.”
Nashville’s variety of skills will be a tough test for a Vancouver team that is staggering to the end of a six-game road trip. After opening with wins in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh last week, the Canucks have dropped three straight, including a 5-2 verdict Tuesday night to the New York Islanders.
Vancouver (11-10-4) put itself in a hole by allowing three goals in the first period against the Islanders. It was the seventh loss in 10 games (3-5-2) for the Canucks, who got off to a surprisingly good start under first-year coach Travis Green before the current skid.
“We’ve got to go back to how we were playing earlier, frustrating teams and not turning it into a track meet where you’re trading chances,” Vancouver center Bo Horvat said. “We need 20 guys, we need everybody contributing.”
Vancouver might go back to Jacob Markstrom (6-8-3, 2.63, .909) in goal after Anders Nilsson (5-2-1, 2.63, .924) coughed up five goals on 36 shots Tuesday night. Nilsson had played well in seven previous starts.
This is the teams’ first meeting this season, and the Canucks’ only trip to Bridgestone Arena. The Predators play in Vancouver on Dec. 13 and March 2.