Even at a time when offense is imperative, the Nashville Predators continue to think defense first.
On Wednesday, that approach paid off with a pair of goals within 44 seconds in the closing minutes that lifted the Predators to a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks before 14,731 at Bridgestone Arena.
Both Colin Wilson’s game-winning goal with 2:32 to play and the one scored by Sergei Kostitsyn a brief moment earlier came on counter-attacks against one of the NHL’s most gifted offensive teams.
“The counters were good,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… It has to do with [the fact that] we defended well, they tried something a little more risky and you’re able to counter from it.
“Good defense led to good offense.”
The Predators rank among the bottom third of the NHL in goals per game, yet are fifth in the Western Conference for goal differential with a plus-7. That’s because their goals-against average of 2.33 is fourth overall and second in the Western Conference.
They prefer to get an early lead and try to hold it, but did not have that luxury against the Sharks. San Jose got the only goal of the first period and had the lead for 44:07 of the 60 minutes played.
Nashville pulled even briefly when Jordin Tootoo was credited with a second-period goal that went in off the stick of Sharks’ forward. It was only when Wilson finished off a 3-on-1, courtesy of a crossing pass from Steve Sullivan, that the Predators led for the first time.
“They have a great team, and that was a really fast-paced game,” Wilson said. “I think to get those two quick goals was great for our team and great for our confidence.”
Whereas Wilson had all the time and space he needed to handle the pass from Sullivan, Kostitsyn had to be a bit more precise on his goal.
He drove the slot hard as Shea Weber attacked down the right wing and was going so hard when he redirected Weber’s crossing pass into the net that he crashed into the boards behind the net. He celebrated his second goal in as many games and his seventh straight contest with a point flat on his back.
“We made some key mistakes at key times and you lose the game just like that,” San Jose center Joe Thornton said.
Not long after they went in front, the Predators had no choice but to focus on defense. Tootoo was sent off for a delay of game penalty with 1:52 to play, and the Sharks pulled their goaltender in order to maximize their advantage. They created some prime scoring chances but failed to get the equalizer.
“A lot of twists and turns, but it was a pretty solid night,” Trotz said.
The victory was Nashville’s fourth straight, a season-high, and extended to nine — one short of the franchise record — the current streak of games in which it has earned at least a point.
No team has scored more than three goals against the Predators in those eight games, and those eight opponents have combined for just 12 goals.
“It was 2-1 with five minutes left [and] we didn’t panic on the bench,” J-P Dumont said. “We just knew we had to keep going and work hard.”
And continue to play defense.
• Patric Hornqvist, who is tied for the team lead with eight goals, was scratched when it was determined following the morning skate that he was hampered by an upper-body injury.
He was one of only nine players who had appeared in each of the first 29 contests.
“We adjusted,” Trotz said. “It’s a little bit of an upper body injury. Hopefully we’ll have a better idea [Thursday] of where we’re at.”
Trotz added that Hornqvist is questionable for Friday’s game at New Jersey and that it’s possible someone would be recalled from Milwaukee for that game.
• Goalie Anders Lindback’s shutout streak ended at 128:58 when he gave up the first goal to Niclas Wallin. Before that, the last goal Lindback allowed was to Detroit’s Johan Franzen with 1:33 to play on Dec. 8.
“I knew it was going to come sooner or later,” Lindback said. “I just do what I always do — just try not to think about it and try to just go on with the next puck.”