Predators stay hot, defeat Jets
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — As the media approached Mattias Ekholm in the Nashville Predators’ locker room after Monday night’s game, defense partner Roman Josi felt the need to issue a warning.
“Careful, he’s hot,” Josi cracked.
Hot in a way no Nashville defenseman has ever been, and no NHL defenseman has been in more than a year and a half.
Ekholm’s power-play goal in the last minute of the second period gave him markers in four straight games and capped a three-goal outburst in the period that gave the Predators control in a 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets at Bridgestone Arena.
Ekholm’s slapper at 19:02, teed up by Josi’s second assist of the period, marked the first time a Nashville blueliner had scored goals in four consecutive games. It’s also the first time since San Jose’s Brent Burns pulled off the feat from Feb. 29-March 7 of 2016 that any defenseman lit the lamp in four in a row.
“I play on a really good power-play unit,” Ekholm said. “Kyle (Turris), Roman and my teammates are giving me good looks. Roman is doing a good job of attracting two guys to him and then it’s almost like a 4-on-2 on the other side. We have two good (power play) units, and that feels good.”
No team in the league is purring along with the man advantage at home like the Predators (12-6-2). Their two goals on the power play give them 15 in 37 chances at home, an absurd 40.5 success rate. And their first goal of the night, a backhander by Kevin Fiala at 3:31 of the first period, came on a delayed penalty that was a de facto 6-on-5.
Since acquiring Turris from Ottawa as part of a three-way trade Nov. 5, Nashville has notched seven man-advantage goals in his five games. Turris was responsible for the first one Monday night, scalding a one-timer by Connor Hellebuyck at 11:32 of the second period off a Josi feed.
Turris has two goals and three assists with his new team, but feels like the best is yet to come.
“I still feel like we have another gear we can hit,” he said. “That being said, this was a big win.”
Winnipeg (12-5-3) entered the night having lost just twice in regulation since the season’s first week. And the Jets looked like the better team through 20 minutes, outshooting the Predators 12-5 and earning a 1-1 deadlock on Mathieu Perreault’s fourth goal, a deflection of Tyler Myers’ one-timer.
But it took Nashville 26 seconds to turn momentum in its favor for good. Ryan Johansen took a pass from Filip Forsberg in the slot and zipped a wrister over Hellebuyck’s glove to snap the tie and pick up his 300th NHL point.
Three power plays and lots of zone time followed for the Predators after that. Before Winnipeg could get back to the locker room, its promising start became a 4-1 deficit it couldn’t quite overcome.
“Self-inflicted wounds on the penalty kill,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “We were chasing things you can’t chase, and we had turnovers you can’t have. Too much time in the box.”
Winnipeg could have injected real doubt into the outcome in the first nine minutes of the third period. But Kyle Connor’s backhander flew over an open net and the Jets couldn’t convert on a power play.
Nick Bonino ended any remaining suspense with a rebound tally at 9:16, his third goal, for a 5-1 Nashville margin. Myers and Perreault tacked on goals in the final nine minutes to make the margin more respectable, but it wasn’t enough to extend the Jets’ four-game winning streak.
Pekka Rinne (11-3-2) stopped 32 shots for the Predators, who have won seven of eight games, while Hellebuyck (11-2-2) made 24 saves.
One of those wasn’t on Ekholm’s bomb in the second period’s final minute, a moment that put him in the 20-year-old franchise’s history books.
“I think what we’re seeing is that he’s got a great shot right now,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said of Ekholm. “He’s a great player who’s playing a 200-foot game. He’s playing both sides — left side, right side, it doesn’t matter — and he’s bringing the hammer.”
NOTES: Nashville recalled G Juuse Saros, C Frederick Gaudreau and LW Pontus Aberg from Milwaukee of the AHL while sending G Anders Lindback down to Milwaukee. Aberg drew into the lineup in place of the suspended Austin Watson. ... Winnipeg D Ben Chiarot took Toby Enstrom’s spot alongside Dustin Byfuglien in just his second game of the year. Enstrom (lower-body injury) could be out for eight weeks. ... The Jets scratched D Tucker Poolman, C Shawn Matthias and C Marko Dano. ...C Frederick Gaudreau was the Predators’ only scratch.