After erupting for a total of 13 goals in their previous two games, the Flyers offense stalled Thursday night as Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne registered the 44th shutout of his superb career.
Predators 1, Flyers 0.
The Flyers outshot the Predators, 28-24, and on the few times they had quality chances, Rinne stood tall.
“It’s frustrating,” said captain Claude Giroux, who put three of his seven shots on net. “You’re doing all the good things, you’re playing the right way, and we’re just not getting rewarded.”
Colton Sissons finished an odd-man rush by beating Michal Neuvirth with a perfectly placed shot to the far corner, giving Nashville a 1-0 lead with 16 minutes, 11 seconds left. Andrew MacDonald got caught up ice after taking a feed from Wayne Simmonds deep in the offensive end, and the Predators took advantage.
No forward was able to get back in time.
“I kind of went into the pile and the puck went out on the other side and I just ended up backchecking,” MacDonald said.
“It’s a tough play … and unfortunately the puck got past Simmer, and now it’s a race back up ice and we did a pretty good shot tracking it, but they got a pretty good shot away,” coach Dave Hakstol said.
Rinne made perhaps his best save of the night when he kicked out Sean Couturier’s shot from the slot with 3:58 remaining. Giroux made a deft pass to set up Couturier.
The Flyers got a power play with 66 seconds to go and, with Neuvirth pulled for an extra attacker, had a six-on-four advantage. But they failed to get a shot during the power play as the Predators defense excelled.
Nine nights after Nashville scored two late power-play goals in a wild 6-5 home win over the Flyers, the teams played a tight-checking matchup at the Wells Fargo Center that had little resemblance to their first meeting.
Sissons was injured and did not play in the teams’ initial matchup.
Rinne made nice stops on Couturier, Travis Konecny, and Dale Weise in the first three minutes of the third period, but the Flyers attack wasn’t nearly as sharp as it was in lopsided wins over Washington and Florida.
Nashville’s gifted defense, led by Roman Josi, who was injured and didn’t play in the teams’ meeting last week, was a big reason.
“They didn’t get to the Stanley Cup Finals with luck,” Giroux said. “They’re a good team, they have a good system, and they have a lot of good players.”
In Neuvirth’s two losses, the Flyers have been shut out. He is 1-2 but has a 1.36 goals-against average and a .957 save percentage.
“I liked out first period tonight. I thought the second period, we spent a little too much time in our own end,” Hakstol said. “We didn’t give up a ton, but we also didn’t generate a lot. The third period, we obviously didn’t get the right outcome, but we got back to it and started to generate again.”
The Flyers’ power play was seventh in the league (clicking at 26.9 percent) entering the night, but went 0 for 5 Thursday.
The Flyers made a lineup change because of an undisclosed injury to Jordan Weal, who participated in the morning skate but was unable to play Thursday night. Jori Lehtera, a healthy scratch in the first six games, made his Flyers debut and replaced Weal as the left wing on the second line.
With Weal sidelined, rookie defenseman Travis Sanheim, back in the lineup after sitting the previous two games, was given a spot on the second power-play unit.
Sanheim, who had a strong game and played in all situations, said it took him a few shifts to feel comfortable, “but I’ve had three other games here, so I’m used to the pace.”
Sanheim replaced Brandon Manning. It will be interesting to see if Manning is reinserted Saturday afternoon against visiting Edmonton and superstar center Connor McDavid. Manning and McDavid have had a well-documented public feud.
“We have to stay positive,” Giroux said. “We’re playing some good hockey right now and we just have to be ready for Saturday.”
In that game, the Flyers hope to have Weal (listed as day-to=day) back in the lineup; they also hope right winger Simmonds is 100 percent. Simmonds has been bothered by an undisclosed lower-body injury and, while sitting on the bench Thursday, he took an accidental stick to the face from Mattias Ekholm and was receiving medical attention after the game.