Saturday, January 3, 2009

Predators Find New Way to Lose

Jerod Smithson's shot gets behind Miikka Kiprusoff for the first score of the game

The Nashville Predators played another quality hockey game Saturday afternoon at the Sommet Center but lost to the Calgary Flames 3-2. The Predators either led or were tied for all but 23.4 seconds of the game. Unfortunately for the Pred Nation it was the last few ticks of the clock when they were behind.

Todd Bertuzzi scored the winning goal from point blank range after stripping Pred defenseman Dan Hamhuis of the puck as he tried to clear the Predator defensive zone. After the Preds raised the hopes of the crowd with solid play and many scoring opportunities, Bertuzzi's goal cast a silence like nothing I have experienced in the Sommet Center. As the final seconds ticked down, the stunned silence turned into hostile jeers which has been unheard of from Pred fans in years past.

The Predators scored first in the game when Jared Smithson scored a rare goal halfway into the first. Curtis Glencross answered with a goal for Calgary near the end of the period. Jason Arnot put the Preds ahead in the second on a beautiful textbook tic-tac-toe pass play from Erat to Dumont to Arnot on three sides of the Calgary net. It brought memories of how the Preds used to play before the recent slide. Daymond Langkow tied the game a second time at the 12:46 mark in the third on another defensive turnover. As the clock ticked down the Predators continued their agressive play, not willing to settle for an overtime point. That desparate pursuit of a win backfired when Burtuzzi drove the nail in the Preds coffin.

In a desparate measure, Barry Trotz tried a variety of line combinations througout the game in an effort to infuse some offense into a team that has averaged less than a goal and a half a game over the last 11 games. The Arnott, Dumont, Erat combo looked good and created several chances but left the remaining groups looking more like third or fourth lines with no real second scoring line in sight.

Dan Ellis returned in goal for the first time in three games as he had been suffering from a severe cold. He played well enough stopping 23 of 26 Calgary shots. Defensive lapses and turnovers were his primary demise giving him several chances for big saves and one big goal at an inopportune time. After the game Ellis explained his view, "We did play well defensively; it’s just the little key errors that are really costing us. We play a second and third period like we did and then we have one little bad play that turns out to be the game-winning goal. Those are the little things that we really need to bear down on—those errors—because that is what is costing us. The D was outstanding, we played a great team game and we came up short."

The Predator's penalty kill was perfect against the potent Calgary power play and were anemic on their own power play including failing on one double minor in the first period when Eric Nystom caught Kevin Klein in the face with a high stick.

The snake-bitten Predators have now lost four in a row and are 3-7-1 since the game agaisnt Vancouver on December 9th when the current malaise seems to have set in. They have two days of practice before the Colorado Avalanche pays a visit Tuesday night. I fully expect to see some new faces from Milwaukee in uniform by then.

Preds at the World Juniors
With the US loss to Slovakia on Friday, Colin Wilson and Jonathon Blum will be down to their last game, a fifth place bout with the Czechs on Sunday. In Friday's loss Blum got a goal and an assist and Wilson picked up an assist. Canada goalie Chet Pickard appears to have completed his play as Team Canada appears ready to ride the hot hand of Dustin Tokarshi through Canada's gold medal game vs the Swedes on Monday.

Scotty Nichol Update
Scotty Nichol who has not played since December 9th when he was dealt a concussion. Nichol has been one of my favorite players over the last couple of years, representing the heart and soul of the Predator psyche. While he is not a big point producer, he does all the little things that makes players around him more succesful. Word is that he may be able to return to practice sometime within the next week or so. The Preds would receive a big boost from his return to the lineup.

Sully Update While I hold little hope that Sully will ever contribute again at the NHL level, the company line is that if he does not have any setbacks at practice before Monday, he will then meet with David Poile to establish a target date for a return. I can't imagine why he would want to risk permanent paralysis if he were to receive an open ice blow like the one J P Dumont got from Alex Burrows that he still hasn't recovered from.

Non Traditional Market Fans I didn't hear one negative remark or see any signs related to what Sean Avery said about Dion Phaneuf. I'm sure Phaneuf has hear that phrase repeatedly in some of the markets known for tougher fans,

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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