Photo: John Russell
J.P. Dumont got Nashville's 2006-07 season off to a good start with a beautiful goal 39 seconds into Thursday's opener.
The Nashville Predators came up on the short end of a horse race with the Chicago Blackhawks Thursday night, dropping their home opener 8-6 at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. David Legwand posted two goals and an assist for the Predators, but it was Blackhawks forward Martin Havlat's four-point night (2 goals, 2 assists) that nabbed first-star honors.
Nashville outshot Chicago 40-33 and spent 16:07 on the power play compared to only 2:15 for the visitors. While the Predators converted on one of nine chances with the manpower advantage, the Blackhawks capitalized on their two opportunities and added a short-handed tally to turn the Predators' 4-3 second-period lead into a 6-4 deficit. Radim Vrbata added another goal for Chicago before Legwand and Steve Sullivan mounted a two-goal rally that cut it to 7-6 with 1:37 left. Havlat's steal and empty-net goal squashed a final flurry by the Predators. Goaltender Tomas Vokoun had an uncharacteristic game in front of a sold-out home crowd, allowing seven goals on 32 shots.
Nashville newcomer J.P. Dumont got the season off to a fast start with a beautiful goal 39 seconds into the game. Dumont, an off-season free-agent acquisition making his Predators debut, carried the puck from in front of Chicago's bench to the Blackhawk goal, undressing defender Jassen Cullimore in the process. Dumont's move from his forehand to his backhand sent the puck through Cullimore's legs, then a backhanded shot trickled through the pads of Khabibulin to make it 1-0 early.
A slashing penalty to Chicago's Reed Low at 2:50 put Nashville on the power play, and the Predators capitalized with Kimmo Timonen's point blast at 4:43. The 2-0 lead was short-lived, however, because Havlat cut that margin in half with a breakaway goal at 5:15.
Chicago used the momentum shift to score twice more in a 1:43 span, getting a bang-bang goal from Patrick Sharp at 8:41 and a tally from the right circle by Michal Handzus at 10:24. The Predators had two more power play opportunities before the intermission and created numerous scoring chances but no goals. Khabibulin was sharp, stopping 14 first-period shots as Nashville outshot Chicago 15-7 in the opening 20 minutes.
The Predators came out strong once again at the start of the second, knotting the game at 3-3 with 1:48 gone. The tying goal came on a three-on-two break in which Sullivan charged through the middle and drew defenders to open space for his teammates Legwand and Scott Hartnell. Hartnell sent a cross-ice pass to Legwand, who beat Khabibulin.
Nashville also got the next goal to take the lead at 10:56 of the middle frame. Martin Erat's shot from the high slot sailed into the entangled pair of Josef Vasicek and Lasse Kukkonen in front. Vasicek's deflection angled the puck past Khabibulin to make it 4-3. But the game's back-and-forth nature continued, as Chicago tied it once again on Nashville's first minor penalty of the game. With Jason Arnott in the box for interference, the potent combination of Havlat and Handzus combined to set up Martin Lapointe for an easy goal from the right side at 14:24.
That power-play goal started the four-goal streak that put Chicago comfortably ahead 7-4. Rene Bourque's short-hander, which made it 5-4, resulted from the Blackhawks forward cutting a cross-ice pass from Sullivan to Marek Zidlicky while Nashville worked the puck around on the power play. Bourque carried the puck alone down the left wing and put a shot through Vokoun's five-hole at 4:00 of the third period. Less than six minutes later, with the Predators short-handed for only the second time of the game, Bryan Smolinski snuck behind defenseman Greg Zanon and converted a pass from Bourque to put Chicago up 6-4 at 9:40. An offensive zone turnover by Nashville led to a two-on-one the other way, and ultimately Vrbata's short-side goal at 13:08 to make it 7-4.
A minute-and-a-half later, Legwand got one back for the Predators as he banked a pass in off a defender while trying to connect with Paul Kariya at the left post. That made it 7-5 at 14:27 and gave Nashville a noticeable shot of momentum. The makeshift line of Vasicek, Hartnell and Tootoo generated a close chance around the 16:00 mark and Sullivan drew a hooking penalty on Sharp seconds later to put Chicago a man down. Nashville's best chances on the ensuing power-play came on a shot by Timonen, whose wide-open bid from the slot was blocked in front by a pile of defenders, and an aerial puck off of Hartnell that Khabibulin snapped up with his glove.
The Predators had possession in the offensive zone as the penalty expired, and as Sharp re-entered the play, Sullivan walked off the left wall and fired a blast from high in the zone. His rising shot was uninterrupted as it flew past Khabibulin high into the net. Nashville took a time-out and pulled Vokoun with 1:09 left, but any thoughts of a tie were dashed with Havlat's breakaway empty-netter with 55 seconds remaining.
Predators Forward Paul Kariya
"I thought we gave them way too many scoring chances. They've got some good offensive players and they've got a fast team, so you're not going to win any games playing like that."
"Lot of odd-man rushes, a lot of two-on-ones. We just pinched at the wrong times. A couple times pucks bounced over defensemen and they got rushes. You're never going to win games when you give up that many goals."
"If you give up two-on-ones to guys like Havlat and Handzus, they're going to bury them. We played horribly in front of Tomas. That won't happen again."
"I thought we came out with great jump in the first period. I think we outshot them 15- in the first period. We played well offensively but we didn't need to give up that many chances."
Predators Goaltender Tomas Vokoun
"All around, I can't be happy with the way I played. Sure, we've got to play better defensively, but I've just got to stop the puck and I didn't do it tonight."
"It's my responsibility to stop the puck and correct mistakes, and I just didn't do it today. Their goaltender played better than me. That's basically why they won."
On the reasons for his sub-par game...
"It's five minutes after the game. I've got to think about stuff and kind of reevaluate what I did wrong. There's a lot of it. I'll try to correct it tomorrow. It's one game. Stuff like this is going to happen. It's unfortunate it happened in the home opener, but it is what it is right now. You've got to refocus and be better next time."
"We started well. We knew they were a dangerous team, I just don't think we were listening good. We were listening to it but we didn't believe it and they showed us. It's a good lesson. You can look at it two ways. Obviously you have to be disappointed, but we've got to find out where we went wrong and correct it. We have a good team. It's one game. It's not going to be easy, like I said, just because we have a good team. We still have to play defensively and do all those things. If we're not going to do it, we could see a lot of games like this.
Predators Defenseman Kimmo Timonen
"We turned the puck over too many times and gave up a short-handed goal. They were better in every area. Their special teams were better today than ours. You've got to look forward. That's not the way we're going to play. If we're going to win games, that's not the way."
On whether there's a positive in the resiliency the Predators showed in coming back...
"You always want to play hard. I'm not happy with the way we played. Like I said, their special teams were way better than ours, and you turn the puck over too many times. I think that was a good wake-up call for us. We've got a lot of offense, but we can't win the games playing like that."
On whether there was a letdown after Nashville's two quick goals...
"We got the start we wanted. We gave up too many turnovers and goals right away. We got a good start but I can't say we kind of slowed it down. We made too many mistakes and they scored."
"It's just one game out of 82. It's not a good game to start, but like I said it was a good wake up call for us. We've got to get back here tomorrow and watch a little bit of tape and get better. That's not the way we're going to win games. I'm sure tomorrow is a lot of meetings--it should be--and go from there."
Predators Forward David Legwand
"You can't be giving up eight goals at home. When you score six in any game against anyone you should be able to win. You've got to step it up in our own game--everyone. We've got a lot of road games coming up and we're going to have to do it there."
"We came back there at the end. You can't be giving up three goals in the third period. We were 4-4 going into the third. We've got to take advantage of that."
On communication among the many new faces...
"We communicated fine. We had a couple of mental lapses and defensive lapses at times. They capitalized on our mistakes. Khabibulin kept them in the game, obviously. We put 40 shots on him and he kept them in the game and gave them a chance to win."
On his first goal of the game...
"There was a turnover there at the red line. Me and [Hartnell] have been playing together all week. It's nice to jell with someone like that and keep that going."