The Nashville Predators fell victim to a determined Edmonton Oilers team Friday night, closing out a three-game Western Canada road trip with a 4-2 loss at Rexall Place. Scott Hartnell and Steve Sullivan scored for the Predators, who have dropped their last two and now stand at 24-9-3 on the season.
After a scoreless first period in which Nashville was bailed out on several occasions by goaltender Tomas Vokoun, Edmonton limited the Predators' opportunities in the final two periods through solid defensive zone coverage, strong work along the boards and lightning fast counter-attacks. The Oilers, who had lost two in a row at home heading into Friday's game, got on the board 1:08 into the middle frame and never relinquished the lead. Ryan Smyth's penalty shot goal 1:23 into the third became the eventual game-winner as late penalty trouble for Nashville stifled an attempted comeback and led to an insurance tally for Edmonton during a five-on-three power-play with less than five minutes remaining.
When Oilers center Michael Peca was whistled for holding 4:46 into the game, the Predators got the chance to trot out their power play, which had converted at least once in nine straight games. Nashville wasn't able to create much during the two-minute man advantage, but just seconds after Peca stepped out of the box he received an outlet pass and forwarded the puck to a streaking Jarret Stoll. Stoll went to the backhand against Vokoun and was thwarted by a maginificent sliding pad save by the goalie. Roughly two minutes later Vokoun was forced to make big stops on defenseman Jason Smith's drive and a follow-up chance by Smyth on the doorstep.
Moments after that, Predators defenseman Mark Eaton had a pass intercepted to set up a two-on-one for Smyth and Ales Hemsky. Hemsky ended up with the opportunity, pulling the puck around Vokoun to the right and slipping it back into the crease from behind the goal line. Nashville's Danny Markov cleared that puck from harm's way, but Edmonton would come close twice more before the period expired--first on a Marty Reasoner tip-on that hit the right post and then on a short-handed cross-crease play which Smyth finished with a shot off the left post.
Edmonton's early second-period goal that broke the 0-0 deadlock came from the stick of Shawn Horcoff, who won a face-off in Nashville's zone to start the play. After the puck made its way around the end boards, he ultimately carried it out of the left corner and spun in the left circle to release a forehander that deflected off defenseman Dan Hamhuis' skate and Vokoun's goal stick before finding its way into the net.
The Predators wasted little time answering with a goal of their own, scored by Hartnell at 2:46. Ryan Suter generated the chance by sending a pass from the middle of his own zone up to Hartnell at the far blue line. Hartnell gathered the puck, took two strides into the zone and unleashed a hard slapshot that beat Edmonton's Jussi Markkanen to tie the game. Buoyed by the goal, the Predators drew an interference penalty and nearly took the lead when the puck bounced to Predators top scorer Paul Kariya in the slot. His shot, targeted for the upper right portion of the goal, was snapped out of the air by Markkanen's catching glove. Nashville's penalty killers then turned in a great performance to limit Edmonton to no shots on a 3:11 power play that included 49 seconds of a five-on-three advantage.
The Predators' snowballing momentum was quickly halted, however, as Smith's blast from the right point was deflected past Vokoun to give the Oilers a 2-1 lead at 10:18. Vokoun returned with a key save three and a half minutes later, though, right after Kariya had another golden opportunity from the slot that was saved by Markkanen. The teams traded 4:00 power plays and several near misses in the final five minutes of the period. The latter portion of Nashville's double-minor to Hamhuis carried over into the third, and as Smyth tried to put a rebound by Vokoun at 1:23, the Nashville goaltender illegally threw his stick along the ice to block the puck and cancel an otherwise certain goal. The stick-throwing violation led to a penalty shot for Smyth, who moved left from his backhand to his forehand then tucked the puck around the outstretched right leg of Vokoun for a 3-1 cushion.
With Nashville on the ropes, Edmonton went for the knockout blow, peppering Vokoun with a flurry of shots over the next nine minutes and coming close on chances by Georges Laraque, Stoll and Hemsky. A high-sticking penalty to Raffi Torres at 10:20 turned the tide a bit, and the small momentum shift resulted in Sullivan's goal at 14:50 that cut the lead to one. The Predators used a series of fortuitous swats, keep-ins and pokes at the puck to maintain possession in the Oilers' zone, and the pressure paid off when Yanic Perreault connected with Sullivan in the right circle for a shot that beat Markkanen to the far side.
Hopes of a comeback were squashed less than a minute later when Hartnell's interference penalty put Nashville down a man, and a hooking call to Danny Markov 20 seconds later awarded Edmonton a five-on-three advantage for 1:40. A one-timer from Stoll at the right point restored Edmonton's two-goal lead at 16:41, and a high-sticking call against Zidlicky at 18:03 insured that the Predators would play the final 4:12 of the game short-handed.
The loss concluded a five-game road trip for Nashville that started in Chicago on Dec. 21. After posting three wins and two losses on the away stretch, the Predators return home to face the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim on Sunday. Less than 1,000 tickets remain for the game, which starts at 7 p.m. at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. For seats, call (615) 770-PUCK, order online, or visit the Gaylord Entertainment Center box office or any Ticketmaster location.
Notes: Nashville's power play, ranked seventh overall in the NHL prior to Friday's games, was shut out for the first time in 10 games Friday. It finished the night 0 for 6. Meanwhile, the Predators penalty killers, who entered the game ranked fifth overall, allowed two goals on eight Edmonton power-play chances.. The Predators played three Northwest Division teams in four days this week, defeating Calgary (Tues.) and losing to both Vancouver (Wed.) and Edmonton (Fri.). Nashville's record against the Northwest now stands at 6-4-0... Goaltender Tomas Vokoun stopped 31 of 35 shots in his 27th appearance of the season Friday. His record moves to 19-6-2... Nashville was outshot by the Oilers by a 35-31 margin. The Predators are now 13-6-3 when outshot by an opponent... For the 17th time this season, the Predators gave up the first goal of the game Friday. The team is now 12-4-1 when doing so... Forward Steve Sullivan posted his team-leading 17th goal against Edmonton. He is now tied with Paul Kariya for the team lead in points with 34 (17g, 17a). Sullivan also logged a season-high 22:33 of ice time Friday... Center Yanic Perreault notched an assist against the Oilers to build a two-game point streak. He also has points in four of his last five games... Defenseman Dan Hamhuis registered an assist Friday to extend his assist streak to three games... Center Jerred Smithson logged a season-high 14:36 of ice time Friday and linemate Jordin Tootoo skated a season-high 10:32. Each finished the game with a +1 rating... Nashville faced only its second penalty shot of the season Friday. Ryan Smyth converted on his solo opportunity against goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who allowed a penalty shot goal to Columbus' David Vyborny on Dec. 17. The Predators have attempted five penalty shots in 2005-06, but have yet to score... Jamie Allison was the only scratch for Nashville Friday... Attendance at Rexall Place was 16,839.
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