The Nashville Predators got into penalty trouble early and often Saturday night against the visiting Dallas Stars and allowed two power play goals in a 3-1 loss in front of 14,747 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Nashville committed 13 minor penalties on the night, resulting in 12 manpower advantages for the Stars--including several 5-on-3 opportunities--and short-circuiting any momentum. Scott Hartnell did net a power-play tally for Nashville early in the third to cut Dallas' lead to 2-1, but the Stars answered less than three minutes later to rebuild the two-goal cushion that would stand until the final buzzer.
"We knew that with 20 minutes left to go, down 2-0, we still had a chance," Predators forward Steve Sullivan said. "A two-goal lead in this league is probably the worst lead in hockey. And then we get a great goal on the power play. So we felt the momentum. Them coming back and scoring, that deflated us a little bit for sure."
The loss--only the second for the Predators on home ice this season--drops Nashville's overall record to 14-4-3.
The Predators got through the first period unscathed despite giving the Stars three cracks at the man advantage. In fact, Nashville outshot the Stars 10-7 in the opening 20 minutes, thanks in large part to an early power play that accounted for the bulk of those shots. A strict referee and some undisciplined penalties--including a roughing penalty after the play that canceled out a Dallas boarding penalty, a too-many-men-on-the-ice bench penalty, a delay of game whistle for sending the puck over the glass and an unsportsmanlike conduct call for debating with a ref--kept Nashville on its heels for long stretches and forced players who don't play on the penalty kill to spend a lot of time on the bench.
"It was just tough to get momentum going," Sullivan said. "It was tough for a lot of guys on the bench to get their legs, to try to get some momentum. We weren't able to get our energy line out there to try to create some stuff very much because of the penalties. We just didn't have any flow.... We were at the wrong end of that."
The Stars broke through on their fourth power play of the night, at the 5:45 mark of the second period. The goal came off a rush into Nashville's zone during which captain Mike Modano carried the puck along the right boards before passing it to the third Star that came across the blue line, Jere Lehtinen. The 6'0", 192-pound Finnish right wing beat Predators goaltender Tomas Vokoun with a shot from the slot for his team-leading 12th goal of the season. Nashville's penalty killers kept the margin at 1-0 even though Dallas had three separate chances--two short and one lengthy--with five-on-three power plays in a 3:28 span in the second.
"I thought our penalty kill guys did a real good job--those guys who play those hard minutes," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "We had a really good power play. We just gave them too many opportunities."
One of those opportunities came in the final two minutes of the middle period, when an ill-advised pinch by Nashville allowed Stu Barnes to get behind the defense and receive a pass from Niko Kapanen that he deposited through Vokoun's legs from the left wing. Dallas carried the 2-0 lead into the locker room for the second intermission.
The Predators came out with more jump and determination to start the third period. Just 34 seconds into the final frame, defenseman Dan Hamhuis drove to the Dallas net and attempted to stuff the puck past Turco on his backhand, but was denied. A minute later, Adam Hall got the puck on his backhand in a choice shooting location and ripped it wide of the goal. A tripping penalty on Jason Arnott at 2:28 opened the door for the Predators, providing them with their sixth power play of the night. Center David Legwand, standing in the right face-off circle, found teammate Scott Hartnell positioned in front of the left post of Dallas' net and put a hard pass on the tape of Hartnell's stick for the winger to redirect past Stars goaltender Marty Turco.
But 26 seconds later, the Preds went back on the penalty kill as a result of a hooking penalty at 4:05. Vokoun made key saves on three successive shots about a minute into the man advantage, but a point blast by Trevor Daley with one second remaining on the penalty deflected off Antti Miettinen's leg and past a completely screened Vokoun. The Predators were unable to respond, despite 1:17 with a five-on-three power play and, later, the removal of Vokoun for an extra attacker with about a minute and a half remaining in regulation.
"Their goaltender was hot tonight and they have a couple of the best defensemen in the league," Eaton said, "So, yeah, it is tough to come back on them but we had some momentum there early on in the period when we made it 2-1. But they scored a big goal there."
The Predators were outshot 13-7 in the second period and 12-7 in the third. Vokoun stopped 29 of Dallas' 32 shots, while Turco turned away 23 of 24 at the other end of the rink and earned Second Star honors behind Barnes. The Predators power play finished the night one-for-nine, while Dallas converted on two of their 12 opportunities.
"You're not going to have success sitting in the box all night," Trotz said. "You're going to lose rhythm. I have no excuses. Part of it is you have to adjust. That is the great part about our game--you're never out. You have to stay on task, adjust, play smart. You have to do those things to be successful in this league. We did not adjust enough in these areas and it cost us this game. We need to get better in these areas."
Saturday's game was the second date of a five-game homestand for the Predators that continues on Tuesday with a visit from the Calgary Flames. Game time is 7 p.m. Nashville then wraps up the week hosting the Minnesota Wild on Thursday, Dec. 1 and the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday, Dec. 2. Tickets are still available for all of these games and can be purchased by calling (615) 770-PUCK, ordering online, or visiting any Ticketmaster outlet.
Notes: With an assist on Nashville's lone goal against Dallas, defenseman Marek Zidlicky now has points in four straight games. He has one goal and six assists in that span... Forward Adam Hall had his four-game point-scoring streak ended Saturday night, but he has played 20+ minutes in each of last four games--his first 20+ minutes-played games of the season... Defenseman Dan Hamhuis led all Predators skaters in ice time Saturday with 26:40, his season high... The Predators are now 14-4-3 for 31 points. The club's best previous record after 21 games was 10-10-1-0 for 21 points in 2003-04... The earliest the Predators reached the 14-win mark was 25 games in 2003-04. They did not get to 15th win until game #31 (still fastest in franchise history)... The Predators lost in their gold third jerseys for the first time this season Saturday. They had gone 3-0-0 when wearing them... Through 12 home games, the Predators have drawn 170,687 fans for an average of 14,224, compared to 11,932 (143,178) at the same point in 2003-04... Nashville has scored a power-play goal in seven straight games (going 13 for 50), with eight different players scoring: Sullivan, Zidlicky, Hartnell, Kariya and Hall have two each, while Erat, Timonen and Hamhuis each have one... The Predators were without four regulars in Saturday's 3-1 loss to Dallas (Scott Walker, Scott Nichol, Greg Johnson and Danny Markov) and had five players in the lineup that were not in the Opening Night lineup (Upshall, Hordichuk, Allison, Stevenson and Smithson).