Photo by John Russell
Rookie defenseman Shea Weber scored his first career NHL goal in the second period.
There were many bright spots for the Nashville Predators Thursday night as the team scored three power-play goals, limited its number of trips to the penalty box, and played sound defense to secure a shutout for goaltender Chris Mason in a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Blues at the Savvis Center. The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for Nashville as the club quickly rebounded from a disappointing 4-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday night.
"For the most part, when the game was really on the line, we did a good job making sure that we didn't put ourselves in any difficult situations," Predators goaltending coach Mitch Korn said. "We kept the penalties at the key moments down. We had some really good scoring chances. We held a team under 20 shots for the first time this season."
Yanic Perreault paced the offense with three assists while Kimmo Timonen, Shea Weber and Paul Kariya each posted one goal and one assist. Though the Predators outplayed the Blues five-on-five, all of the scoring came on the power play. Nashville finished the game three-for-seven with the man advantage; the three tallies marked the first time in nine games that the Predators' special teams have struck for more than one power-play goal in a contest.
The Predators delivered a thorough defeat in St. Louis, not only winning on the scoreboard but outshooting the Blues 30-18, dominating in the face-off circle 63 percent to 37 percent, and edging their physical Central Division rivals in hits 12-11. Nashville is now 7-0-0 against the Blues this season, with the last of eight meetings coming next Tuesday in St. Louis.
In the meantime, the Predators will look to exact some revenge on Chicago for Wednesday's loss when they host the Blackhawks Saturday at the Gaylord Entertainment Center for a 7 p.m. tilt. Tickets are still available for that game and can be purchased by calling (615) 770-PUCK, ordering online or visiting the GEC box office or any Ticketmaster location. All fans in attendance will receive a free Steve Sullivan Wobbler courtesy of FSN South and Comcast.
Mason, starting his second consecutive game in place of sidelined goaltender Tomas Vokoun, was sharp against the Blues after struggling early in the Chicago game on Wednesday. He turned away all 18 shots he faced Thursday--including two breakaways by point-per-game winger Keith Tkachuk--to record the second shutout of his NHL career.
"You get measured in this game on how, when things become difficult, you respond," Korn said. "You've got to give [Mason] high marks for coming out and playing the way he did. You can't always control the shutout but you strive to play a perfect game. And that perfect game may not be a shutout. Tonight he played pretty darn close to a perfect game, in the way he handled the puck and everything he did. And fortunately it turned out to be a shutout. But it's really more about winning."
The Predators had a productive start against the Blues. Perreault's mid-air deflection of Timonen's point shot hit the post at 4:55 as Nashville skated on its first power play. No goal came during that manpower advantage, but with just over seven minutes gone, hard-hitting winger Darcy Hordichuk nailed defenseman Jeff Woywitka in the corner and drew a penalty when Tkachuk retaliated at 7:20. Fifty seconds later, Timonen and Perreault combined again on a scoring chance--this time connecting to put the Predators up 1-0.
The play developed as Kariya carried the puck into the offensive zone for Nashville. At the left point he dropped the puck for Mike Sillinger, who was trailing. Sillinger then slid the puck inside the blue line to the center of the ice where Weber lined up for a big slapshot. Perreault, screening in front, deflected the puck to the right circle for Timonen to fire into a largely empty net at 8:10.
Weber extended the lead to 2-0 15:04 into the second period when he scored his first career NHL goal. Again a penalty left the Blues outnumbered by one, and Kariya and Perreault cycled the puck low on the right side before Perreault delivered the puck across the ice to Weber. From the top of the left circle, the rookie defenseman unleashed a cannon of a shot that beat St. Louis goaltender Reinhard Divis. "It was a bomb," Korn said of Weber's blast. "I mean he just hammered it. As did Timonen [on his goal]. He put a rebound right in the roof. It was a fantastic shot."
Nashville's final goal came from the stick of Kariya at 5:36 of the third. The same power-play unit that generated the first two goals--Kariya, Perreault, Timonen, Weber and Mike Sillinger--was on the ice again following a tripping call to Matt Walker. Set up in the Blues' zone, Perreault passed the puck from his spot along the right wall to Timonen at the tip of the umbrella formation. The defenseman wound up for a long, straight-on slapshot, but modified it to a hard pass to Kariya alone near the right post. Kariya tipped the pass on goal and was stopped by Divis, but the alert playmaker pulled the rebound to his forehand and tucked it around the St. Louis goalie into the far side of the net.
At the other end of the rink, Mason repeatedly stepped up with big saves when tested. But the number of prime chances by St. Louis was limited, as Mason's teammates provided more solid defensive zone coverage than in recent games to contribute to the shutout.
"The team defense was real strong in front," Korn said. "Guys did a really good job giving [Mason] the chance to see pucks, clearing rebounds, preventing good scoring chances. Tkachuk had two breakaways--they caught us twice--and 'Mase' stopped both of them. Those were key."
Notes: Thursday's shutout was Nashville's fifth of the season--one short of tying the single-season franchise record of six set in 2000-01. It was the Predators' 26th whitewash in team history... Nashville has outscored St. Louis by a combined 23-10 in seven games this season... Yanic Perreault posted three assists and now has six helpers in as many games since returning from a knee injury that kept him out of 11 contests. Thursday's game was his 10th multi-point performance of the season and the second time in 2005-06 that he's collected three or more points in one match... Shea Weber not only posted the first goal of his NHL career, but he recorded his first multi-point game as well by adding an assist. He also registered a game-high six shots on goal, a personal best... Paul Kariya tallied a goal and an assist and has accumulated 14 points (6g-8a) in his last 11 games. Thursday's contest was his team-leading 23rd multi-point performance of the season. He continues to lead the team in scoring with 78 points (28g-50a)... Kimmo Timonen's one goal and one assist push him up to sixth on the Predators season scoring list with 47 points (11g-36a). Thursday marked his 12th multi-point game of the season. Both of his points came on the power play, and he now ranks second on the team in power-play points with 35 (8g-27a). Kariya leads the club with 43 (13g-30a)... Thursday's result marked the first shutout win of goaltender Chris Mason's career. His only previous shutout came in a 0-0 tie vs. Los Angeles on Jan. 13, 2004. With the 3-0 blanking of the Blues, he earned his seventh win of the season and is now 7-5-1... Four of Nashville's last five goals have come from defensemen... The Predators allowed the fewest shots (18) since holding the Dallas Stars to 17 in a 2-1 loss on Dec. 26, 2003... Scratches for Nashville Thursday were Steve Sullivan, Marek Zidlicky, Jordin Tootoo, Tomas Vokoun, Scottie Upshall, David Legwand and Ryan Suter... Attendance at the Savvis Center was 14,229.
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