Nashville Predators 4, Calgary Flames 2
NASHVILLE -- With the Nashville Predators' power play struggling, and little practice time available owing to a busy schedule, coach Barry Trotz went to an unusual tactic Tuesday during the morning skate: The team practiced its power play.
It worked. Nashville went 2-for-4 and won for the second time in its past eight games, 4-2, against the Calgary Flames at Bridgestone Arena.
In seven games entering Tuesday, the Predators were 1-for-13 on the power play, though they have the seventh-ranked power play in the NHL. Partly as a result, Nashville had won once in that span.
Trotz was asked after the game if that work was worth it.
"I guess so," he said. "We got two. We didn't get a lot of reps. One thing I liked about today is we forced them into penalties. We really forechecked pretty well, we created some turnovers. We got inside position a few times and they were able to have to reach out and grab us or what have you. That was a really good job by us.
"The power play, we did a little bit of work on it and maybe that was the difference, just getting some more reps."
Nashville goalie Carter Hutton (22 saves) earned his first win since Dec. 14. In the first period up 1-0, Hutton made a blocker save on a partial breakaway by Calgary's Lance Bouma.
"Just kind of punched my blocker out there and was able to get a piece of it," Hutton said.
The start was Hutton's first in nine days since Trotz made some critical comments about his play following a 2-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Hutton said his confidence was good.
"I've always felt confident," Hutton said. "I've answered a lot of questions about the last game. That's the way it goes. You're a goalie. If you have a tough night or you give up a tough goal, it falls on you and you battle back."
Trotz said, "I thought he was good … I thought he looked composed. He didn't panic. I thought he moved and exchanged the puck with our [defense] really well. On both goals I didn't have any fault of our goaltender at all."
Two of the NHL's lowest-scoring teams played to form through two periods, with the score tied 1-1. Calgary (16-25-6) had eight goals in the nine games entering Tuesday and was 2-7-0 in those. Nashville (20-21-7) entered with one goal in its previous 145 minutes.
Ryan Ellis scored a beautiful goal to put Nashville ahead. The defenseman skated into Calgary's zone, saw he had plenty of time, and unleashed a wicked slap shot 55 seconds into the third period for his second goal of the season.
"Our forwards did a good job driving the net, which, as a [defenseman], it's tough to gap up there and hold off because there's always going to be a guy behind you if you do," said Ellis, who finished plus-2 in 16:37 of ice time. "Yeah, I just kind of pumped once and got my head up and luckily it went it."
Ellis shot often, which helped to provide some offense. He had four shots, four other attempts blocked, and two that missed the net. He earned a primary assist with 9:08 left when Viktor Stalberg deflected his slap shot.
Nashville's Craig Smith scored his team-leading 14th goal, on the power play at 2:40 of the third, putting in a rebound of Seth Jones' point shot. Calgary goalie Karri Ramo, who was coming off a 2-0 shutout victory Monday against the Carolina Hurricanes, had trouble locating the puck with Nashville forward Nick Spaling creating traffic in front.
Smith said he thought practicing the power play at the morning skate proved useful.
"I think it's always good when you score in practice," Smith said. "You've got to bear down there and you're going to bear down in the game. I thought we did a good job of making plays in practice and taking it serious, and that resulted in some goals tonight."
The Predators are 16-4-2 when they score a power-play goal and 17-2-4 when they score first.
Nashville scored its first power-play goal when Calgary's Matt Stajan went off for interference for the second time in the first period. Roman Josi set up Shea Weber for a one-timer, and Weber put his trademark slap shot above Ramo's catching glove at 15:52. The goal was Weber's 11th, most in the League by a defenseman.
Calgary tied the game with 64 seconds left in the first period. Skating behind the net, Jiri Hudler took advantage of a defensive breakdown by Nashville and found Lee Stempniak open. He buried a wrist shot from 16 feet out.
Calgary had a power-play goal immediately waved off at 4:17 of the third period. The officials ruled the Flames played the puck with a high stick before the shot that eventually went in the net was made.
Mikael Backlund scored with 6:53 left for Calgary.
Flames coach Bob Hartley said Backlund's play has improved a good deal since the start of the season. The goal was Backlund's eighth.
"This guy has so much more to offer," Hartley said. "And he will. There's no doubt in my mind. It's part of our partnership between me and [Backlund] that I need to help him to get it out of him. Many young guys, they need time to find their groove in the NHL, to know how good they are. That's one thing, [Backlund] is unbelievably talented, he's committed, he's lots of fun to work with, and he's just going to get better and better."