Pekka Rinne had himself a night full of breathtaking, clutch saves. Without much of a cast to offensively support Rinne, however, the Predators dropped an intense game in Chicago in overtime, 2-1.
Last night's game was yet another prime example of the deflating and wildly aggravating contests the Preds have subscribed themselves to this season.
It was another game where the team's big money forwards hardly even registered a pulse on the ice; Viktor Arvidsson and Matt Duchene had just one shot apiece during their combined 38+ minutes off the bench. Arvidsson, Duchene, Filip Forsberg, and Ryan Johansen all left the United Center without recording a single point. Of the 43 shots the Preds clobbered Corey Crawford with last night, just nine of them came from the four forwards.
Forsberg wound up costing the Preds far more than he produced; the forward hooked Brandon Saad on a breakaway, leaving Saad's penalty shot attempt entirely in Rinne's hands (thankfully, Rinne stopped the shot). Forsberg was also the catalyst for Alex DeBrincat's game-tying power play goal, banished to the penalty box for a sloppy late third period trip on Kirby Dach.
Ryan Ellis made his long-awaited return to the ice last night after missing 20 games due to the Corey Perry-caused injury he sustained three minutes into the Winter Classic. The bearded D-man didn't finish with any points, but had two shots, two hits, and a block to account for.
Blowing five power play opportunities is another way to lose to a team below you in the standings. Chicago defenseman Slater Koekkoek spent six minutes in the penalty box last night, effectively reaching out and offering the Preds a win on a silver platter- the Preds just weren't hungry enough to take it.
As he was during last year's short-lived playoff run, Rocco Grimaldi- all five feet and six inches of him- is proving once again to be the Preds' most valuable asset on the ice. With his assist on Mattias Ekholm's goal, Grimaldi (30 points) is now just four points shy of surpassing Johansen's season total.
On a more positive note, the Preds' goaltending is seeing a vast improvement from the first half of this season. Rinne and Juuse Saros- who, in November, were sub-.900 in save percentage- are now posting a .900 and .903, respectively. Though he walked away with the loss last night, Rinne's 36 saves on 38 shots gave him a .947 save percentage.
To cap off the back-to-back, the Preds come home to play the Blue Jackets tonight at 7pm. Columbus is injury-riddled at the moment (Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Dubinsky, and others are all on IR), but is still in hot contention for a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. With 73 points, the Jackets are still a better team than the 66-point Preds. No matter who skates for Columbus tonight, the Preds are still going to have to give a damn.
Luckily, the Jackets are ranked 27th in Goals For (159) and 24th in PP% (16.1). However, they're simultaneously the 10th-best team in PK% (81.9) and are putting the ninth-most shots on goal per game (32.4). The Preds are putting the fifth-most shots on goal per game (33.1), so tonight's starting goalies will have to endure a maelstrom of pucks.