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Preds look for more scoring from top line

by John Manasso /
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When the Nashville Predators won their first series in franchise history in the first round, they did it on the backs of their first line. Sergei Kostitsyn, Mike Fisher and Patric Hornqvist combined for 13 points in those six games.

With the Predators trailing Vancouver 2-1 in their Western Conference Semifinals series, that trio has put up exactly zero points in the three games.

"Right now, they are a little disjointed," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "They're not supporting the puck very well as a group. It all starts -- I always say one end of the ice is always connected to the other end. If you're not breaking out really well in terms of your breakouts and managing the neutral zone, which is the next zone you encounter, what you decided in the neutral zone will dictate whether you're going to be in an offensive mode or forechecking mode or retrieval mode on a turnover.

"They haven't been really solid and I'd say more so in the neutral zone. Their breakouts have been OK, but they're neutral zone decisions haven't been very good and their support for each is not where it needs to be. They're spread out too far. And when you have no time and space you can't be spread out because it takes too long to support."

Said Hornqvist: "I think me, Fish and Sergei, we all have to take (the puck) to the net. We're not playing very good right now, but we know what we're going to do tomorrow and hopefully we're going to get some chances."

While the lack of production surely has to do with the line's play, it also has something to do with outside factors. Anaheim is not the defensive equal of Vancouver. In the first round, Nashville's top line passed the puck fluidly, finding back-door plays into wide open nets.

"I think we have a little better speed out there," Hornqvist said of how the line played in the first round. "We were getting those second chances I'm talking about. And when you're skating, you don't think that much. Maybe it's getting a little in our head, too. We know we have to score and we try a little too hard. Maybe try those backdoor passes instead of just taking it to the net."

Not only has the backdoor not been open, as Trotz mentioned, the front door hasn't either.

"I think this series, like I say, we just have to do better job on forecheck," said Kostitsyn, Nashville's leading scorer with 23 goals in the regular season but who did not have a shot in Game 3 and only has four in the series. "Most of the time we spend in our zone. We have no puck so we have to chase the whole time. We just have to do a better job on forecheck."

Part of that comes from who the line is matched up against. Trotz mentioned that those three are often matched up against Vancouver's shutdown pair of Kevin Bieksa and ex-Pred Dan Hamhuis. They also are seeing their share of Ryan Kesler's line and Kesler is a finalist for the Selke Award, given to the League's top defensive forward.

Kesler was asked what Vancouver has done well in defending Nashville's top line.

"I think just playing them hard, keeping them to the outside and limited their second and third opportunities," he said. "They're obviously a bunch of skilled guys and if you keep them to the outside, they don't do much."

Hornqvist pretty much agreed with that assessment. He said his group needs to be hungrier and more determined and that they had mostly been getting boxed out by Vancouver's defensemen and limited to one shot.

"Last game we just have the first shot and the (defense) just box us out and they did a great job," said Hornqvist, who reached the 30-goal mark last season. "We work a little harder and go a little harder to the net."

Hornqvist, whose preferred method of scoring is via the scrum in front of the net, also said they need to take the puck to the net and "throw some bodies around."

Whatever the various solutions may be, one thing is not in dispute.

"Like I say, we have to play better," Kostitsyn said. "Our line has to play better."
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