NASHVILLE -- Just call him Mr. December.
After sitting on the bench for much of the final three weeks of November, Nashville Predators goalie Carter Hutton is off to a dominant start this month. He made 33 saves on Thursday to earn his second straight victory and lead the Predators to a 3-1 win against the Dallas Stars at Bridgestone Arena.
Including a scoreless third period he played against the Carolina Hurricanes on Dec. 5, Hutton has stopped 70 of the 72 shots he has faced in December for a .972 save percentage and a 0.87 goals-against average.
With No. 1 goalie Pekka Rinne out indefinitely due to a staph infection in his hip, the Predators have rotated between Hutton, signed to be Rinne's backup, and Marek Mazanec, who was the NHL's rookie of the month for November. As Mazanec's star rose, Hutton had mainly had to watch from the bench.
Hutton last recorded back-to-back wins on Nov. 2 and 6. When he defeated the New York Rangers 4-1 on Tuesday, it marked his first start since Nov. 10.
Hutton said it was not hard to stay sharp despite going so long between starts.
"Not really," he said. "You get a lot of shots in practice. They work you pretty hard so your cardio stays up and it's more just the confidence factor, getting in there, but I never truly, really felt that I was playing that bad. Maz came in and played really well.
"I've been on both sides of that, where I've been the guy who's been rolling and the other guy comes in. All you can you do is wait for your chance and work hard, no matter who's in net as long as when you come in, you give your team a chance to win."
While Hutton might have downplayed what it's like to stay sharp without much playing time, Predators captain Shea Weber did not.
"That's not easy on anybody, having to sit around for a while and not knowing when you're going to get the call," Weber said. "It's just kudos to him. He's done a great job being ready and now he's been great for us."
Dallas lost its second straight and is 1-2-1 in its past four. Dallas, Nashville and the Winnipeg Jets all have 33 points, leaving them at the bottom of the Central Division and eight points out of a playoff berth in the Western Conference.
After the first 18 minutes of the first period were scoreless, the teams combined for three goals in the final 1:53. Dallas got on the board first when the Predators' defensive coverage broke down. Forward Erik Cole won the puck behind the net, skated out in front alone and lifted a backhand over Hutton at 18:07.
The game turned when the Stars took two quick penalties. Shawn Horcoff high-sticked Nashville defenseman Kevin Klein at 18:45, and seven seconds later Dallas' Brenden Dillon shot the puck over the glass, earning a delay of game call.
"We lost the game in a two-minute span," Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said. "We were playing a good period and had a lead but for me it's a mental mistake we can't make as a team. You can kill off one, but you get down 5-on-3, it's pretty tough."
Nashville took the lead on the power plays. From below the right circle, David Legwand found Patric Hornqvist open in the slot, and Hornqvist wristed a shot past Kari Lehtonen at 19:02 during the 5-on-3. Hornqvist's goal was his seventh, tying him for the team lead.
Legwand put a rebound of Roman Josi's shot from the left point into an open net 28 seconds last to put Nashville ahead to stay.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he had challenged the power-play unit in a meeting following the morning skate.
"You look at our record when we score a power-play goal, it's pretty good and the last six or seven games, it's been a little bit dry in terms of the goal production," Trotz said, "but that was a real big turning point for us. It gave us a lot of confidence at home. … We sort of called the power play out. They had to make a difference tonight. We had a little special meeting with them and they did."
Weber had the secondary assist on each goal. Ten of his 15 points have come on the power play, tying him with Legwand for the team lead.
"We've done some good things over the last few games, we just haven't gotten good results," Weber said. "Tonight we were trying to get more pucks to the net and we were fortunate we got a couple of goals."
At 9:14 of the second, Nashville's Paul Gaustad, known more for his defensive prowess and for winning faceoffs than any fancy moves, scored a gorgeous goal with a delayed penalty called against the Stars and Hutton pulled for an extra attacker.
Gaustad was the trailer on the rush, and Colin Wilson found him wide open skating down the left side. Lehtonen came out to challenge Gaustad, but the big center faked around the goalie and sent the puck high into an open net to make it 3-1.
In the Predators' win Tuesday, Gaustad had a goal and two assists. He has seven points this season.
"That was nice, wasn't it?" Trotz said. "Yeah, you never think of [Gaustad] as a goal-scorer but he's got five … now, which is getting up there. A lot of poise, hung on to the puck and put it right where grandma puts the good stuff -- right on the top shelf there.
"I'm sure we'll be breaking that out in a little bit of a film session at some point."
|Erik Cole (5) ASST: Alex Chiasson (8)|
1 - 0 DAL
|PPG - Patric Hornqvist (7) ASST: David Legwand (18), Shea Weber (7)|
1 - 1 Tie
|PPG - David Legwand (6) ASST: Roman Josi (8), Shea Weber (8)|
2 - 1 NSH
|Paul Gaustad (5) ASST: Colin Wilson (10), Gabriel Bourque (8)|
3 - 1 NSH
|Ryan Ellis Boarding against Ray Whitney|
|Shawn Horcoff Hi-sticking against Kevin Klein|
|Brenden Dillon Delaying Game - Puck over glass|
|Roman Josi Roughing against Tyler Seguin|
|Shea Weber Boarding against Dustin Jeffrey|
|Jamie Benn Slashing against Eric Nystrom|