The Nashville Predators were shut out for the first time this season Tuesday night, losing their fourth straight game 3-0 to the Colorado Avalanche before a sold-out Pepsi Center crowd of 18,007. The Predators mounted a spirited third-period rally in which they outshot Colorado 14-1 and had five cracks at the power play, but were unable to slip one past Avalanche goaltender David Aebischer.
With Tuesday's result, Nashville's record moves to 24-11-3 on the season. After scoring 30 goals over the course a recent five-game win streak, the team's offense has hit a bit of a dry spell, managing only seven tallies over the last four contests.
"Earlier in the year things were coming a little easy to us," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "Now they're coming a little harder. We don't get anybody's 'B' game; we're getting everybody's 'A' game. Pucks aren't going in the way they were a little earlier, so we're just going through a little phase here. The only thing you can do is just keep working harder. The harder you work and the more you pay attention to detail, that's how you get out of these little slumps."
Through two periods Tuesday night, Colorado outshot and out-chanced Nashville. Avalanche captain Joe Sakic was the catalyst for many of his team's opportunities, stringing together a flurry of chances midway through the first and spearheading one particularly dominating 45-second barrage 11 minutes into the second. Though Colorado netted a goal in each of the first two periods, remarkable work by Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun and a sacrificial commitment by several Nashville players in the defensive zone kept the game close. The first period alone saw Nashville's Scott Hartnell, Marek Zidlicky and Ryan Suter step up to block dangerous shots by the likes of Sakic and Alex Tanguay. The backchecking of forward Martin Erat also robbed Ian Laperriere of a quality chance seconds before Vokoun used his catching glove to snag a sharp shot by Tanguay.
With five minutes left in the first, Vokoun made a diving poke-check on Avs forward Dan Hinote, who skated out of the right corner with the puck. Vokoun's stick separated the puck from Hinote as intended, but the disc made its way to ex-Predator Bob Boughner with plenty of open net available as Vokoun remained prone to the right of the cage. Boughner's goal, his first of the season, put the Avalanche up 1-0 at 15:23 of the opening period.
Vokoun was at his strongest in the second frame, turning away a prime chance by John-Michael Liles 3:30 into the period and making key stops on Sakic, Karlis Skrastins, Milan Hejduk and Marek Svatos before the 12:00 mark. A hooking penalty to Jordin Tootoo put Colorado on the power play at 14:11, and defenseman Brett Clark managed to knock home the Avalanche's second goal on a backdoor feed from Sakic at 15:33. Moments later, Erat was sent to the penalty box for delay of game to give the Avalanche another manpower advantage. A play set up by Sakic and Hejduk put the puck on Liles' stick with an open goal mouth before him. His shot at 17:26 looked to be a sure goal, but Vokoun made an amazing recovery to keep his net empty. Half a minute later, Nashville penalty killer Steve Sullivan blocked a Colorado pass at his own blue line and the puck went to Preds forward Jerred Smithson nearby. Sullivan immediately released up the ice and Smithson slid a nicely weighted lead pass ahead of him to set up a short-handed breakaway attempt. Sullivan never got a shot off, though, as he lost control of the puck as he closed in on Aebischer and sent it harmlessly into the left corner.
That play was the beginning of a turnaround, however, as the Predators began the third period with chance after chance against Aebischer. A series of Avalanche penalties put Nashville on the power play for 8:16 of the final 20 minutes, yet the Colorado netminder had an answer for every shot and did a fine job of keeping rebounds safely away from Preds shooters. With 2:35 remaining, Trotz pulled Vokoun for an extra attacker that turned a five-on-four power play to a six-on-four advantage. Zidlicky and Dan Hamhuis had Nashville's best scoring opportunities in the final moments, but at the other end, an empty-net tally fired in by Tanguay from the red line at 19:40 was the capper.
Lack of production from the Predators' power play--which went zero for 10 in the game--has been a key factor in the team's dip in offense. Still, Trotz wasn't dissatisfied with the special teams work Tuesday, and he doesn't think teams have "solved" Nashville's power play.
"Everybody looks at everybody else's power play and penalty kill," Trotz said. "I don't think they're taking anything away [from us]. We throw it around pretty good. We're getting shots in the middle of the ice, which you want the power play to do. They're just not getting in. They're either hitting the goalie or they're hitting someone in front. Sometimes when we should be shooting, we're passing and vice versa."
And the head coach was particularly encouraged by the third-period resolve of his players, who travel to St. Louis for the second of back-to-back games Wednesday night.
"In the game I thought we played well enough to probably sit here and say we could have had a point," Trotz said. "On the other hand, we didn't play well enough and weren't able to score. We've got to score a couple of goals, especially against a team like Colorado. Aebischer had a good game for them and gave them opportunities. If we score on that short-handed [chance by Sullivan] and all those number of power plays, maybe it's a different story. The only shot they had in the third period was the empty net goal.
"I think we played with a lot of urgency," he added, referring to his club's effort in the final 20 minutes Tuesday. "I think we're going to have to play with a tremendous amount of urgency [Wednesday]. St. Louis is playing extremely well right now and we're really going to have to be ready to battle them to get a victory."
Notes: With Tuesday's loss, Nashville has gone four straight games without earning a point in the standings--the longest stretch of the season... Alex Tanguay's empty-net goal late in the third period was the first empty-net goal scored on Nashville this season... The Predators outshot Colorado 32-25, and are now 10-4-0 when outshooting an opponent. They also dropped to 12-5-1 in games in which their opponent scored first... Tuesday night marked the first time this season that the Predators have been shut out by an opponent. Prior to that, the most recent shutout came on Feb. 23, 2004, when Los Angeles blanked Nashville 3-0... Nashville finished the night zero for 10 on the power play, while Colorado went one for five. Nashville has now gone three games without a power-play goal, and has scored once in its last 27 opportunities with the man advantage... Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped 22 of 24 shots in the loss, which lowers his record to 19-8-2. He still ranks among league leaders in wins... The Predators beat Colorado handily in the face-off circle, winning 57 percent of the draws. Adam Hall and Yanic Perreault were Nashville's best face-off performers of the night, winning 10 of 14 (71 percent) and nine of 12 (75 percent), respectively... Nashville is now 8-7-3 in road games... Jamie Allison was the only scratch from the Predators' lineup Tuesday.
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