The Fight Everyone Expected
The Nashville Predators returned to the friendly confines of the Sommet Center on New Year's night and played the best game they have played in since their win over the Red Wings last week. Unfortunately they lost to Vancouver 2-1.
It is becoming increasingly frustrating for the players and fans of the Predators when the team plays solid defense, gets good goaltending, and does all the other things you have to do to win a hockey game and still lose because the puck can't seem to find the back of the net. The Preds had plenty of scoring chances but could not produce the needed scoring that has eluded them recently.
The last meeting with the Canucks on December 9th seems to have been the start of the current goal drought which has become a major issue for the Predators. Including that game, the Predators have scored 14 goals in ten games, 6 of which came in wins over Dallas and Detroit. It is a miracle that their record has been 3-6-1 during that stretch. The wins were only on the stength of stellar goaltending efforts.
The game provided plenty of excitement starting with Jordan Tootoo picking a fight with fellow pest Alex Burrows at the opening face off, finally stopping play 22 seconds into the first period. The open ice hit Burrows laid on J P Dumont that many considered worthy of a suspension coincides with Dumont's total lack of production in the 9 games since with only one assist during that span. The Predators have never said anything but after watching the game last night, I feel sure that Dumont is physically hurting and not capable of playing his usual game.
Pekka Rinne got the call in goal against Vancouver and played as well as you could ever want stopping 30 of 32 shots. The first goal is one he would like to have back but the second was on a tip that he claimed to be screened on. This is not a game where any blame can be placed on Rinne. In the NHL if you are at home and your keeper holds the opposition to two goals, you should be able to win the vast majority of the time.
Jason Labarbara seemed to find new life playing for Vancouver. Suffering from lack of sleep and muscle cramps at the end of the game, he was able to stop all but Rich Perverly's nifty goal off a backhanded between the legs pass from Radek Bonk in the second period. In spite of his stellar play, a jeer from the crowd provided one of the better laughs of the game when a Pred fan yelled "Hey Labarbara, how does it feel to be traded for a seventh round pick?" Ouch!
In post game questioning, Coach Barry Trotz acknowledged that personnel moves were in the offing. With the no movement period over and David Poile at the World Juniors, I am sure extensive discussions are underway. Unfortunately, the Predators needs have become so acute that a good deal will be hard to come by. The most likely move would be either the recall of Ryan Jones who has 17 points in 17 games since being sent to Milwaukee or the NHL debut of Mike Santorelli who is tied for second in the AHL in points with 13 goals and 27 assists in 33 games.
The Predators remain at home for a rare afternoon game on Saturday against the Calgary Flames. The Preds are almost in a must win situation for the remaining four home games which also includes the Avs, Pens and Hawks. If the current scoring drought and resulting free-fall in the standings continues Nashville won't have to be concerned about a fifth straight first round loss in the playoffs.
Pred Prospects at the World Juniors... Colin Wilson continued his strong play in the USA game against Canada on Wednesday night scoring two more goals. Jonathon Blum returned from the cut to the face on Tuesday to lead the defensive charge and score a goal against Canada. Canada goalie Chet Picard, despite going 2-0 with a .50 GAA, may have seen his last tourney action as it appears Dustin Tokarski may get the next start after his strong play against the USA. Blum and Wilson return to action on Friday afternoon when the USA faces Slovakia. Picard and Canada will wait for the result of today's Czech-Russia game to see who they will play Saturday.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass