The Nashville Predators deep sixed any initial fears of how they might fare without starting goalie Pekka Rinne with a 5-2 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes.
Three different players scored their sixth goals as the Predators notched four in regulation for the first time in three weeks. Marcel Goc, Patric Hornqvist and Cal O’Reilly all claimed a piece of the team’s goal-scoring lead, which at the start of the night belonged exclusively to Steve Sullivan.
Sullivan eventually reclaimed his lead with an unassisted goal into an empty net much to the delight of the 15,016 at Bridgestone Arena for what turned out to be the home team’s highest-scoring game of the season.
In addition to all of that, but Martin Erat racked up three assists, which gave him five in the last two games.
Suddenly an offense that has ranked at or near the bottom of the Western Conference for much of the season is on the move thanks to many of those who are expected to make it go.
“It’s finally nice to see more goals than two or three,” Erat said. “… Right now we’re going good and all four lines are playing aggressive. We’re getting goals from everybody and that’s important for us because they don’t know who to play against, who to match up against. That’s our team … and that’s how we are built.”
They’re also built on a foundation of solid goaltending, and that foundation was shaken when Rinne sustained a knee injury in Wednesday’s shootout victory at Columbus. He had won his last two starts and had delivered at least a point in eight of his last 11.
Initial estimates are that he could miss up to a month, which puts the onus on rookie Anders Lindback, who went 3-1 earlier this season when Rinne missed time with a health issue but whose last start was Nov. 7.
Lindback did not inspire a lot of confidence early. He allowed the second shot he faced to go in under his right arm — 18 seconds after Nashville had gone up 1-0 on Goc’s goal.
“It was a bad goal,” Lindback said. “We had momentum with that early goal. It was one of those goals I should have handled, I think, and I got a little [mad] at myself.”
At that point, they cranked up the offense, which served the defense — and Lindback — well. With an effective forecheck and extended periods of attack time, it was nearly 11 minutes before another puck got through to Lindback, and when it did the Predators were up by two goals.
Carolina benefited from some line changes and scored a second-period goal, but O’Reilly restored the margin to two when he capped off a rush with a one-timer, courtesy of Erat, which was one of Nashville’s prettier goals of the year.
“When you score a couple goals in the first, it obviously give you a little confidence,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… Obviously, when we got the fourth goal it gave everybody life again. It was a pretty solid effort by everybody.”
Ultimately, the winning margin equaled the largest of the season. Not only that but the Predators have won three straight for the first time since the opening three games of the season.
“A lot of guys are feeling it right now and guys are playing really well,” Sullivan said.
• Erat’s five assists in the last two games nearly doubled his point total for the season. He had six (two goals, four assists) in his first 14 appearances.
“Marty Erat has been outstanding the last couple games,” Sullivan said. “He’s really been the catalyst for this whole thing. Hopefullu he can continue to play well and … can continue to lead this team offensively.”
Nashville is 5-1-1 when Erat has a point.
• J.P Dumont played logged just 4:30 of ice time.
Trotz called it a coach’s decision and said the veteran forward was not injured. He also declined to elaborate on what went into the decision.
• The Predators have scored in the first period in four straight games, their longest such streak of the season.
When they failed to score in the second, it snapped a season-high streak of seven straight periods with at least one goal.