The Nashville Predators, focused on their game plan and skating well, put in 60 minutes of consistent play Thursday night and were rewarded with a 2-1 win over the visiting Minnesota Wild at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Adam Hall notched his fourth goal of the year on a first-period power play and Jerred Smithson netted the first goal of his NHL career to put the Predators ahead for good in the second.
Paul Kariya's first shift told the story. The Predators forward raced off the bench into the offensive zone, took a pass just inside the blue line and quickly unleashed a shot. It was one of four Kariya posted in the first 20 minutes, and one of 46 that Nashville peppered Minnesota Wild goaltender Dwayne Roloson with before the evening was finished.
"Last game we barely got any shots at all," Hall said. "I think it's been that case for a few games. I think tonight, early on we just wanted to establish shots and get traffic to the net."
Predators head coach Barry Trotz was pleased with the results, which improved Nashville's record to 16-4-3 overall and 12-2-0 on home ice.
"I thought this was one of the most complete games that we've played all year, against a very good Minnesota Wild team," Trotz said. "I thought we stayed very diligent in terms of how you break their system and don't allow them to counter on you. I thought we did an excellent job. We were really good on face-offs. We got a lot of scoring chances.... They have one of the best special teams combined in the National Hockey League and we matched them in that area. I thought we played physical. We played really smart. I was really happy with almost everybody on the bench tonight."
Special teams play consumed the bulk of the first two periods, as the clubs together committed 19 penalties before the second intermission. Minnesota's first two offenses--Pascal Dupuis' hook at 6:01 and Brian Rolston's cross-check at 6:33--gave the Predators a five-on-three power play that they quickly capitalized on for a 1-0 lead. Steve Sullivan took a pass from defenseman Marek Zidlicky along the left boards in Minnesota's zone, rotated deeper into the corner and stickhandled momentarily before zipping a pass to Adam Hall stationed in front of the net.
"[Sullivan] just made a great pass through the guy's skates and right on my tape," Hall said. "He found me right in the slot. As soon as I got it, I released it as quick as I could and went far side."
The lead stood until 16:31, when a roughing penalty to Nashville goaltender Tomas Vokoun placed the Wild on their fourth power play of the night and defenseman Kurtis Foster scored on a one-timer from the left point that sailed over Vokoun's right shoulder.
The teams traded quality chances while on the man advantage early in the second before Smithson's line converted at even strength at 6:56. Roloson had given up a huge rebound on a shot by Predators forward Jeremy Stevenson when Smithson, who was recalled by Nashville from its American Hockey League affiliate in Milwaukee on Nov. 7, picked up the loose puck while skating diagonally through the slot. He flipped the puck on net and beat the Wild goaltender for the first NHL goal of his career. Defenseman Greg Zanon, who was called up from Milwaukee Thursday morning in time to play against Minnesota, registered an assist on Smithson's goal in his first NHL appearance.
"I was very happy for the guys that got called up," Trotz said. "Smithson got his first NHL goal. He deserves that. That was perfect. And then Greg Zanon got his first NHL assist in his first game, so there are a lot of positives."
"[Zanon] had a really good [training] camp--probably our last cut on defense," Trotz added. "He didn't shave until he got the call up. So he's a cleanly shaved man. They said he was looking pretty rough down there for a month's worth of growth.... He's one of those guys that you're really happy for, because he got here honestly."
Smithson and Zanon are two of four Milwaukee Admirals called up to Nashville within the past 30 days. Forwards Scottie Upshall and Vern Fiddler have made an impact as well in recent games.
"They're definitely giving us some good opportunity, and I think for the most part we're taking advantage of it," Smithson said. "It's definitely always nice to contribute, whether it's scoring goals or on the penalty kill and in the face-off circle. We just want to come out and keep it simple and bring some energy."
After the third period opened with a penalty to each team, the whistles subsided and the sides at last skated five-on-five for a significant stretch. Trotz was then able to roll his four lines and the Predators largely controlled play, using a strong forecheck to hem Minnesota in its own zone and creating turnovers in the neutral zone when the Wild tried to bring the puck up the ice.
"We've always had confidence that we can play better than teams five-on-five," Hall said. "It's just been difficult because there have been so many special teams all year long. When we got that chance I think we were just rolling lines, putting guys out there and we were just able to establish momentum in their end."
Nashville outshot the Wild 17-7 in the final 20 minutes to salt away the win. After allowing the power play goal in the first, Vokoun shut the door in the second and third by stopping all 13 shots he faced.
"We were a little nervous obviously in a one-goal game," Trotz said, "but I really felt that we had good command of the game as long as we stayed on task, and we did. It was a really solid game. If we play like that, we're going to be hard to beat."
Next up for the Predators is a visit from the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night. Game time is 7 p.m. at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Philadelphia is Nashville's first Eastern Conference opponent of the season, and the game will conclude a five-game homestand for Nashville. Less than 2,000 tickets remain for game, and seats can be reserved by calling (615) 770-PUCK, ordering online or visiting the Gaylord Entertainment Center box office or any Ticketmaster outlet.
Notes: Jerred Smithson's first NHL goal--the eventual game-winner Thursday--came in his 39th career game. He also blocked three shots, was a +1 and won six of 12 face-offs... With Adam Hall's first-period goal, the Predators have scored at least one power-play goal in nine straight games, converting on 15 of 65 opportunities... All four of Hall's goals this season have come on the power play... Steve Sullivan's assist on Hall's goal was his 11th of the year and ties him for the team lead in scoring with Paul Kariya... With his assist on Hall's goal, defenseman Marek Zidlicky has eight points (1 goal, 7 assists) in his last six games... Tomas Vokoun has allowed one goal in the Predators' last two games, stopping 31 shots in a 2-0 shutout of Calgary and 19 against Minnesota... Nashville's penalty killers, ranked third overall entering Thursday's game, nullified seven of eight Minnesota power plays and have successfully killed 48 of 53 power-play situations over their last eight games... Nashville's 2-1 win over the Wild was their 10th one-goal win of the season. The Predators are 10-3 in one-goal games... The Predators' win over Minnesota pulls them within three points of the division-leading Detroit Red Wings, who lost 3-2 to the Calgary Flames Thursday night. The Preds have played four fewer games than the Wings... Nashville has registered two straight wins, going 7-1-0 in their last eight at home and 8-2-0 in their last 10 overall... The Predators outshot the Wild 46-20 Thursday night, registering their highest shot total of the season. That comes on the heels of four consecutive games in which they've had at least one period wherein they were outshot by a margin of six or more... Nashville won 58% of the face-offs Thursday night, led by Yanic Perreault's 86% win percentage (13 of 15 draws)... Predators forward Jeremy Stevenson, currently ranked second among Predators in penalty minutes, fought 6'7", 250-pound Minnesota rookie Derek Boogaard late in the second period... Thursday night's attendance was 10,135.
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