NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Shea Weber and the Nashville Predators heard the questions over and over through the first 13 games of the season: When will he break out? Why hasn't he scored?
Was it the pressure of the 14-year, $110-million deal he signed in the offseason? Was it the loss of his long-time defense partner Ryan Suter?
Predators general manager David Poile and coach Barry Trotz preached patience, that Weber would break out.
Over the last four games, Weber has broken out with a vengeance, as the Detroit Red Wings learned the hard way on Tuesday, when Weber scoring the winning goal in overtime for a 4-3 win against their Central Division rivals at Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators captain now has goals in three straight games. He also earned an assist on Tuesday, giving him six points in his last four games.
"I just think with the bigger guys, it just takes a little longer to get going," Trotz said. "Getting your hands, getting your feet, getting your wind, getting up ice. He's an exceptional – he's a beast off the ice. He trains very hard.
"It's just like that exhibition season -- you just need it. Every night he's playing against the top people in the world a lot of minutes. I just think it's his hands and his feet and everything, he's got his game going."
The 6-foot-4, 234-pound defenseman scored 44 seconds into overtime, collecting a rebound off Colin Wilson's shot that went wide off the backboards and beating Jonas Gustavsson before he could recover. Gustavsson stopped 16 of 18 shots. Weber, a runner-up for the Norris Trophy each of the last two seasons, called the goal lucky, but earlier he rang a slap shot off the post that got behind Gustavsson, so maybe things evened out for him.
"Maybe," he said. "I don't know. Trotzy always says, 'The Hockey Gods,' so maybe that's what it was."
Including the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Nashville entered Tuesday with six non-shootout wins over Detroit in its previous seven meetings. Both teams came in needing a victory: Detroit had not won its previous three, giving up 11 goals in the process, and Nashville had not won in its past two, though both teams had earned an overtime or shootout loss apiece. Overall, Nashville has gone 7-2-2 in its last 11 and moved to 21 points, four up on the Red Wings.
"Obviously, it's a rival of ours and every game we play against them is tight and it goes right to the end," Weber said. "Tonight was no short of that. We just can't afford to give up leads late like that. We just have to lock it down and get the win without going to overtime."
As Weber alluded, Nashville took a 2-0 lead early and the margin could have been larger. Detroit escaped down 2-1 thanks to a shorthanded goal by Danny Cleary. The Red Wings persevered through four minor penalties, the loss of top defenseman Niklas Kronwall for most of the period and a goalie change.
Nashville took advantage on the second of Detroit defenseman Jakub Kindl's three penalties in the period for a power-play goal. Craig Smith received Wilson's nifty goalmouth feed and whipped it past Jimmy Howard from the left post at 5:01. It was the first goal of the season for Smith, who performed in the NHL SuperSkills competition last year as a rookie, despite playing in every game this season.
Nashville went up 2-0 at 10:41 when Gabriel Bourque redirected Scott Hannan's point shot past Howard.
Only 8:38 into the period, Detroit changed goalies, as it was later announced that Howard (five saves on seven shots) suffered an upper-body injury. After the game, Detroit coach Mike Babcock revealed that Howard had been hit by a puck in practice and had blurry vision.
"He got hit in practice, I guess, and I didn't know about that so he wasn't seeing good or something like that," Babcock said. "I was like you, just watching the game, and then someone told me so we made the switch."
Late in the period, Gustavsson received a penalty for delay of game for freezing the puck after he lost his stick in the corner. Ironically, that supplied Detroit's only goal of the period as Pavel Datsyuk – who was magical on the night -- set up a wide open Cleary for a wrist shot, which beat Pekka Rinne (26 saves) as his own defenseman – Jonathon Blum – skated into him at 15:01.
Kronwall left the game at the 5:43 mark after a hit by Nashville's Rich Clune, for which Clune received a boarding penalty. Kronwall played only three shifts but returned to start the second period.
Through two periods, Nashville maintained a 6-1 advantage in power plays, but led only 2-1.
After a scoreless second period, a flurry of three goals in a span of 2:17 broke out in the third.
First, Detroit tied the game at 11:33 of the third period when Nashville defenseman Kevin Klein – a hero of last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs series victory over Detroit – knocked former Predator Jordin Tootoo's centering pass into his own net. Tootoo was playing his first game against his former team after eight seasons in a Nashville uniform.
Then Roman Josi put Nashville back ahead 3-2 when his wrist shot from the sideboards deflected off Joakim Andersson's stick at 12:54.
Finally, in an incredible display of skill, Pavel Datsyuk skated through four Nashville defenders and beat Rinne under his blocker arm with a wrist shot at 13:30.
Trotz talked about how Datsyuk looks small of stature off the ice but is so incredibly strong on it. He also spoke reverentially of the joy with which Datsyuk plays. After the game, Datsyuk did show much of that joy. But even though the Red Wings have not won in their last four games and have allowed 15 goals in the process, Datsyuk said the Red Wings are making baby steps towards progress. Still, starting Wednesday out of playoff position is not familiar territory for them.
"It's a little bit put us slow down and make it easy for them," Datsyuk said of all of the first-period penalties. "I know they played yesterday (a 6-5 loss at Colorado). It makes it a breather for them and now they score two and it makes it easier to play.
"Yeah, we have a tough start. Miss two goals and too much (penalty kill)."
But then he motioned with his arms in a slightly upwards manner.
"We go back, back, back," he said, "step by step."