Photo: John Russell
Forward Jerred Smithson opened the scoring for Nashville Saturday.
The Nashville Predators displayed a dangerous mixture of skill, smarts and hard work Saturday night at the Gaylord Entertainment Center, scoring in a variety of ways en route to a 5-1 victory over the visiting Atlanta Thrashers. From the dogged pursuit of Jerred Smithson on Nashville's first goal to Steve Sullivan's crafty work to set up J.P. Dumont for the final tally of the game, the Predators were impressive in their last game of the preseason.
Goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped 25 of 26 shots in a penalty-filled game, over half of which was spent on special teams. Nashville's power play finished the evening 3-for-11, while the penalty killers were perfect in defusing all 12 of Atlanta's opportunities with the manpower advantage.
For the Predators, defenseman Kimmo Timonen led the way on the scoresheet with three assists, while Marek Zidlicky added two helpers and Scott Hartnell and Steve Sullivan each posted one goal and one assist.
Hard work got the momentum rolling for Nashville. Jerred Smithson opened the scoring on a hustling play, beating goaltender Johan Hedberg to the puck after Mikko Lehtonen's off-course neutral zone pass angled in toward the Atlanta net. Smithson's one-handed stab sent the puck over Hedberg at 13:42 to make it 1-0.
Nashville entered the first intermission with a 2-0 lead despite being outshot 11-6 to that point. Both teams found themselves in penalty trouble in the opening 20 minutes, and that trend carried over to the remaining two periods. Nashville's Jordin Tootoo was effective as a catalyst, personally drawing three penalties in the first period. One of those was a match penalty to sharpshooter Ilya Kovalchuk for kicking/deliberate attempt to injure at 18:56.
That dangerous scenario developed when Kovalchuk was drilled to the ice by Tootoo for shooting the puck into Nashville's net after the whistle. On his back, Kovalchuk kicked at Tootoo's torso with both legs. A boarding penalty to Tootoo canceled the first two minutes of Kovalchuk's five-minute major, but a dazzling offensive move by Dumont half a minute later forced Greg de Vries to the box for holding. By the time Garnet Exelby was penalized with a double-minor for high-sticking at 19:48, the Atlanta penalty bench was filling up.
The Predators capitalized on the opportunity with three power-play tallies over the next 3:19 of play, effectively grabbing control of the game. With just two seconds remaining in the opening period and with the teams skating four-on-three, a tip by Hartnell sent Zidlicky's point shot trickling to the right of Hedberg for the 2-0 lead.
Thirty-seven seconds after the intermission, Sullivan tried a cross-crease pass to Jason Arnott that banked in off a prone defender. Again a four-on-three goal, it pushed the lead to 3-0. Center David Legwand, seeing his first game action since off-season surgery to repair torn knee ligaments, made it 4-0 at 3:17 when he finished off a play that was kept alive along the boards by the grinding diligence of Hartnell and Timonen. With the teams finally back at even strength, Atlanta got on the board with a goal by Exelby at 4:26.
Dumont, one of Nashville's key off-season acquisitions, made his presence known in the remainder of the second period. Though he committed back-to-back hooking penalties, he and his linemates Legwand and Scottie Upshall were also instrumental in steering momentum in Nashville's direction with a strong shift shortly after Exelby's goal. In the waning minutes of the period, Dumont was sent onto the ice with Sullivan and the two crafty wingers displayed obvious chemistry. Showing no signs of the sore groin that hampered him at times in training camp, Sullivan seemed a step ahead of Thrashers defenders all night. He outsmarted one behind the Atlanta net, banking the puck off the goal cage to himself to shake the Thrasher before stepping out and backhanding a pass across to Dumont for an easy put-in at 18:10.
That capped the scoring portion of the scoresheet for the night, but the penalty section continued to overflow in the final 20 minutes. Early into the frame, Smithson and Brad Larsen got into a heated discussion behind the Nashville net. It came to blows and Tootoo jumped in from behind to restrain Larsen, prompting everyone on the ice to gather. Tootoo's actions earned him a game misconduct for being the third man in on a fight.
A high number of stick infractions were then called by the referees, at one point jamming the Thrashers' penalty box with six players. Tensions boiled over again at 13:29, when Atlanta winger Eric Boulton objected to a hard, clean hit by defenseman Shea Weber. As Weber skated away from the bodycheck, Bolton pursued him, discarded his gloves and began punching the sophomore blueliner. The instigation resulted in a game misconduct for Boulton. In total, 124 minutes of penalties were called between the two teams--62 of those in the final period.
An exhibition shootout followed the game, and the Predators won that as well by a 3-2 margin when Thrasher Greg de Vries was unable to answer J.P. Dumont's ninth-round goal.
Next up, the Predators open regular season play on Thursday, Oct. 5 with a 7:00 p.m. home game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Tickets are still available, and can be ordered online or by calling 615-770-PUCK. Tickets can also be purchased at any Ticketmaster outlet or the GEC box office.