That was the game every Preds fan was waiting for.
In front of 17,192 inside Bridgestone Arena, the Nashville Predators turned in a pretty complete effort in a 6-2 victory over the visiting San Jose Sharks.
“Everybody chipped in and we won as a team,” first star of the night Viktor Arvidsson said. “Everybody has to be going. Nobody can sit in the passenger seat. Everybody has to contribute for us to be successful.”
Two goals by Arvidsson and one each from Filip Forsberg, James Neal, Calle Jarnkrok and Shea Weber cultivated to help Nashville improve to 25-20-8 on the season.
Rinne turned another solid performance, turning away 28 shots en route to his 20th win of the season. The Preds netminder is now 4-2-0 in his last six games, having allowed an average of just two goals per game during that stretch.
“We were slow to start,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “The first 20 minutes our best player was Pekka and he really saved our bacon. He kept the game at 0-0.”
Despite being outshot 9-2 up until that point, the Preds impacted the scoreboard first. Ryan Johansen made a spin-o-rama pass from behind the Sharks cage and found Neal in the slot. Neal would one-time the puck into the back of the net for his 19th of the season to give his team the 1-0 lead.
“You go back to why you make a trade and why you made the deal,” Laviolette said. “On the first goal, the play he makes in the sense that he has to pull it, bring it back and then to know where James is going to be and to be able to deliver that pass tape to tape. Not everybody can do that.”
The Predators are now 11-1-3 when Neal scores a goal.
In the middle frame – after a strong penalty kill in which San Jose basically occupied the Nashville zone the entire two minutes – the home team added to their lead when Johansen found new linemate Jarnkrok alone in the slot. Jarnkrok fired a wrister that Jones got with his glove but couldn’t handle cleanly. The puck ended up deflecting into the net for the 2-0 Nashville lead.
“He’s a smart player but he’s a tireless worker too,” Laviolette said about Jarnkrok’s inclusion to the top line. “He’s relentless with his work ethic, constantly tries to dog the puck and hound the puck and a good fit. He has a good skill level where he can play with those guys but he brings speed and aggressiveness to that line.”
The Sharks got on the board thanks to a lucky bounce on the power play. Marc-Edouard Vlasic tried a cross-crease pass to Joe Thornton standing back door but Predators captain Weber blocked it. Unfortunately, the rebound off of Weber went toward the net and behind Rinne. Thornton was able to tap it over the line to cut the lead in half.
The point was Thornton’s 54th all-time against the Predators (47 games).
The joy on the Sharks bench was short lived, however, as Arvidsson raced up ice a minute and half later and, while falling to his knees, tucked a shot under the crossbar for the 3-1 lead.
In the final frame, Forsberg would score on 3-on-1 shorthanded rush, Logan Couture registered a power play tally for the Sharks and Weber would add an empty netter to round out the scoring.
Nashville will now finish up their homestand on Tuesday when Barry Trotz and the Washington Capitals come to town. The Caps are 37-9-4 this season and are the last NHL team without double digits in the regulation loss column.
With a victory Tuesday, the Preds will be 7-3-0 in their last 10 and trending well headed into the stretch run.
Puck drops at 7:00pm Central.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jeremy K. Gover // Nashville Predators Radio Network