The Nashville Predators streak of points in seven-straight games to begin the 2014-15 season ended on Saturday night with a 3-0 loss to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.
In the end, all the storylines surrounding the return of Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling to Nashville or James Neal’s first time out against his old club faded away to the often-told story of a dominant performance by the Penguins Sidney Crosby. The former No. 1 overall pick and two-time scoring champ guided the Pens to a shutout win with a three-point night (1g-2a).
“That’s why he’s the best player in the world, right?,” Nashville defenseman Seth Jones said. “It’s tough to contain guys like [Crosby] and [Evgeni] Malkin and especially when they’re on the ice together. He’s just good down low when you give him time and space and I don’t think we took it away fast enough tonight. That’s just kind of the way it went.”
Six minutes into the first period, Crosby jammed a puck past Rinne on the Penguins second shot of the game. Pittsburgh’s captain later sealed the win with two power-play assists including a point-to-crease feed to Malkin for an easy tap-in and a 2-0 lead.
“They’ve got a lot of high-end skill on their team and on [the power play],” Preds forward Olli Jokinen said. “Their second goal, and the first one on the power play was a bit of a broken play. We tried to clear it, but it ended up going back to Crosby and he made an unbelievable shot-pass there. [...] They’re power play is the thing they feed off, they made us pay big time in the third because of that.”
“The good power plays in the league are around 25 percent, so that is what you are trying to operate above,” said Penguins Head Coach Mike Johnston. “We have throughout the year. We had some chances in Detroit but did not convert, but tonight it was a big goal. I thought Crosby and Malkin played an outstanding game defensively. When you look at the score sheet at the end of the night, they got their points.”
While the Penguins power play (2-for-3) improved on its league-best success rate, at the other end of the ice the Preds saw their time with the man advantage come up empty (0-for-3). The slow start on the power play has been a source of frustration this season for the Preds and Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette addressed it again after the contest.
“I know we’ve got a lot of good pieces in the locker room and we work on the [power play] on a daily basis in meetings and we do our best to give it the attention it needs,” Laviolette said. “I know that over the course of a season for every team there will be a stint where the power play is not where it needs to be and maybe this is our stint. I think we’ve got the right message and players, and I think we’ll work through it.”
Crosby’s early goal stalled a Nashville attack that had controlled the pace of play early in the game with the first four shots to the Preds credit. Following the Pens rebound goal and lead, the road team’s defense seemed to stifle and frustrate Nashville’s offense for the next 50-plus minutes of game time.
“It seemed any time we tried to get going through the neutral zone or tried to pass through the neutral zone that their gaps were tight. Their back check was good and there always seemed to be a stick that got a piece of a puck or something in passing lane,” Laviolette said. “Defensively they were pretty tight. I thought there were some good opportunities for us to hit the net and we missed it. That just kind of killed our offense. It went from us getting a shot on net and maintaining possession to going to them.”
The Preds gave up the game’s first goal for the sixth time in their eight games played on Crosby’s fifth tally of the campaign. Previously, Nashville held a 4-0-1 record when trailing 1-0 in a game.
Despite the 3-0 loss on Thursday, the team still holds one of the NHL’s best records and Jones thinks they can quickly start another streak with the upcoming stint away from Bridgestone Arena. The Predators will now head off on a season-long, six-game road trip that starts next week.
“We can’t get too high or too low, this was our first loss in regulation. We’re going to lose some games here and there and I’m pretty confident with how they guys are going to respond,” Jones said. “We already played a couple good road games this year and we’re looking to get back on the train. We had a bit of a bump in the road, but we’ll get back in the win column.”
Nashville’s record stands at 5-1-2, good for first place in the Central Division. The club’s next tilt will be against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday.