The Nashville Predators' season-long habit of committing undisciplined penalties reared its head again Friday night, allowing the Detroit Red Wings to overcome a 1-0 first-period deficit and score two power-play goals en route to a 3-1 defeat of the Predators at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Nashville stormed out to a 1-0 lead with a commanding first-period performance in the first meeting of the year between the Central Division rivals, then mounted a fierce but ultimately hollow rally in the third.
"We scored the power-play goal which was huge for us, but we did the things that we said we didn't want to do--put Detroit on the power play," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said. "We put them on [the power play] seven times."
"We just can't give them those opportunities," he added. "[Detroit has] two power play units that are extremely dangerous. I think we do too. But they're hitting a 25 percent right now. You give them eight power plays, they're going to score twice."
The loss was the Predators' first to a division opponent this season, and drops their record to 25-12-3 overall and 16-5-0 on home ice. With the win, top-ranked Detroit expands its lead over Nashville in the division standings to six points. The teams will meet seven more times before the end of the regular season.
Center Vernon Fiddler scored Nashville's lone goal on the power play 13:55 into the game, picking up where he left off after a two-goal effort in St. Louis on Wednesday. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun made 33 saves on 36 Red Wings shots, including two stellar stops on Henrik Zetterberg in the final seconds of the first period.
"I thought it was a pretty good game overall," Fiddler said. "We obviously took some penalties and that cost us the game. I thought that we outskated them and took it to them. They found a way to win and we didn't, and that's the ultimate goal."
Yanic Perreault drew an interference penalty on Andreas Lilja at 13:30 of the first to put the Predators on their initial power play of the night, and Fiddler's goal 25 seconds later propelled Nashville to an early lead. Defenseman Kimmo Timonen's shot from the left point made it through traffic to goaltender Manny Legace, who knocked the puck down. Legace had no chance to stop the rebound as both Scott Hartnell and Fiddler were behind the defense and standing on the doorstep when Timonen's shot came.
"We talked in the meeting about that this morning--getting it up top and getting pucks to the net and going to the net," Fiddler said. "I was just in the right place at the right time and punched it home."
Nashville was able to outnumber Detroit down low on a number of other occasions Friday, but was unable to convert those efforts into goals.
A hooking penalty to Steve Sullivan at 14:42 put the Red Wings on their third man advantage of the period, but the work by Nashville's penalty killers nullified that power-play opportunity as they had done with the earlier two. During the kill, Fiddler took the puck away from Detroit in the neutral zone and smoothly stickhandled his way by one defender to nearly string together a beautiful scoring chance. He lost the puck before he could complete the rush with a shot on goal. A blocked shot by Predators defenseman Mark Eaton at the other end was followed moments later by a prime chance from the stick of Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom that just missed, hitting the left side of the goal cage. But Vokoun turned away two better scoring bids with five seconds remaining in the opening stanza, making a right leg pad save on a point-blank shot by Zetterberg then catching just enough of the 25-year-old Swede's follow-up with the same pad to send the puck over the net and out of harm's way.
Vokoun was called upon to make four more notable saves early in the second, including one on a blast by Niklas Lidstrom and another on Lidstrom's immediate follow-up chance that was deflected on net by Kris Draper. The Predators had a flurry of chances around the 6:00 mark, but were outshot 16-10 in the period. The barrage was exacerbated by penalties to Timonen and fellow defenseman Shea Weber, who was playing in his first career NHL game after being recalled from Nashville's minor-league affiliate in Milwaukee earlier in the day.
Detroit narrowly missed scoring once when Zetterberg finished a rush with Jason Williams by putting the puck off the left post with eight and a half minutes gone, and again when the Wings slid the puck behind Vokoun but through the crease parallel to the goal line during a delayed penalty a minute later. Weber's tripping call at 16:50 proved the most costly, though, because Lidstrom capitalized on the ensuing power-play by uncorking a shot from the top center of the zone that beat Vokoun over the shoulder to tie the game at 17:16.
The Predators had won the first period. Detroit had won the second. That set the stage for the final 20 minutes, which proved entertaining for the sold-out Gaylord Entertainment Center crowd of 17,113.
Detroit got the jump on Nashville out of the gate in the third, exploiting a defensive lapse by the Predators in their own zone to take a 2-1 lead at the 2:00 mark. Williams took a pass from Mikael Samuelsson near the bottom of the right face-off circle and made one quick stickhandling move before chipping the puck over Vokoun and into the net.
"A breakdown like that decides the game," Vokoun said. "I don't know what happened, exactly, but two [Predators] went to the one guy and left the most dangerous guy in front of the net by himself."
A strong shift by Fiddler, Kariya, Scottie Upshall, Eaton and Danny Markov six minutes in turned the momentum in Nashville's favor, and defenseman Dan Hamhuis nearly knotted the score at 2-2 midway through the period. A Predators scoring flurry left Legace out of position to the left of the Detroit net when the puck made its way to Hamhuis who had pinched a bit from the left point. Legace, prone with his legs extending toward the left corner, had his torso in the crease's blue paint and was able to reach out with his goal stick to deflect Hamhuis' shot, which was targeting a gaping net.
"Those are the ones you'd like to take back and maybe put a couple of more inches under the puck," Hamhuis said, "but [Legace] played well tonight."
Half a minute later, a cross-checking penalty to Detroit's Mathieu Schneider put the Predators on their fourth power play of the night. The golden opportunity to tie the game was short-lived, however, as Hartnell was whistled for interference 59 seconds into the man advantage. After 1:01 of four-on-four play, Detroit gained a five-on-four advantage that they parlayed into their third goal of the game at 13:07. Lidstrom tallied his second of the night on the play, one-timing a pass from Steve Yzerman through a Brendan Shanahan screen and past Vokoun.
"We're on a power play and we take a penalty--an absolutely unnecessary penalty--and they score the third one," Trotz said. "We didn't get the second one, but it's a little tougher coming back down two than one."
Indeed, Nashville generated a few more chances but only managed nine shots over the final 20 minutes. The 3-1 score stood until the final buzzer. But many in the Predators locker room feel that despite the result, they set a tone for the season series.
"This is the first of eight, and if it keeps getting bigger and better it's going to be something special," Trotz said.
"I think we realize some areas that we have to continue to get better [in] and I think there's some areas that I think we can exploit a little bit better," Trotz added. "The first time you play someone you learn a lot, and we'll find a different way to attack them and I'm sure they'll have some twists to what they're doing too."
"They just find a way to get it done, and ultimately we've got to get better," Predators captain Greg Johnson said. "They're still the elite team in the league, and we've got to find a way to get better."
Notes: Next on the Predators' schedule is a trip to Chicago for a Sunday night match-up against the Blackhawks, another Central Division rival... With his power-play goal in the first period Friday night, Vernon Fiddler has three goals in his last two games. Two of the three tallies came during the man advantage... Nashville's power-play goal was the first Detroit had allowed in six games. The Red Wings had killed 21 straight penalties before Fiddler scored on Nashville's first power play Friday... Paul Kariya's assist on Fiddler's goal gives him three points (1 goal, 2 assists) over his last two games. No. 9 continues to lead the team in scoring (37 points) and shots (126)... Kimmo Timonen posted an assist on Fiddler's goal and has three helpers in his last four games... Shea Weber made a solid contribution in his first game as a Predator, logging 11:08 of ice time and registering three shots and two hits. One of his shots in the third nearly squeezed through goaltender Manny Legace's pads, and in that same period he delivered a strong check on Pavel Datsyuk that dumped the Wings' leading scorer to the ice. Head coach Barry Trotz indicated in his post-game press conference that Weber would probably return to Milwaukee, as they expect Marek Zidlicky to be ready to play Sunday night in Chicago... The Predators are now 12-7-2 when scoring first and 11-3-2 when leading after one... Nashville was outshot by Detroit 36 to 30, and falls to 13-8-3 when registering fewer shots than its opponent... The Predators wore their gold jerseys for the eighth time this season and fell to 6-2-0 when sporting the third jerseys... Including Friday night's packed house, the Predators have had four sell-outs and eight crowds of 16,000 or more in first 21 games of 2005-06 season. By comparison, the Predators sold out one game and had three crowds of 16,000 or more in first 21 games of 2003-04. They finished that season with six sell-outs... Zidlicky and Jamie Allison were scratched from Nashville's lineup Friday.
Watch the game highlights (1:17)
Listen to head coach Barry Trotz' post-game press conference (9:06)
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