It is no secret that the Nashville Predators struggled in shootouts last season, and that increasing scoring overall was a priority this offseason, but the Predators may have solved both problems with one of their opening of free agency day signings, albeit an unexpected one.
Midway through the opening period of Nashville’s home opener Tuesday night, forward Eric Nystrom found himself with the puck headed for the offensive zone.
A step behind Nystrom was Wild defenseman Keith Ballard. In an attempt to thwart Nystrom’s scoring opportunity, Ballard slashed Nystrom in the slot, causing him to fall to the ice.
“I was in there, and I definitely had an opportunity to get a shot,” Nystrom said. “I was in position to get it. I don’t even know how I went down, but I thought I had a pretty good jump on it.”
Nystrom’s momentum carried him into Minnesota starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom, whose leg wrapped around the right goalpost in an awkward fashion.
Nystrom was awarded a penalty shot, but there was a delay while the Minnesota medical staff tended to Backstrom. The Finnish netminder was unable to continue and was replaced by backup Josh Harding, the reigning Bill Masterton Trophy winner.
Playing in his 411th career NHL game, it was the first penalty shot awarded to Nystrom in his career. Not only has he never taken a penalty shot in the NHL, he has never been selected as a participant in a shootout either.
So Nystrom, who played for the Wild in 2010-11, took the puck from the center ice dot, skated in, and then sniped a wrist shot that ski-ramped up the top of Harding’s goal stick and into the top right corner of the net.
“ A couple of things,” Nystrom said. “I’ve got a cold goalie going in there, and I think I had a little bit of an advantage playing for Minnesota. I had shot on Harding before, so I kind of had an idea of what I was going to do. It felt pretty good.”
Nystrom had a rocky tenure in Minnesota and was happy to help his new team get a win against the Wild.
Predators head coach Barry Trotz said that Nystrom also consulted with another former Wild prior to the attempt.
“I know on the bench Matt Cullen pulled him aside and said, ‘Here’s a little tip on Josh Harding,’” Trotz said. “I don’t know what they talked about, but whatever he talked about worked and it went in the net, so it was huge for us.”
The goal proved to be the decisive one for the Predators. It was the 10th game-winning goal of Nystrom’s career.
But does he think he will get into Trotz’s shootout rotation?
“Probably not,” he said with a laugh. “There’s a few guys a little further ahead of me on the depth chart.”
However if he is chosen, he knows what he is going to do.
“I’m definitely shooting for sure,” Nystrom said. “You make a deke and you lose the puck in the corner, you look stupid. If you shoot and hit the net, at least you don’t look that dumb.”