The Predators came back to Nashville for some home cooking on Thursday night.
Craig Smith recorded his first-career hat trick, and Juuse Saros was perfect, as the Preds shut out the New York Islanders by a 5-0 final at Bridgestone Arena. The result sees the Predators finish the season series with the Islanders by outscoring them 13-3 - and more importantly, they added two more points in the standings.
Thursday's outing began a stretch that sees the Preds play eight of their next 10 games in their home building, a spot where the team hasn't had the success they've seen in past seasons. That fact was a point of emphasis when Predators Head Coach John Hynes addressed his team over the past two days, and by the time the night was done, the results had come.
"The guys did a good job, particularly coming off [a four-game road trip]," Hynes said. "We talked about it yesterday at practice, having a certain amount of energy level, mental focus, preparation that we wanted to have in the way that we played, so it was nice to see the players do the job that they did tonight. They also get rewarded for it on the scoresheet. It was great for our fans and great for our players to go fight again in an environment that's a real home-ice advantage."
"It's a good team win," Saros said. "Everybody played really well and really bought in. It's been a while since we played a good game at home, and it was nice to get a few goals right from the start."
Video: NYI@NSH: Smith nets sharp-angle shot 35 seconds in
Smith didn't waste much time - just 35 seconds into the contest, in fact - to beat Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss over the shoulder for his first of the night, and Smith added another midway through the frame with a snipe from the slot.
Video: NYI@NSH: Smith nets Grimaldi centering feed from slot
Mattias Ekholm made it 3-0 Predators in the opening 14 minutes, and that spelled the end of the night for Greiss, who was pulled in favor of Semyon Varlamov.
Video: NYI@NSH: Ekholm fires wrist shot home in transition
"Another thing we talked about is that our second periods haven't been great as of late," Grimaldi said. "I feel like other teams take momentum, whether we're taking bad penalties or they're just playing better than us 5-on-5. Coming in with the lead after the first, we knew we had to keep our foot on the gas pedal."
Video: NYI@NSH: Grimaldi nets wrister after forcing turnover
The switch in net didn't make much of a difference, however, as Rocco Grimaldi tallied his 10th of the season early in the second stanza. Then, Roman Josi's pass turned into his 42nd assist of the season, as Smith lit the lamp for the third time to give the Preds a 5-0 advantage.
Video: NYI@NSH: Smith scores top shelf to finish first hatty
For a veteran player like Smith, who has put the puck in the net with ease throughout the course of his NHL career, it was almost a surprise to realize he had yet to tally three in one night. But there's a first time for everything in this League, and it was a perfect time for No. 15 to tickle the twine.
"It was awesome seeing him rewarded like that," Grimaldi said of Smith. "I didn't know it was his first [hat trick]. I could've sworn it was his 10th or 11th the way he shoots the puck. It was special… It was a lot of fun to watch."
Meanwhile, at the other end of the ice, Saros put forth one of his best efforts of the season by stopping all 31 shots he faced - including 14 in the first period - for his second shutout of the campaign.
Video: NYI@NSH: Saros records second career shutout
"He has been outstanding," Smith said of Saros. "It was great, he played well and had some really good stops and saw it well tonight."
"In the third period, we were trying to play for Juice," Grimaldi said of Saros. "He played great the whole game and kept us in it. I felt like you could have been 2-1 or 2-2 at a couple points in the first, and we wanted to give him a shutout, and we did."
Thursday's triumph gives the Preds victories in three of their last five games - and arguably only two poor periods of hockey over that time span - but a massive weekend lies ahead. A pair of dates with the Central Division leaders, the St. Louis Blues, now come to the forefront, and the Predators will need to be at their best against the defending champs.
But there is also a new confidence in the Nashville locker room that hasn't been seen in a little while. They need the wins more than ever now too.
"The message to our team was that we've got to compete 60 minutes together," Hynes said. "We feel like we played some good hockey, even though we didn't win the [last] game [in Vancouver], and sometimes in this League, you're going to play well and lose. But the important thing is to really take the end result and not be emotional about it, really assess what the game was and that's what we did. I think the players responded well; they've done a great job."
Video: Smith nets hat trick, Predators blank Islanders
The Preds have earned at least a point in eight of their last nine meetings with New York (7-1-1), including wins in five straight.
Prior to Thursday's game, the Predators reassigned forward Yakov Trenin to Milwaukee of the AHL.
Colin Blackwell and Matt Irwin were scratched for the Preds on Thursday night.
After returning home to face the Islanders, the Predators will now prepare for an important weekend - a back-to-back set with the St. Louis Blues. It starts on Saturday afternoon in Missouri at 2 p.m. CT before the second half comes Sunday evening at Bridgestone Arena, a 5 p.m. puck drop (get tickets).