The Nashville Predators battled through a difficult first period Tuesday night, overcoming a slow start against the visiting Calgary Flames and getting a big goal from Vernon Fiddler just before the first intermission to give goaltender Tomas Vokoun a lead he would never relinquish en route to a 2-0 shutout at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Fiddler also assisted on a pretty give-and-go play that Scott Hartnell deposited with 15 seconds remaining in the third period to seal the win.
"[Tomas] was unbelievable," Fiddler said. "He really stood in there for us. Without him we wouldn't have even come close to winning that game. We were pretty sluggish throughout the game but we still found a way to find a win and it had a lot to do with him."
With the victory, the Predators' record improves to 15-4-3 overall and 11-2-0 at home.
Calgary set Nashville on its heels early on, registering six shots in the game's first five-and-a-half minutes. Then a hooking penalty to Predators center David Legwand put the Flames on the power play at 7:24. Nashville's penalty killers were very effective in negating Calgary's man advantage, but the home team struggled with neutral zone turnovers, off-target passes and problems clearing their own zone through the first 10 minutes despite having a power play of their own. It wasn't until the Flames' second penalty that the Predators began to find their legs.
"I think our power play--we weren't getting any goals but what it did is it sort of got us into a little bit of a rhythm," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "A skating rhythm. A work rhythm. It was a positive effect for us. We didn't get any goals but we had a lot of zone time, and when you get a lot of zone time you can sort of build off of that. If you can't get into their zone and they keep getting it out, it gets a little bit frustrating that way. But we had pretty good zone time so that was a positive to build on."
"We finally got settled down and started working the puck around in their end and finally got out of our end," Hamhuis said. "From there on it was kind of a momentum change and we got our game back."
Roughly a minute-and-a-half after their five-on-four advantage expired, the Predators picked up the puck in the neutral zone with numbers in their favor. Fiddler pushed the play quickly up ice and went wide right on the Calgary defender who dove in a vain attempt to poke the puck away. Fiddler cut to the net, went from his backhand to his forehand and put a shot to the far side past Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff for a 1-0 lead at 18:33.
"It was just kind of a transition play and we got it up," Fiddler said. "I swung away from the puck and I was the wide guy and [Hamhuis] got it and I had a little bit of a step on the d-man. I drove the d-man wide and got around and Kiprusoff was down. I just drove it to the net trying to get a shot on net and luckily it went in."
Nashville went back on the power play at the 19:14 mark and nearly scored again as Adam Hall just missed getting his stick on a cross-ice pass with Kiprusoff out of position. Despite being outshot 10-6 in the first period, Nashville carried a one-goal lead and some momentum into the first intermission.
"Well, we certainly didn't deserve it," Hamhuis said of the lead. "Tomas kept us in in the first. They were all over us. It was a huge break to get that goal. It got us back in the game. I thought we battled back hard in the second and third."
Vokoun was called on early in the second as well. He turned away a blast from the slot by Byron Ritchie a minute and a half in, then made two big saves during a Flames' power play--one being a shot from the high slot by Calgary center Steven Reinprecht. Vokoun didn't have to make a save on Reinprecht's best chance though, as the 6'0", 191-pound center shot a rebound through the crease and missed a gaping net.
Defenseman Jamie Allison, filling in for the injured Danny Markov, then stepped up with a big shift, pinching to successfully keep the puck in the offensive zone and delivering two crunching hits that seemed to spark more physical play. Later in the period, Hamhuis delivered a solid check while wedging an oncoming Stephane Yelle into the boards, but was then rocked by Chris Simon who was whistled for boarding. Hamhuis got his revenge in the third with a strong open-ice hit on Simon that separated the feisty winger from his stick.
After committing a hooking penalty late in the second that Nashville successfully killed, Fiddler opened the third by setting up a quality scoring chance and then getting one of his own. Neither beat Kiprusoff, but later, as the final seconds ticked off the clock, he connected with Hartnell on an odd-man break to extinguish the Flames' lingering hopes of a comeback.
"[Kiprusoff] was going to go to the bench for their extra attacker and we kind of caught him standing still," Fiddler said. "I just faked a shot and I saw [Hartnell] back-door and just fed it to him."
That was the only power play goal in 13 combined opportunities for the two teams. Calgary, who entered the game ranked last on the road in penalty killing, was aggressive and efficient while short-handed. ""It seemed like the puck was bouncing quite a bit tonight and they were just trying to put as much pressure as they could," Hall said. "At times is was tough for us to settle it down and make the plays and they did a great job forcing."
Nashville, fourth overall on the penalty kill, lived up to its ranking by blanking the Flames six times in a game that evolved into a battle of the short-handed units.
"I think the reason for that is there were two great goalies in the game tonight and they've got to be your best penalty killer every night," Hamhuis said. "And I think that's why they were both successful."
Vokoun turned away all 31 shots fired by Calgary, while Kiprusoff stopped 15 of 17 Predators shots.
"There are many wins that we can chalk up to just a fabulous performance by Tomas Vokoun," Trotz said. "I thought today he was very good. They had shots but I thought we did a really good job of keeping them to the outside a little bit, and the ones that they did have from in close, he just looked real solid and he moved really well."
"It was a good game," Vokoun said. "Obviously the goals are kind of the top for fans, but it was a good game all around. If you know hockey and you like hockey--all the aspects--you've got to like a game even like that. Yes, you like to see goals but it was a tough, hard-hitting-battle hockey game. I think that's as appealing as playing 6-5."
Next, Nashville plays host to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Tickets are still available for the game and can be purchased by calling (615) 770-PUCK, ordering online, or visiting any Ticketmaster location. On Saturday, the Predators will close out the current five-game homestand with their first contest against an Eastern Conference opponent, the Philadelphia Flyers. Tickets remain for that game as well.
Notes: Vernon Fiddler's goal against Calgary was his first point of the season as a Predator and the fifth goal of his NHL/Predators career. "It's been a while," Fiddler said. "Since 2002. But I've just been trying to work my hardest, and I knew if I kept working my hardest I'd have some chances. And tonight I got a couple and bared down on one"... Scott Hartnell's power play goal at 19:45 of the third period extended Nashville's string of consecutive games with a power-play goal to eight. They have scored 14 pp goals during that span... Hartnell has goals in three of Nashville's last four games. All three have come in the third period and two of the three were scored on the power play. Six of Hartnell's nine goals scored this season have come in the third period... The Predators were outshot 31-17 by the Flames and are now 10-3-3 in games in which they have been outshot. They have allowed over 30 shots by their opponents in 13 of their last 16 games. The 17 shots registered Tuesday is Nashville's lowest total of the season... Tomas Vokoun's shutout was his first of the season and first since a 4-0 whitewash the Minnesota Wild on February 26, 2004. He now has 13 career shutouts. The last seven--including Tuesday's--have come on home ice... The Predators are now 15-4-3 on the season for 33 points in the standings, their best-ever performance through 22 games. Their previous best was 11-10-1-0 for 23 points in 2003-04... The Predators have a positive goal differential through 22 games for the first time in franchise history. The team has scored 65 goals while giving up 57 (+8 differential). The next closest differential through 22 games was in 2003-04, when the team was -2 (56 goals for, 58 goals against). Nashville's 65 goals are also the highest total the club has scored through 22 games. The previous best was 58 in 2001-02... Greg Johnson and Danny Markov were scratches for Nashville. Both are sidelined with groin injuries... Tuesday night's attendance was 12,797.
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