Photo by John Russell
Nashville defenseman Brendan Witt clears Tomas Holmstrom from in front of goaltender Tomas Vokoun.
The Nashville Predators turned their play around Thursday night, but were unable to answer two third-period goals by the Detroit Red Wings in a 4-2 loss at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Mike Sillinger and Scott Hartnell scored for the Predators, who presented an intense 60-minute effort after struggling in the latter half of a four-game road trip.
The loss, Nashville's fourth in a row, drops the club's season record to 42-23-8 with nine games remaining on the schedule.
"I'm concerned anytime we go into a little lull here, and you want to get out of it, but if we play that way from now until the end of the season, I don't have any concerns," Predators head coach Barry Trotz said of his team's performance Thursday.
For starters, Nashville returned to the physical style that contributed to its success in a recent five-game win streak. Up and down the lineup, players were finishing checks, delivering open-ice hits and winning battles along the boards. With hitters Shea Weber and Scott Nichol sitting as healthy scratches and Darcy Hordichuk serving the second game of a three-game suspension, the grit was sparked by forwards Jordin Tootoo, Scott Walker, and Jerred Smithson as well as defenseman Brendan Witt.
"That's how we have to play," Trotz said. "If you're going to skate around and not bump into people and not separate them from the puck--if you're going to just swing by Detroit Red Wings players on a puck possession team, they're going to have the puck all night. I thought we did a really good job of staying on the body and not turning away. We created a lot of turnovers down deep and we had some really good chances."
"You've got to be physical on [defensemen Nicklas] Lidstrom, [Chris] Chelios and [Mathieu] Schneider," Predators blueliner Brendan Witt said. "Those guys log a lot of minutes. Even the forwards, [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg, if you can be physical on them, make it a little tougher for them, all the better for us."
After an early bombardment by Detroit in which the Wings outshot the Preds six to zero in the opening 3:25, Nashville settled in. Scott Walker and Greg Johnson each created scoring opportunities while the Predators killed an early penalty, then the home team had its own shot at the power play. Red Wings goaltender Manny Legace, who turned in a big save on Johnson's short-handed chance with just over 5:00 gone, made a remarkable stop on Kimmo Timonen's bid off the rush. Legwand, who set up Timonen's shot with a cross-ice pass, centered the puck to Steve Sullivan less than two minutes later for a challenging attempt from the slot. Legace solved Sullivan as well, but by the 9:02 mark, Nashville had rallied to match Detroit on the shot counter at seven shots apiece.
While Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom sat in the penalty box for goaltender interference, Nashville took a 1-0 lead on its third power play. With all five Predators set up in the Detroit zone, Paul Kariya worked the puck from the right side to Sullivan high in the center of the zone. He in turn passed to Sillinger in the left circle, where the veteran forward unleashed a shot that beat Legace high to the far side at 13:29.
The Red Wings wasted little time responding, as Nashville goaltender Tomas Vokoun coughed up a rebound on a shot by Datsyuk from the right circle and was unable to prevent an unguarded Kris Draper from chipping in the loose puck at 14:09 to tie the score.
Nashville upped the ante by retaking the lead 27 seconds later, when Witt's shot from the left point was redirected past Legace by Hartnell in front. Tootoo followed that up by making a beeline at Legace with the puck from the right wall. The resulting collision earned the Tootoo a two-minute stint in the box for goaltender interference. Undeterred, the aggressive Predators forward emerged from his sentence with one of his most effective shifts of the night, grazing Andreas Lilja with a big open-ice hit before stepping into the middle of a scrum in front of the Nashville bench with two minutes left in the period.
Vokoun made a sharp glove save on Datsyuk's shot from the right circle at 18:33, then Hartnell and Shanahan went toe-to-toe behind Nashville's net after the whistle to earn five-minute fighting majors. Six seconds later, Sullivan joined Hartnell in the box for a slashing infraction. With just 35 seconds left in the period, Holmstrom capitalized on the power play to knot the score at 2-2. It was the latest in a spate of last-minute goals Nashville has allowed in recent games.
"Those really come back to haunt you when you leave," Witt said. "You've got the lead going in and they tie it up with maybe 30 seconds left."
Photo by Frederick Breedon
David Legwand (right) and Detroit goaltender Manny Legace watch a Predators scoring chance go wide of the net. Legwand posted a game-high six shots.
Though no goals were scored in the second period, the intense play continued. Walker and Smithson each delivered hits that brought roars from the crowd of 16,570. Legwand was the recipient of two good scoring opportunities--one of which hit the crossbar--while Kariya directed a Sillinger pass wide of an open net during a rush late in the period. Vokoun, meanwhile, made key stops on breakaways by Lilja and Robert Lang.
"A couple of times we missed the open net and that's just the kind of thing you need, just a little luck," said Vokoun, who stopped 30 of the Red Wings' 34 shots in the game. "But [Legace] played well, no question about that."
The third period is when Detroit pulled away. Nashville's physical game diminished and the Predators weren't as strong in along-the-board battles. The loss of one such battle combined with a defensive breakdown allowed Shanahan to put a backhander by Vokoun at 1:42 and give the Wings a 3-2 lead.
"Three white [Detroit] jerseys were along the wall and our guys sort of pressed down on them--two 'D' and a forward," Trotz said. "Really, ideally you don't want that, but it was sort of getting [to be] a little bit of a soccer, rugby match in the corner there and it sort of settled down a bit. Shanahan just popped out of the pile a little bit and Sillinger was watching the puck. They popped it to 'Shanny' and Shanahan's not going to miss too many opportunities like that. He's scored a gazillion goals in this league, so he capitalized on that."
Despite having the only three power plays of the final period, the Predators couldn't beat Legace, who made important saves on Sillinger and Erat midway through the period. Then at 15:54, Jason Williams sealed the game when he finished off a two-on-one that he and Steve Yzerman had created low in the Nashville zone. Yzerman's pass from the right corner made it past the stick of defenseman Dan Hamhuis to Williams in the slot, where he one-timed a shot that beat Vokoun to the glove side.
"We just got going a little bit the wrong way," Trotz said of his club during the Red Wings' fourth goal. "We thought the puck was going to go outside the zone and they were able to keep it in and bang, they countered on us."
The victory puts Detroit 15 points ahead of second-place Nashville in the Central Division standings. Now rather than looking up toward a first-place finish, Nashville is casting backward glances at Western Conference teams slowly encroaching on the Predators' fourth-place ranking. While disappointed in the result, the home locker room seemed buoyed by Thursday's effort.
"I don't think there was a lack of anything from our team," said Walker, who looked good in his second game back from a hand injury. "I thought Tomas played great, our 'D' played well. Everybody played solid. We just didn't get it done tonight."
The loss brings about what Trotz called a "must-game for us" against St. Louis at the GEC on Saturday. "We've got to have that one just to get back on track," he said.
"I was hoping to get a big win [Thursday] and get through the weekend, but you know, you've got to start somewhere," Trotz said. "Well, we started and did some things in the positive vein today and we've just got to build forward. We've got to win a game on Saturday and then move forward."
Notes: The loss was only the seventh regulation defeat at home for the Predators this season. Nashville is 11-3-1 over its last 15 home games, with all three losses coming against the Red Wings... Nashville now trails the season series vs. Detroit 3-4-0 and is winless (0-3) at home against the Western Conference-leading Red Wings in the 2005-06 campaign. The two clubs will meet once more during the regular season--April 18 at the GEC... David Legwand skated in his 400th career game and became only the fourth Predators player to have amassed 200 points and played in 400 games for Nashville. He posted a game-high six shots... Nashville finished March with an 8-5-2 record and has had a winning mark in every month this season except February (3-4-0). The 18 points accumulated in March equal the high previously set in December (9-5-0)... Thursday night was only the second time this season that the Predators and their opposition have finished a game with the same total number of shots. Nashville's record is 1-1-0 under that scenario... Steve Sullivan posted an assist and now has points in 11 of his last 12 contests (5g-13a=18pts)... Mike Sillinger's goal gave him points in four straight games (3g-3a=6pts) and goals in three straight... Sillinger's tally came on the power play and was Nashville's 83rd power-play tally of the season--10 more than the previous high... Paul Kariya collected an assist to give him 47 on the season and 74 points. Both are club records. It's the sixth time in his career that Kariya has scored over 70 points in a season... Yanic Perreault posted his 29th assist of the season, tying his career high set in 2001-02 with Montreal... Kariya, Scott Hartnell, and Dan Hamhuis have played in all 73 Predators games this season... Marek Zidlicky, Shea Weber, Scottie Upshall, Scott Nichol and Vern Fiddler were scratches for Nashville. Darcy Hordichuk served the second game of a three-game suspension... Attendance at the GEC was 16,570.
Video: Watch the game highlights (1:04)
Audio: Listen to head coach Barry Trotz's post-game press conference (11:19)
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