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Sluggish Start Costs Predators Versus Flyers

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

A sluggish start cost the Nashville Predators on Saturday afternoon.

The Preds had a tough time mustering chances through the first two periods of play, registering just three and four shots in the first and second frames, respectively.

Nashville forward Craig Smith tied things up early in the third period, but the Preds fell 3-2 in a shootout to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center in the matinee contest.

“We were slow getting off the mark,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “The third period and the overtime were good. But a little bit slow for a couple periods.”

Nine minutes into the first period, Wayne Simmonds deflected a puck that bounced up from the ice and over Pekka Rinne’s shoulder to give the Flyers a 1-0 edge midway through the opening stanza.

Before the first period was out, however, Preds forward Colin Wilson intercepted Michael Del Zotto’s pass in the neutral zone and fired a shot that beat Flyers netminder Rob Zepp short side to knot the contest at one apiece. The tally was Wilson’s 19th of the campaign and extended his new career high in goals and points (39 pts).

The Flyers retook a one-goal lead with Ryan White’s second of the season in just his 11th game of the campaign roughly halfway through the middle period.

The visitors needed a strong opening to the final frame to turnaround what had been a incohesive performance on offense to that point in the game.

On the first shift of the third, the Predators broke into the Flyers defensive end with a 3-on-2, odd-man rush. Mike Fisher hit Smith with a long pass from just inside the blue line to the high slot, where Smith buried the chance to make things 2-2.

“We knew [the third period] had to be our turn to do what we needed to do to be successful,” Fisher said. “I think the first two [periods] were the worst we’ve played in a long time, and I’ve got to give the [Flyers] credit, they came hard and forechecked well.

While Fisher and Co. were willing to give Philadelphia credit, the Preds were well-aware that their play during certain junctures of the game wasn’t where they expect it to be.

“We’ve got to be better, and better than we were the other night on Long Island too,” Fisher said. “You go through some ups and downs, and I feel like we haven’t been on our game the last little bit. We’ve got to turn it around and learn from this. Sometimes you’ve got to focus on [parts of the game] in order to be successful and get back to them.”

Third Period Turnaround:

With just seven total shots through the first two periods, the Predators were forced to rely on a dominant third period output, like they’ve done in dozens of past games.

Twenty-three seconds in, Smith scored the 67th third-period goal for the Preds this season (the fourth highest total in the NHL) as Nashville outshot Philadelphia 10-7 in the final frame after only putting up seven shots through the first 40 minutes of the contest.

“I thought the second half of the game we showed up, had a lot of chances and could have scored more in the third period or overtime,” Laviolette said. “But like I said, we were slow getting out of the gate.”

Talk in the locker room was short and straightforward during the second intermission according to Fisher. The Predators expect better out of themselves through 40 minutes than what they turned in on Saturday in Philadelphia.

“It was everyone,” Fisher said of who led the rallying cry prior to the start of the third. “We knew what we needed to do and Laviolette laid down the line. We all knew we weren’t playing well. Third periods have been our period all year long and we were solid in it. We got a point and we’ll roll into Buffalo tomorrow.”

Franson, Santorelli Debut with Preds (Again):

Nearly a week after being traded to the Predators, the team that originally drafted them, defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli laced up the skates for Nashville on Saturday. The pair of former Toronto Maple Leafs got in one practice with their new club on Friday, but overall there was little time to prepare for their first chance to skate for a new coach and under a new system.

“I was mainly going on adrenaline and trying to keep some mental notes in the back of my head,” Santorelli said. “I kind of had to rely on past experiences, but we’ll learn as we go here.

“It was exciting to finally get a game under our belts. I just wish we would have had a different outcome in the end."

Santorelli finished with 12:11 of ice time and one shot on goal on the afternoon, playing on the Preds third line with Matt Cullen and Calle Jarnkrok. Franson registered two shots and blocked three in 17:52.

“It’s always an adjustment and I’ve been there,” forward Cullen said Friday of joining a new team midseason. “I’ve been traded near the deadline before, there’s a lot to take in, plus getting to know the guys and getting a feel for each other.”

Franson had a quality chance to give the Predators their first lead of the contest in the third frame, but was turned aside by Zepp’s pad. The blueliner logged nearly 20 minutes of ice time while skating mostly with Mattias Ekholm on Saturday.

“It was tough to get a read early on [them],” Laviolette said of Franson and Santorelli. “I think as a group we needed to be quicker with what we were doing. In the third period and overtime we found our stride a little bit.”

End Game:

Nashville fell for the first time in a matinee game this season, putting their record at 5-0-1 in afternoon contests.

The Predators head to Buffalo for a game with the Sabres on Sunday evening, their eighth back-to-back situation this season. Nashville is now 5-0-3 on the front end of back-to-backs and 2-3-2 in the latter contest.

The Preds are now 0-1-1 on their current three-game road trip, having lost to the Islanders 5-2 on Thursday night. Nashville is yet to lose back-to-back games in regulation this season.

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