Predators outplay Blues to stay perfect
Rookie defenseman Ryan Suter had two assists and center David Legwand scored his first goal of the season Saturday night to extend the Nashville Predators' perfect record to 5-0-0 with a 4-1 road win over the St. Louis Blues at the Savvis Center. The Predators put together their most complete game of the season in the victory, their first in the Blues' rink since January 4, 2001.
"This building is very, very hard to win in, as we haven't won in nine games," said Predators head coach Barry Trotz, whose team returns home after three away matches in four nights. "It's obviously a little different team than in previous seasons, but one thing that St. Louis has always done is in the first 10 minutes, they've always come storming at you. You've really got to weather that first 10 minutes. I think we took the storm to them."
Predators forward Steve Sullivan, who entered the game tied for the league lead in points, opened the scoring with a breakaway goal 6:37 into the game. Suter collected a turnover at his own blueline and sent a long pass up the center of the ice that teammate Scott Walker redirected toward Sullivan at the opposing blue line. The speedy right wing slipped behind the defense and fired a high shot over Blues goaltender Patrick Lalime for the 1-0 Nashville lead.
"Once we scored that first goal, I think it took them out of their game a little bit," Trotz said.
Penalties to Christian Backman and Jamal Mayers near the end of the first period gave Nashville a five-on-three power play that carried over into the second, but the Predators failed to cash in. Shortly thereafter, Mayers finished off a two-on-one break to tie the game at 1-1. Three minutes later, Suter beelined a 114-foot pass from his own corner to forward Paul Kariya at the far blueline. Kariya entered the zone with a head of steam but was slashed on the play and never managed a shot. Nothing came of the ensuing power play.
At 12:57, though, Kariya picked up a loose puck in his zone and bolted up the ice to press a two-on-one chance with Scott Hartnell. Once inside the right face-off circle, Kariya backhanded a pass to a trailing--and completely unmarked--David Legwand. The 6-2 left-handed shot skated into the slot and ripped the puck into the upper left corner of the net to establish a 2-1 lead for Nashville.
"Obviously [it was] a great drop pass from Paul, but how confidently [Legwand] snapped that up there, that's what you want David to do all the time," Trotz said. "I'm really happy for David there, because certain areas of his game have been much improved. I mean his face-offs are so much better, and now that he's starting to score a little bit, those are key elements for us to be a good hockey team."
Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun made a number of key saves around the 15-minute mark to preserve the lead for Nashville, who extended the margin to 3-1 with less than a minute left in the second period. The goal, a searing blast fired by Scott Hartnell from the right circle, was the Predators' third even-strength tally of the night. Nashville's power play unit, which entered the game ranked second in the league, was held scoreless on seven chances.
"I like the fact that we're not relying strictly on the power play," Trotz said. "We weren't able to execute the way we did in the past, but that's a good job by St. Louis. They're a very good penalty-killing team. They always have been. They took that element of our game out of it today, and we were able to hurt them with another element, and that was the five-on-five [play] and the transitional game."
The Blues put up little fight in the third, with Mayers providing the only real test for Vokoun with less than five minutes remaining. St. Louis pulled Lalime for an extra attacker in the final two minutes, allowing Martin Erat to push a Blues turnover up ice to Greg Johnson for a game-clinching empty net goal.
The Predators return home on Thursday to host the Blues in a rematch at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Game time is 7 p.m. and tickets are still available. For seats, call (615) 770-PUCK, order online or visit the Gaylord Entertainment Center box office or any Ticketmaster location. All fans who attend will receive a free magnetic Predators 2005-06 schedule courtesy of O'Charley's, and hot dogs will be discounted to $1. Those unable to make it in person can view the game on FSN South or listen on WGFX-104.5 FM The Zone.
Notes: Nashville and Ottawa remain the only undefeated teams in the National Hockey League... With the win, the Predators have established their second longest winning streak in franchise history. The Predators need only one more win to tie their longest winning streak (6 games), set from Nov. 24-Dec. 4, 2003... Steve Sullivan extended his point-scoring streak to five games with his goal Saturday night... Paul Kariya and David Legwand each extended scoring streaks to three games... Rookie Ryan Suter recorded his first two-point game as a Predator... Scott Walker, Danny Markov, Martin Erat and Adam Hall each collected an assist in the win... Saturday's game was the first of the season in which the Predators never trailed. It was also the first decided by a margin greater than one goal... Head coach Barry Trotz opted to dress seven defensemen for the game, going with three forward lines and two extra wingers instead of four full lines. "We know that St. Louis comes out and bangs and plays that real hard game," Trotz said, explaining the rationale behind the decision. "I felt that it was an opportunity to get Jamie Allison in and give us some size back there so they don't have that ability to do that. It also gave me probably a little more flexibility with guys like [Jeremy] Stevenson and [Darcy] Hordichuk. What I did was I rotated them a lot with every line. Both of them almost got eight minutes [of ice time] each, which on five-on-five play, that's pretty substantial.... Stevenson and Hordichuk gave us a lot of bang and some energy, and [St. Louis] didn't want to take any cheap shots at any of our skill guys."