By Jim Diamond
Following Thursday’s morning skate, Nashville Predators head coach Peter Laviolette mentioned that he would like to clean up some things in terms of the penalties his team took in Tuesday night’s shootout win over the Arizona Coyotes. The Predators were whistled for five penalties in the game, four of which happened in the offensive zone.
Laviolette’s team did cut down on the number of penalties Thursday night against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks, with Mattias Ekholm’s holding penalty at 13:07 of the second period representing the only time the Predators were shorthanded in the game.
With Ekholm in the box, Laviolette sent out forwards Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom along with defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi. And for the next two minutes, the highly-skilled Blackhawks worked the puck around the Nashville zone. Chicago put three shots on Pekka Rinne, had two missed shots, and another two attempts blocked.
Since it was the second period, the Predators on the ice were a long way away from the team bench. And since they were unable to clear the puck, those same four skaters remained on the ice for the entirety of the power play and then some. After Ekholm was liberated, the puck remained in the Nashville zone, and the Blackhawks managed another shot on goal and another blocked attempt before the Predators were able to finally ice the puck.
“That was huge,” Nystrom said. “That was one of those shifts, they were shooting some pucks, but I thought we kept them to the outside for the most part. Anytime you get stuck out there for that length of time, it’s exhausting. The legs were burning. I’ve had worse ones than that though. Penalty killing is tiring, that’s just straight stopping and starting, but I’ve had some two minute shifts where they were really peppering. That one wasn’t the worst, but it was tough and then there was an icing, so we had to stay out there.”
The big PK ignited a loud ovation from the standing-room only Bridgestone Arena crowd, so much so that it almost hurt the team. Laviolette fully intended to use his only timeout of the game at that point, but he wanted to wait as long as possible to signal it, giving the fatigued foursome plus Ekholm some time to rest. The only problem for Laviolette was that he had trouble getting the attention of the officials.
“I was buying more time and then I couldn’t get him back, it was loud,” Laviolette said. “I didn’t want him to get too far away and then blow me off, but I was waiting to buy a little bit more time. They were tanked, so I figured any second we could get, but he didn’t look at me too long because we couldn’t change, really just kind of a gaze and went on his way and I was like ‘Oh oh,’ so we had to get him back to the bench. It was good. It was enough to get those guys a quick breath.”
Since the NHL implemented the rule that teams that ice the puck can’t change, officials rarely look to the offending team’s bench. With a raucous crowd and no officials looking toward the Nashville bench, Laviolette had to get creative, so he jumped down from his perch behind the bench and hammered on the boards with his fist loudly enough to garner the attention of someone with the authority to grant him the one timeout he had at his disposal.
Less than a minute after play resumed, fresh Predator bodies finally came onto the ice and James Neal scored his second of three goals in the game.
“It was a big kill, but for the team to respond with a goal, that feels really nice for the guys who were out there killing,” Nystrom said.
Nystrom, Gaustad, Weber, and Josi were all credited with a robust shift of 2:19 in the penalty kill plus the additional time.