The Nashville Predators defensive unit seems to be coming together quite nicely at the 10-game mark of the shortened 48-game season.
The defense has been excellent on the defensive side of the puck as of late, and now they’re starting to generate some offense for the Predators as well. That was the case once again on Thursday night.
Nashville got a 3-0 shutout victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night in front of the 16th consecutive sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators took a 1-0 lead just 2:54 into the first period. Kevin Klein made a great play at the blueline to send the puck around the net. David Legwand took the puck and delivered a brilliant backhand pass to Gabriel Bourque, who one-timed the puck past reigning Conn Smythe trophy winner Jonathan Quick. Bourque had a stellar first period, scoring one goal and creating five scoring chances.
“(Bourque) works so hard day in, day out. He plays bigger than he is, too, which is awesome. He’s doing a great job finding those areas to score. I think those three tonight, him Legwand and Wilson, were pretty dominant in the offensive zone when they got their opportunities,” Klein said.
Klein once again got active on defense in the second period, which led to the Predators’ second goal of the game. Klein took a drop pass from Colin Wilson at the point, and then fired the puck back toward Wilson, who was streaking to the net. Wilson was able to tap it in, and the Predators went up 2-0.
“(Wilson) was rolling up high. He was doing a good job, and he had the guy on him. I jumped down, he dropped it to me and he did a great job of going back to the front of the net. A lot of times, you might hesitate or whatever, but he went right to the soft area in the hash marks and buried it,” Klein said.
Wilson added another goal in the second on the power play, which was again a result of a defenseman starting the play. Shea Weber blasted a shot on goal, and Wilson was there to deposit the rebound. Nashville’s defense corps played an integral role in their offensive production on Thursday night.
“I think we’re just doing a good job when we have the opportunity to incorporate the defense with some high cycles and getting it to the point with shots with traffic. I think we’re doing a lot better job with that. Most of the goals tonight involved shots in traffic. It’s nice to see the defense helping out with that,” Klein said.
The Predators went with seven defensemen in the lineup for the third game in a row and came away with a victory yet again — their fourth in a row overall. Every one of Nashville’s defensemen seem to be playing pretty well so far, and having seven defensemen in the lineup gives the Predators a chance to place them in a situation where they are comfortable. It’s been extremely beneficial for the Predators so far.
“The benefits are just a little more rest overall. You’ve got guys that specialize in certain things. Jon (Blum) is working our second power play, which is nice. He’s doing a good job there. They’re mixing it in. Everyone’s playing with everybody, so I think we’re doing a good job for the most part. You play with everyone, which sometimes is difficult, but I think we’re doing a good job,” Klein said.
With the shutout, Pekka Rinne and the defense in front of him haven’t allowed an even strength goal in over four full games. The last time an opponent scored an even strength goal against the Predators was on Jan. 28 in Phoenix. Rinne is on his A-Game right now, and it’s paying dividends for the Predators.
“I think right now we’re doing a pretty good job of protecting the area around the net. Teams are looking to shoot a lot with traffic, and obviously Peks is a workhorse back there. He’s probably the best goalie in the league, so he’s great at fighting through that traffic and finding those pucks. I think the forwards and defense are doing a pretty good job of boxing them out and keeping them to the outside, and that’s where a lot of their chances are coming from,” Klein said.
Nashville will head to Minnesota on Saturday night to take on the Minnesota Wild for the second time this season before returning to Nashville to take on the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday. It’s possible that Chris Mason will start on Saturday night because of the upcoming back-to-back games. Mason has already beaten the Wild in his one and only start so far this season.