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Preds Practice Ponderings: November 2

Broken Face-Off Play Worked Anyway, Helped to Build Preds Confidence

by Brooks Bratten @brooksbratten / Communications & Content Coordinator

In the grand scheme of things, Matt Irwin's goal on Tuesday night against Colorado - the second of five tallies for the Predators in a 5-1 win - didn't necessarily seal a victory for Nashville.

But in the moment, the goal, which officially went down as the game-winner once the night was done, did a world of good for the Preds en route to snapping a three-game winless streak.

"It was a real big goal at the time of the game," Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "It worked out well, and for a set play that got broken up a little bit, I thought the end result was pretty good."

Video: NSH@COL: Irwin scores his first goal as a Predator

Nashville's start against the Avalanche couldn't have gone any better. Craig Smith gave the Preds a 1-0 lead less than two minutes in, but Jarome Iginla brought the opponents even only a few minutes later.

Then with 2:13 left to play in the opening frame, the Preds got an offensive zone faceoff to the left of the Colorado net. The newly constructed line of Ryan Johansen centering Filip Forsberg and James Neal was on the ice, with Yannick Weber and Irwin at the blue line.

Prior to the drop of the puck, linesman Scott Driscoll excused Johansen from the circle, forcing Forsberg to step in to take the draw, while Neal stayed in his spot to the right of the dot. Forsberg, arguably the most skilled player on the Preds roster, won the puck back to Neal with his skate after failing to do so on the first attempt with his stick.

"I just tried to win the faceoff," Forsberg laughed. "I'm usually not taking faceoffs, so I tried to do my best and get the puck back. Nealer did a good job picking it up and made a great play."

Neal then whipped a no-look, backhand pass to a streaking Irwin across the ice, who was jumping into the play from his point position.

"We talked about the play and with a face-off win there in the O zone, I was going backdoor," Irwin said. "Whether it was going to get to me or go back to Weber with a shot and maybe a rebound for me, but just to get some motion and kind of throw some confusion at their D and it worked out really well. And Nealer made a good move to pull it to his backhand and get it over."

A perfectly placed shot from the blueliner at the left circle beat goaltender Semyon Varlamov with just four seconds ticking off the clock in the time it took the puck to leave the linesman's hand until it was in the back of the net.

"The face-off play was a little bit broken, but I think still to be able to pull it together not having the original centerman in there, Nealer having to go unconventional on the pass from what he normally might do, and I think Matty just making a nice shot on the play, it worked well," Laviolette said.

And to see Irwin, who didn't even start the season with the team out of training camp, rewarded for his determination to contribute is just as gratifying as the play itself.

"I remember when we left training camp with Matt coming in here, and maybe he wasn't sure of the system or his new team or whatever, and he mentioned that he knows he can play better," Laviolette said. "He went down [to Milwaukee] and he was the best player down there, came back up here and got an opportunity. He's looking really good, so it was clear to see what type of player he is, and how he's been able to help our team."

As the final 40 minutes played out, Johansen, Roman Josi and Smith (again) padded the lead and guaranteed a victory and giving the Predators a chance to finish their road trip with a .500 mark.

But Forsberg's skate, Neal's stick and Irwin's shot combined for a surge of momentum at the time, helping lead the Preds to their Rocky Mountain high.

"That was a huge goal," Johansen said. "We feel like we've been snake bitten a bit with bounces and luck and things like that, and to see them start going in it was nice."


Preds Captain Mike Fisher, who left Tuesday's game against Colorado with an upper-body injury, did not practice on Wednesday and is considered day-to-day. Center Mike Ribeiro did not practice and was given a maintenance day.

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