NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Special teams have been a struggle for the Nashville Predators all season. But on Saturday night, that unit won them a hockey game.
Craig Smith’s power-play goal with 6:29 remaining in the third period propelled Nashville to a 2-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.
With Sabres captain Jack Eichel in the penalty box serving a tripping penalty, Smith redirected Kyle Turris’ shot off the left post, then off of the left leg of Buffalo goaltender Linus Ullmark and into the net for Smith's 11th goal of the season.
“It was really a quick hit, spread them out and find a lane and try to get a stick,” Smith said. “It’s just a part of our power play that we’ve been kind of working on lately.”
Nashville entered Saturday with the league’s 25th-ranked power play, and had failed to score on the man advantage in their last four games.
The Predators also had the league’s worst penalty kill percentage, but denied Buffalo on all three opportunities in the game. “We’ve worked hard over the last 12 days here on our special teams, and sometimes things don’t click right away, but special teams were a big difference in the game tonight,” Predators coach John Hynes said. “It’s good to see that not only take a step but get rewarded for the work the players have put in.”
Ryan Johansen also scored for Nashville, which snapped a two-game skid.
Sam Reinhart had the lone goal for Buffalo, which had won its previous three games.
Reinhart scored the game’s first goal with 1:02 remaining in the opening period. Rasmus Dahlin had the puck on the right side near the faceoff dot. There, he sent a cross-ice pass to Reinhart, who was on the goal line to the left of the Nashville net and he lifted a wrist shot over Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne.
“It’s frustrating because we feel we had our opportunities and just didn’t find a way to capitalize,” Reinhart said. “I think both teams played a tight game and there was momentum swings throughout it, but they were just able to find that last goal to go ahead.”
In his last five games played in Nashville, Reinhart has seven goals and one assist.
Rinne made 30 saves, including 17 in the second period, in earning his 16th win of the season.
“I thought Rinne played a very good game,” Sabres coach Ralph Krueger said. “We didn’t put much pressure on him in the first 10 minutes of the game, but from there on in, we had lots of point-blank opportunities that he took care of.”
Both teams now have a break of more than a week.
“I’m very excited (about the break),” Rinne said. “At the same time, I’m already eager to get back playing. Hopefully it’s good timing for us.”
Johansen evened the game at 1 at 6:05 of the second. Roman Josi’s shot from the slot missed wide to the left and bounced off the end boards right to Johansen on the left side, where his backhand swat at the rebound bounced off Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian and into the net.
Ullmark finished with 35 saves. ... Johansen had not recorded a point in Nashville’s previous six games. ... Eichel’s nine-game point streak was snapped. ... Dahlin has seven points in his last seven games. ... Predators LW Austin Watson returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for four consecutive games. ... Rinne is 7-2-0 in his career against Buffalo.
Sabres: Host Ottawa on Jan. 28.
Predators: Host Toronto on Jan. 27.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports