NASHVILLE – Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber scored twice Thursday to move into a tie for the NHL lead among defensemen with 20 goals.
However, he was much more eager to talk about how Nashville snapped a six-game losing streak at Bridgestone Arena with a 6-1 victory against the Buffalo Sabres and about two Predators rookies who each scored his first NHL goal.
“A big win for us,” Weber responded when asked about reaching 20 goals for the second time in his nine seasons.
Nashville (32-31-11) is 2-6-1 at home in its past eight games and had gone 0-5-1 in its previous six. The rough home stretch contributed to the Predators falling out of the Western Conference's wild-card race. Nashville began the day nine points behind the Phoenix Coyotes for the final wild-card spot into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Phoenix beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in a shootout Thursday.
“We talked about that the last few games is we’ve got to play better at home,” said Weber, who was bleeding from his upper lip after getting hit by a clearing attempt by Buffalo’s Drew Stafford in the third period. “We’ve always been a team in the past that takes pride in winning at home and we haven’t done that lately, so we need to change that.”
Predators rookie centers Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok each scored his first NHL goal as Nashville jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first period.
Sissons scored at 6:26 to give Nashville a 1-0 lead. Rich Clune, with his back to the net from close range, put a backhander on goal, and Sissons charged the net to flip in the rebound.
“It has been in the back of my mind,” said Sissons, who has played in 14 NHL games, all this season, and has 24 goals in the American Hockey League this season. “No doubt. I’d be lying if I didn’t say so. It’s definitely nice to get the monkey off my back and just focus on my game now.”
Colin Wilson scored his first goal since Dec. 30, a span of 33 games, at 11:44 to make it 2-0. Viktor Stalberg threw the puck at the end and it bounced off Buffalo defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. Wilson poked it in past Buffalo goalie Matt Hackett for his eighth goal before Ehrhoff could figure out where it was.
“I feel like I’ve been getting my chances lately, they just haven’t been going in,” Wilson said. “Hopefully, this opens something the last couple of games here.”
The Predators struck again nine seconds later when forward Gabriel Bourque dug a puck out of the corner and threw it into the slot to a wide-open Jarnkrok, who snapped it past Hackett.
“That’s a sniper’s goal,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said.
Jarnkrok, acquired from the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Trade Deadline in exchange for David Legwand, has had a point in each of his first four NHL games (one goal, three assists) since the Predators called him up. He also has had a plus rating in each game.
Injuries to forwards Paul Gaustad and Patrick Eaves, as well as poor performances by some others, opened the door for Sissons and Jarnkrok.
“That’s always exciting. I’m real happy for both those guys,” Weber said. “Obviously, Siss has been here a little bit longer and he’s been working hard for us, and Calle’s come over and been great for us as well, so both of those guys are well deserved and a lot more for both of those guys to come.”
Weber scored his first goal of the game on a 5-on-3 power play with his trademark slap shot. Eight seconds after the Sabres were called for too many men on the ice, Buffalo forward Johan Larsson, called up on an emergency basis earlier in the day, was whistled for closing his hand on the puck.
Weber settled a loose puck and calmly slapped it in from 35 feet out with 43 seconds left in the period to give Nashville a 4-0 lead.
Sabres coach Ted Nolan replaced Hackett with Nathan Lieuwen to start the second period. Hackett made 11 saves on 15 shots.
Buffalo responded with a goal at 2:06. Rookie defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen, called up on an emergency basis earlier in the day because of Tyler Myers' undisclosed injury, connected on a slap shot for his second goal.
After recording four shots on goal in the first period, Buffalo pelted Predators goalie Carter Hutton with 29 in the final two periods. Hutton made 32 saves to earn his 17th win.
Hutton, who entered the season having played in one NHL game, is now tied with the Detroit Red Wings’ Jimmy Howard and New Jersey Devils’ Martin Brodeur in wins, mostly owing to the four-month absence of Predators starting goalie Pekka Rinne due to a hip infection.
Hutton chuckled when that fact was mentioned to him.
“That’s all right,” he said. “I guess when I came in here I didn’t even expect to play that many games. So, it’s obviously great. Tonight, it’s a team victory. We put up six. If I can’t close that one out, you know what I mean?”
Weber made it 5-1 with his second goal, 20th of the season, tying him with the Ottawa Senators' Erik Karlsson for the League lead among defensemen. He beat Lieuwen with a slap shot from the top of the right circle high to the blocker side at 6:19 of the second.
Eric Nystrom scored the Predators' sixth goal with 40 seconds left in the third period. He converted Clune's pass from behind the net with a wrist shot from the slot; it was Clune’s second assist of the game.
Buffalo (20-45-8) has lost 10 of its past 12. The Sabres have the worst record in the League and had eight players sit out Thursday with injuries. Left wing Ville Leino played 58 seconds over two first-period shifts before leaving the game due to what the team said was “light-headedness.”
“It’s just one of those things (that) in order to rebuild and to retool, you rebuild and retool with the right people, and it’s never changed from 20 years ago to today,” Nolan said. “You need the right people with the right makeup with the right character with the right drive and ambition. You don’t just show up.”