Big win in the desert on Monday. Yes, I agree, the Nashville Predators “have” to beat the Arizona Coyotes, but sometimes you’re going to run into a hot goaltender who puts the outcome in question, even if you’re playing a bottom-dwelling team.
The thing that lingers with me after that game is the determination shown by the Preds. They scored first and outplayed the Coyotes for much of the game, but the host team refused to roll over. Arizona hung in there; got one in the third to tie it, and they pushed it to extra time.
The way things have gone over the last handful of games, it’s not difficult to envision a scenario where that one gets away from the Predators. But at the same time, you expect a player like James Neal to come through and make a difference at a key moment like he did.
The fairly straightforward point I want to make is how critical scoring from the deeper part of the roster becomes, especially at this time of year. Remember, it’s shut-down center, face-off specialist, first-wave penalty killer, part-time tough guy, Paul Gaustad that opened the scoring and registered the Preds only regulation goal of the night. That was the first time in 12 contests Nashville had potted the first goal of a game - don’t tell me that’s not a huge tally.
This time of year, you’re facing three types of teams, generally speaking: those that are fighting for their playoff lives, those that are battling to draw a more favorable first-round opponent and those that are battling for home ice. And with that, everyone you play tends to have their game in order.
For that reason, lines one and two cannot always be counted on to contribute everything offensively, because they’re often playing through heavier coverage. Therefore, you often need the bottom six forwards to have a greater impact. It’s a winning recipe when lines three and four can outplay their counterparts on the other side. This is what makes for the most entertaining hockey of the season now that we’ve reached this time of year.
Watch for Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribeiro, James Neal and the rest of the top two lines to do what they do. But also look for the Gabriel Bourque, Taylor Beck and Eric Nystrom types to play hero from time to time through March and beyond.