Despite low expectations of the season, despite the loss of key veterans this summer, and despite an injury to their top forward Filip Forsberg, the Nashville Predators have found a way to win some important hockey games early in the 2021-22 season.

Winners of six of their last eight games, the Preds polished off their latest win in Dallas, earning a full two points over one of their key bubble competitors in the Central Division.

“I give our guys a lot of credit, I thought we were really focused,” John Hynes said after the 4-2 win. “We worked on some things coming out of the Chicago game. The way that we skated, our play without the puck was pretty strong. Found ways to be able to score. Dallas is a good team, tough opponent. They had some pushes, we got some saves when we need them. The guys buckled in their late and found a way to win.”

Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, and Tanner Jeannot scored three goals in the first two periods to fuel the Preds early, then the defense and Juuse Saros were able to keep Dallas from tying it up late.

One of the keys in the win was Nashville’s effective use of the counter attack. Scoring in transition has always been an emphasis of John Hynes, and we saw last night how effective it can be.

Preds’ counter attack deadly against Stars

For a team like Nashville, as John Hynes alluded to in the post-game media session, your players have to become accustomed to playing and skating without the puck.

Hynes’s system is not one that emphasizes maintaining puck possession as long as possible, and he doesn’t quite have the roster to be able to run a system like that. Instead his system requires defensive structure to apply pressure on the opponent’s attack, then use speed in transition to counter attack after the defense forces turnovers.

Three of the four Nashville goals are examples of how this system works.

The first goal by Ryan Johansen was a nice play in transition, with Johansen working in tandem with his newest left winger Tanner Jeannot.

At one end, the Preds defense forces a bad zone entry by the Stars. Johansen quickly collects the puck and pushes play through the middle, catching the Stars’ defense off balance. He then passes to Jeannot, drives to the net, and puts the return pass from Jeannot into the net past Braden Holtby. The combination play with Jeannot was especially effective here, as it forced the defense to not only get back, but to play laterally.

Then in the 2nd period, Tanner Jeannot uses his speed to blast through the neutral zone with the puck and catch the Dallas defense napping. This goal was less about traditional counter attacking and more about seeing a hole in the defense and exploiting it.

By the way, the hole that Jeannot saw was 36-year-old Ryan Suter, who has never been fleet of foot.

Finally there was Matt Duchene’s goal. This play was perhaps the best example of Hynes’ counter attacking system on the night.

First, Philippe Myers and Matt Benning prevent a Dallas 2-on-1 from getting a shot off at one end. Then Benning finds Tommy Novak in the neutral zone on a stretch pass. Novak gains the zone quickly, getting the puck to Duchene as soon as he does.

From there, Duchene does exactly what Nashville Predators fans have been wanting to see since he arrive in July 2019: score goals.

Nashville thwarts 3rd period push by Dallas

Of course, Dallas didn’t let Nashville have the win easily. Down two goals in the 3rd period, the Stars managed 23 shot attempts at even strength compared to just seven for the Preds. They got the game within one goal when Miro Heiskanen scored from the low slot off a nice pass from Alex Radulov.

More pressure and more puck possession led to a dicey end of the game scenario for Nashville. But John Hynes said after the game he thought his players used their structure and poise well down the stretch.

“It did get a little bit scrambly,” John Hynes admitted after the game. “But your ability to handle duress, handle pressure, have poise under pressure, play with strong structure and details when teams make a push or you’re playing in back to backs or you’re playing four [games] in six [nights] like we have quite a bit, you can rely on your structure when you get in situations like that.”

“For the most part we did a pretty good job. There’s still some areas to clean up. I felt after the regular T.V. timeout, we talked with them on the bench, I just felt we had a little bit more poise.”

Colton Sissons capped the game with a lengthy empty net goal, saucing the puck from his own left circle to put the Preds up 4-2.

The Preds will need more of that late period poise, and plenty more of that counter attacking prowess, when they take on the St. Louis Blues for the first time this season on Thursday. Less than 24 hours turn around from the Stars to the Blues makes for tired legs and sore bodies.

But as Hynes alluded to, if the Nashville Predators rely on their structure and play the game to their identity, they have a real chance to make it seven wins in nine games on Thursday night in St. Louis.

— Featured image via Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports —