In a wild game in which the Nashville Predators twice built a one-goal lead but had to come from behind to force a scrambled overtime, the Atlanta Thrashers tallied once in the game-deciding shootout and got rock-solid goaltending to hand the Predators a 4-3 loss Wednesday night at Philips Arena. Atlanta's first shooter, Marian Hossa, scored on Nashville goalie Tomas Vokoun at one end while Thrashers goaltender Kari Lehtonen stymied Steve Sullivan, Paul Kariya and Marek Zidlicky at the other. The Predators receive one point in the standings for the shootout loss, moving their overall record to 27-12-4.
Center Yanic Perreault, who posted an assist in Nashville's 2-1 win over the New York Islanders Tuesday night, led the way for Nashville on the scoresheet. He continued his hot play of late--15 points in his last 15 games--by netting the Predators' second and third goals of the night. Nashville forward Darcy Hordichuk scored the only goal of the first two periods, then the teams combined to light the lamp five times in the third. For Vokoun, that flurry of goals and the shootout loss overshadowed some of his best goaltending of the season. Undisciplined penalties committed by the Predators--a familiar drumbeat this season--are what jeopardized Nashville's chances of leaving Atlanta with a win, according to Predators head coach Barry Trotz.
"We talked about not taking any penalties before the game because Atlanta--they're like Detroit--they have one of the most outstanding power plays in the league," Trotz said. "They really thrive on it. We end up taking 10 penalties. That zapped a lot of energy out of our guys who played the night before. [Atlanta is] a very good team. Tomas Vokoun got us a point in the first two periods. That's the way I looked at it. But I do give the guys a lot of credit. We fell behind with not a lot of energy and sort of being under the gun with all the penalties and we were able to fight back and get it tied up and get a point."
The Thrashers were awarded a total of 10 power plays in the game--six in the first period alone--and spent 16:28 of the contest skating with a manpower advantage. Nashville's penalty killers were superb, blanking Atlanta on nine of the 10 opportunities.
"We need to be more disciplined in terms of the way we play," Trotz said. "Some of our more skill players--a guy like Martin Erat, he took three penalties. He's a guy that should draw penalties with his speed and ability. That's unacceptable. It puts a lot of pressure on everybody and it took a lot of energy to kill those off.
"I thought one of our best lines got taken out of the game today," he added. "The [Jerred] Smithson, Hordichuk, [Jeremy] Stevenson line was taken out of the game because of all the power plays and penalty kills. So from that standpoint, we're a team that needs to play all our lines, especially when you play back-to-back."
Two-thirds of that line combined to put Nashville on the board early. Sent out for a face-off at the tail end of a Thrashers power play, Hordichuk and Stevenson were joined by center Vernon Fiddler once he emerged from the penalty box. Defenseman Marek Zidlicky intercepted a clearing attempt just inside the Atlanta zone and fired a shot on net from the right point. Fiddler nearly batted in the resulting rebound, but ended up turning with the puck and delivering it back to Zidlicky. Zidlicky then zipped a beautiful pass to Hordichuk, who was crashing the net from the left side. With the table set, the hard-hitting winger simply redirected the puck into the empty side of the goal for his fourth of the season and a 1-0 lead at 5:26 of the first.
The fact that that goal was the only tally through the opening 40 minutes is a testament to the play of Vokoun. Atlanta outshot Nashville 23 to 12 in the first two periods, and the Predators netminder strung together one impressive save after the other while denying potent forwards like Marc Savard, Ilya Kovalchuk and Slava Kozlov.
Both teams generated an abundance of quality scoring chances, but Kozlov was the one who eventually opened the floodgates in the third. He tied the game at 1:09 on a shot from the right face-off circle that he put between Vokoun's legs. Perreault restored the lead at 6:16, on a play set up by Sullivan and Scott Walker. Sullivan won a battle for the puck in the left corner and dished a backhand pass deeper along the boards to Walker. Walker then sent it to Perreault in the left circle for a one-timer that dented the twine.
This time the lead would only last 51 seconds, however, as Kovalchuk--the league's top goal scorer--completed a rush with a shot from the hashmarks that beat Vokoun to the stick side. The Thrashers then cashed in on the power play at 12:02 to take their first lead. Forward Marc Savard's slapshot from the top of the right circle was slowed by Vokoun but still managed to get past him to make it 3-2 in favor of Atlanta.
Following Savard's goal, the Predators redoubled their efforts and began peppering Lehtonen. A hooking call to defenseman Shane Hnidy at 13:52 gave Nashville a five-on-four advantage, and Perreault sprung Sullivan at the far blue line for a chance that would have certainly tied the game if not for an amazing save from Lehtonen. Sullivan received the puck on left wing with a step on the defender. He cut in from left to right, patiently holding the puck as he glided past Lehtonen and waited for the rookie goaltender to make the first move. As Lehtonen began to go down on his stomach, Sullivan saw his chance and lifted a shot that was surprisingly snared out of the air by an outstretched catching glove. But Nashville did capitalize on that same power play at 15:34. A shot from Zidlicky went wide right, but Perreault was alone at the side of the net and played the carom off the end boards, roofing the puck to knot the score at 3-3 with his 17th of the season.
"Right now he's on pace for 35 goals probably," Trotz said of Perreault. "That's a pretty good pace for a guy that came in for a tryout two days before training camp."
The ensuing four-on-four overtime period started conservatively but ended up being chock-full of chances as well. Sullivan was the strongest Predator in the extra session, setting up Smithson for a prime scoring chance with just over three minutes gone and later sending a rebound wide through the goal mouth. A hooking call to Walker with 1:05 remaining in OT forced Nashville back to the penalty kill for the remainder of the game, but Atlanta was unable to convert on the four-on-three advantage.
That set the stage for the exciting shootout, during which Lehtonen bested Vokoun by stopping three shooters to Vokoun's one. "They're both good goalies," Trotz said. "Tomas is an established goalie and Lehtonen is one of the top prospects to have come around in a long time." Through overtime, Vokoun had stopped 38 of 41 shots and Lehtonen had stopped 23 of 26.
Next the Predators travel to Raleigh, N.C., for a Friday the 13th match-up with the Carolina Hurricanes. The game, which begins at 6 p.m. CT, will be televised on FSN South and broadcast on 104.5 FM The Zone.
Stick switcheroo: After Ilya Kovalchuk scored his third-period goal, the Predators wanted to have his stick checked to determine whether or not it was legal. (The NHL rulebook includes measurements and dimensions that spell out how much curve a stick blade can have, for example.) But before head coach Barry Trotz could get the attention of the officials, the Thrashers swapped Kovalchuk's suspect stick with a legal one, Trotz attests.
"We saw them [swap the stick]," Trotz said. "We were going to call [for the measurement]. And we couldn't get [the officials'] attention because of the noise of the building. And [Atlanta] knew we were going to call it and they got the stick over to the bench. Scott Mellanby handed it off to one of their people who ran it down the hallway. The referee came over [to the Thrashers bench] and said we were asking for a stick measurement, and we said it's not the stick that he had. We said if the tape is not wet and all that, it's not the stick. And the referee said, 'It's dry as a bone. Do you want to call the stick?' I said, 'No. It's a legal stick.' So they just handed them the stick back and they didn't call it."
Notes: The Predators, who led 1-0 after two periods Wednesday night, remain unbeaten in regulation when carrying a lead into the third period (16-0-3)... Wednesday night's shootout against Atlanta was the Predators' sixth of the season, and with the loss their shootout record drops to 4-2. Nashville is tied with the New York Rangers for second in the NHL in shootout wins. Washington is the only NHL team with more wins (5)... In the shootout, goaltender Tomas Vokoun allowed one goal on two shots. That brings his totals this season to three goals against in 11 attempts... Paul Kariya was stopped on a shootout attempt for the first time this season Wednesday. He now has three goals in four attempts. Steve Sullivan is now two for five and Marek Zidlicky is one for four in shootout attempts... Yanic Perreault's two goals against Atlanta extend his point-scoring streak to three games. He has tallied four goals and one assist in that span. He has also accumulated 17 points (10 goals, 7 assists) over his last 16 games. Wednesday's game was his seventh multi-point performance of the season, and he has already scored more goals (17) in 43 games this season than he did in 69 games with Montreal during 2003-04 (16 goals). He is now ranked third on the team in scoring, behind Paul Kariya and Steve Sullivan... With his two assists, Zidlicky has four helpers in his last four games... Sullivan posted an assist to extend his point-scoring streak to three games. He has three goals and two assists in that span... The Predators power play went one for five Wednesday, scoring a power-play goal for the first time in three games... Scott Walker, Vernon Fiddler and Paul Kariya each recorded an assist against the Thrashers and now each has assists in their his two games... Nashville is now 3-3-1 vs. the Eastern Conference... Defenseman Mark Eaton logged a season-high 24:30 of ice time and blocked a game-high three shots... Jordin Tootoo and Jamie Allison were scratches for Nashville Wednesday... Attendance at Philips Arena was 12,809.
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