NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For the first time this season, the Nashville Predators (41-15-7) dropped two straight games in regulation. The Detroit Red Wings (35-15-11) grabbed a two goal lead before scoring two unanswered in the third period to come out on top by a score of 4-3. It was only the sixth loss for the Predators on home ice; their fifth in regulation.
Opponents finding a way to outplay Nashville?
The Predators haven’t had anything that could be outright called a slump this season. The way they’ve came out of the gates over the past handful of games could possibly constitute a slump, even if Nashville is 7-3-1 in its last 11 games.
Except for the game against Minnesota on Thursday night, the Predators haven’t played too far outside their norm. The main difference could be how some opponents have been approaching their game against Nashville from the get-go, aiming at beating them at their own game.
"It didn’t start the way we wanted," said Predators forward Matt Cullen. "Hard to say, [Detroit] played really well. I thought we had moments and stretched where we were good, but not enough. These are playoff-style games we’ve been playing here as of late. We need to continue doing what we’re doing, but we also need to figure out a way to win these ones too.
Whether or not Nashville is being out forechecked or just falling into a string of bad luck, it’s impacting them on the ice. They’ve given up the first goal in seven straight games now — something that hasn’t really affected them all too much this season until the last few games.
In their last eight games, the Predators have gone 4-3-1. Yes, they’re still winning, but when the top team in the league starts to struggle you take notice.
"It’s ramping up for everybody," said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette. "Everybody is playing for something. Everybody is fighting for something. You’re looking at a team that’s right now atop the standings. Teams are coming hard. That’s a good thing. I thought today was a good playoff type game. There was not a lot of room. You couldn’t find a lot of free space. You couldn’t just roll wherever you wanted to."
Second line magic
Sometimes you just have to fiddle with a piece or two on any given line to produce results. Nashville found that out early with sticking Filip Forsberg, James Neal and Mike Ribeiro together. They may have finally figured out their second line after boosting Cullen up from the third line alongside Mike Fisher and Craig Smith.
Including Thursday night’s game, the newly minted second line has a combined eight points between them on four separate goals.
"We’ve put a few pucks in the net and generated some offense," said Cullen. "Obviously [Smith] is going with his speed and the way [Fisher] can play and create things, it’s been a positive."
Cullen’s been a bit of a disappointment this season for Nashville, but his recent placement has given him the offensive resurgence he’s desperately needed.
It’s a strange situation, too. Until being slotted with Smith and Fisher, Cullen had only recorded 15 points in his 45 games on the season.
"They’ve done a nice job," said Laviolette. "For a few games now, they’ve been our main contributors as far as getting on the scoresheet. They seem to be moving the puck well and getting to the hard areas."
Now, if Nashville can find what ails the third line, they’ll be perfect.
Red Wings rivalry renewed
In the heyday of the previous configuration of the Central Division, the Red Wings were easily the measuring stick that every team looked toward. For some, that’s still the case. Unfortunately for both Nashville and Detroit, that rivalry ended last season after the divisions were realigned and the Red Wings were moved to the Eastern Conference.
The Predators have only received a handful of chances to face off against Detroit in that span, as both teams will only see each other twice a season. In their last meeting of the regular season, fans got a taste of why games between these two teams used to be one of the best tickets in hockey.
"[The Red Wings] get in your face and take time in space away," said Predators forward Eric Nystrom. "It’s borderline legal or not legal, trying to fight through plays. We’re trying to do the same thing to them and get in their face. It was a great atmosphere out there with both fans in the building. That’s the type of hockey that is going to happen down the stretch."
Chippiness began early against Detroit in a rare Saturday afternoon tilt. Both teams didn’t want to give either an inch and it may have been the hardest hitting game of the season for Nashville.
"It felt like a playoff game from about 15 years ago," said Cullen. "There was a lot of obstruction; a lot of hooking and holding. It was a different style of game."
For both teams, it may have also been a sneak peek at what playoff hockey will look like here in the next handful of weeks.
"It was a good game," said Predators captain Shea Weber. "It was fast both ways. It was competitive out there. For the regular season, I think that’s probably close to the style of playoff hockey."
Drew Miller — A two-point night for the Dover, New Jersey native. Miller’s goal in the second period gave Detroit a 2-0 lead and his 4:32 of shorthanded time on ice was only second to forward Luke Glendening.
Matt Cullen — Two games in a row, Cullen has been the offensive dynamo that Nashville knew he could be all along. Cullen opened the scoring for Nashville and grabbed a helper on Fisher’s tying goal just four minutes later.
Tomas Tatar — Grabbing his 25th of the season, Tatar’s third period power play marker was also Detroit’s game-winning goal as well. He’s having a terrific season and he’s one of the biggest reasons the Red Wings are where they are in the standings.