ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Nashville Predators are the NHL’s most disciplined team when it comes to staying out of the penalty box. The Anaheim Ducks are one of the most penalized clubs, and that disparity is reflected in the Western Conference standings.
Pekka Rinne made 31 saves for his fourth shutout of the season, Shea Weber scored during a 5-on-3 power-play, and the Predators strengthened their hold on a playoff berth with a 1-0 victory over Anaheim on Friday night.
“Our game plan was to definitely stay out of the penalty box,” forward Steve Sullivan said. “Our penalty killing isn’t very good, so we have to make sure we made their power play sit on the bench – because we know that’s their biggest threat with all the firepower they have up front.”
The Predators, who came in averaging a league-low 9.0 penalty minutes, have been shorthanded no more than three times in any of their last seven games.
“It just shows the character and the discipline and the work ethic,” Sullivan said. “A lot of penalties get called on hooks, holds and trips when you’re out of position. So we make sure we work hard at staying in position and using our legs. And by doing so, we’re eliminating all the useless penalties.”
One night after giving up six goals in the third period in an 8-5 loss at San Jose, the seventh-place Predators moved two points ahead of eighth-place Calgary in the Western Conference.
“We were really preaching defence tonight, especially after two periods in a 1-0 game,” Weber said. “They’re got some firepower over there, and their top two lines can really score. So we just wanted to stick together as a five-man group and play strong defensively.”
Rinne, who signed a US$2.8-million, two-year contract extension on Feb. 24, earned his 11th career shutout in his 100th NHL game. It was his first shutout since Feb. 2, when he lost a 1-0 decision to Phoenix following a club-record 10-round shootout.
“He’s been a great goalie ever since he’s been here,” Weber said. “Obviously, the organization wants him for the long run. They showed that by signing him, and he’s been rewarding them with his good play. For a big guy, he moves really well. He’s got quick feet and great hands as well.”
The loss was the fifth straight for the Ducks, who are plummeting out of the post-season picture. They remain nine points out with 15 to play after being just three points out when the Olympic break began, and have dropped four straight at Honda Center following a franchise-record 11-game home winning streak.
Anaheim has made the playoffs in each of the previous four seasons under coach Randy Carlyle, putting on a tremendous finishing kick at the end of the regular season all four times. The Ducks finished up with a 15-7-0 surge in 2006, were 13-3-4 in 2007, 20-5-1 in 2008 and 10-2-1 last season – locking up a playoff berth on the final weekend. But there is no reason to believe that will happen this time.
“As a group, we don’t seem to be engaged emotionally in the hockey game,” Carlyle said. “I mean, we are for spurts, but not for 60 minutes. That’s what’s been really frustrating for everybody. The bench is quiet, the room is quiet … it’s like we’re waiting for something bad to happen. And at times, we seem to be in more of a defensive shell than we should be.”
Jonas Hiller made 27 saves for the Ducks, 17-2-3 against Nashville at home.
“We were very aware of our record here. This is not an easy place to play,” Weber said. “They’ve always had good teams here and it’s tough. But tonight we did a good job of limiting them and getting the goal we needed.”
Four minor penalties were called during a 2:23 span of the first period, three of them against Anaheim. The Ducks had exactly six seconds of power-play time during that stretch, and gave up Weber’s goal during Nashville’s 5-on-3 advantage after Aaron Ward was sent off for interference and Ryan Getzlaf for high-sticking 17 seconds apart.
“We had 14 shots in the first period and had things going out way, but we took ourselves out of it with two penalties and a 5-on-3 goal. That was the difference in the hockey game,” Carlyle said. “You wouldn’t think that one goal would be the difference.”
Weber, in his second game back after missing the previous two with an upper-body injury, beat Hiller high to the stick side with a one-timer from 45 feet. It was his 13th goal and seventh on the power play. The Predators have scored at least one power-play goal in 12 of their last 13 games, after going 1 for 25 over their previous nine contests.
NOTES: Barry Trotz, in his 11th season with the Predators, is the only coach they have ever had. The record for most consecutive seasons by an NHL coach at the beginning of a team’s history is held by Lester Patrick, who guided the New York Rangers through their first 13 seasons (1926-27 to 1938-39). … The teams split the season series.