The Nashville Predators travel to Edmonton on Sunday to take on the Oilers in a special 1:00 Central start time in order to avoid a conflict with the Super Bowl.
The Predators disparately need a win versus the Oilers in order to keep their faint playoff hopes alive. After Friday's action, Edmonton is tied with four teams for 5th place with 53 points, eight points ahead of the 14th place Preds. Nashville needs to take advantage of every opportunity they have to beat the teams in front of them in the tightly bunched Western conference.
In Friday night's game against the Northwest Division leading Calgary, the Predators were slow getting out of the box and fell behind 2-0 before they were able to mount a good effort. During the first half of the game they were clearly outplayed by the Flames. J P Dumont brought the Predators within a goal at 7:57 in the second period off of a Calgary turnover at their blue line. Mikka Kiprusoff made his only mistake of the night when Dumont's shot slipped away from him and allowed J P to tuck the rebound into the net behind him.
The Predators seemed to play more inspired hockey from this point through the end of the game but Kiprusoff was at his best stopping everything that was sent his way. The Pred's comeback effort was hindered by five penalties in the third period. Adrian Aucoin made the most of a five on three advantage for the Flames and put them ahead 3-1 at 12:30 in the third.
Shea Weber led the Predators with six shots on goal, followed by Ryan Jones with five. Jones played one of the best games of his career and actually almost tied the game in the third period on a shot where Kiprusoff made a dramatic save with his stick in front of an open net. The Predators power play unit continued it's improved play but had no goals to show for their efforts.
Pekka Rinne was solid in goal once again stopping 29 of 32 Calgary shots and was the only reason the game remained close early on.
Agitator Jordan Tootoo was injured in a fight with Todd Bertuzzi at the 13:44 mark in the second and did not return. It was later described as an upper body injury which appeared to have happened during the takedown when Bertuzzi fell somewhat awkwardly on top of Tootoo.
One troubling aspect of the game was the increased playing time of the top two defensive lines. Coach Barry Trotz clearly has lost confidence in Ville Koistinen as he played half the number of shifts of the top four defensemen. Over the long haul having four defensemen playing the extra minutes in a busy schedule could lead to fatigue and less than inspired play. Greg deVris's eminent return is probably not an answer either. Losing Alexander Sulzer to injury on Thursday seems to have lessened Trotz's options. I will not be surprised if Cody Franzon or Teemu Lasko receives a call-up from Milwaukee of the AHL in the near future.
After Sunday's matinee The Predators return home Tuesday to the Sommet Center for a match with Wayne Gretzsky's Phoenix Coyotes. This game starts a run where the Predators play 14 of their next 19 games on home ice and should tell the tale of whether they will have a serious shot at the playoffs this year.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass and The Columbia Daily Herald