NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Entering Saturday's match-up with Philadelphia, Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz knew that his team would have its hands full controlling the League's second highest-scoring team.
The Flyers like to score off the rush and in the blue paint, Trotz said, not to mention having premier skill players like Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr.
Since allowing an uncharacteristic 15 goals in three games right around Christmas, the Predators have locked down the hatches, and that trend continued on Saturday as they won their fourth straight, as goalie Pekka Rinne made 36 saves in a 4-2 victory over the Flyers before a sell-out crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators have now allowed only 16 goals over their last eight games and are 7-1 in that span.
"You have to win the crease area and I thought we did a pretty good job of that," Trotz said. "We were winning the crease area on them. They have a lot people moving around. They have (defensemen) trying to jump down the wall. A lot of those cutback plays, high cycles. A lot of those things can really make it hard for you to defend and create a lot of movement, and I thought we did a pretty good job."
The Predators were whistled for only two penalties and killed both of those Flyers opportunities, as Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, the pair of All-Star defensemen, also did its share. Both players were even, with Weber playing 27:01 and Suter skating for 26:56, often matching up against the Flyers' top line of Scott Hartnell, Giroux and Jagr.
"We tried to get away from it, I tried doubling up (Giroux) in the second and the third period there and try and slip him out, but it seemed like we lost possession right away, they got it down in our end and they changed the pairings and got the match-ups they wanted," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I think that's probably what they do against most top lines."
The loss snapped a two-game win streak for the Flyers. Giroux has only one goal in his last 10 games, though Laviolette said he was not overly concerned.
"I'm sure he does get frustrated a little bit, but we're trying to talk him out of that," Laviolette said. "He's a terrific talent and I think all players -- I've said this before -- there's always peaks and valleys, the ebb and flow of things. … He's working hard. You can never go wrong with that philosophy."
Nick Spaling earned the eventual game-winner at 4:30 of the third period off a 3-on-2. Spaling led the rush and passed it to Jordin Tootoo on the left wing. Tootoo sent the puck back to the center and it ricocheted off Spaling's torso past Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (21 saves), who was sharp in making his first start in three games.
Spaling's goal kept an unlikely streak alive. Nashville has never lost in regulation when he scores. He has 14 career goals in 141 games.
"I better score more often, I guess," Spaling said.
Mike Fisher scored an empty-net goal, his first in 10 games, at 19:20 of the third.
Simmonds had pulled the Flyers within a goal with 10:05 left in regulation when he put in a rebound of Read's shot for his 12th, but Philadelphia could not get the equalizer despite a power play with 8:25 left in the game.
Nashville held a 1-0 lead into first intermission. The Preds had a goal disallowed at 4:47 of the first period when it was ruled that Gabriel Bourque kicked the puck into the net. The Preds would need another 14 minutes before they earned an official one.
With 1:43 left in the period, Philadelphia's Harry Zolnierczyk went to the penalty box for hooking David Legwand, giving Nashville's third-ranked power play unit its first chance of the game. Martin Erat capitalized with a fluttering shot from the right circle at 19:02. Predators right wing Patric Hornqvist camped in front of Bryzgalov to enable the goal.
Sergei Kostitsyn continued his hot play this month (5 goals, 2 assists in six games) to give Nashville a 2-0 lead at 10:36 of the second. Bourque held the puck in the slot and used his body to shield a defender and give a short feed to Kostitsyn, who ripped a wrist shot high to Bryzgalov's glove side. Mike Fisher was stationed in front of Bryzgalov, screening the goalie.
Philadelphia cut the lead to 2-1 with a goal off the rush with 7:42 left in the second. Simmonds, who was a victim earlier of a thunderous hip check by Nashville's 5-foot-10 rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis, fed Couturier down the right wing. Couturier sniped it just under the far elbow for his ninth goal.
Rinne was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, but with a young team playing in front of him, he did not get off to the strongest start statistically. In November, he agreed to a seven-year, $49-million contract extension and is starting to earn that salary. Saturday's performance improved his season save percentage to .920, which matches his career average.
"We did a really good job keeping them kind of outside and their top line is one of the most dangerous lines in the League, so we did a really good job," Rinne said. "They're going to get some chances on power plays and stuff like that but even then our PK did a great job."
During one second-period kill, Nashville's foursome was on the ice for a shift that lasted 1:50, as the Flyers kept control in Nashville's zone for almost the entire two minutes.
Trotz called that a "character shift" in which Weber, Suter and forwards Matt Halischuk and Spaling were on the ice.
The unit was "just battling and you have to give them a lot of credit because (the Flyers are) very effective on the power play," Trotz said.
1 - 0 NSH
2 - 0 NSH
2 - 1 NSH
3 - 1 NSH
3 - 2 NSH