Two early goals, one coming via a penalty shot, was the difference as the Nashville Predators outplayed the Detroit Red Wings in the final 40 minutes of regulation, but fell short by a 2-1 margin on Monday night at the Sommet Center. It was the first time in three games this season that the Predators had not earned a point against the top team in the National Hockey League.
Dan Ellis put together an outstanding 29-save effort in net for the Predators, but was outdueled by Chris Osgood, whose 32 stops earned him his 17 victory against Nashville, the most of any goaltender.
“You have to give credit to that hockey team – they are the No. 1 team in the National Hockey League, and we put up a good fight we just started our fight too late,” Ellis said. “We had our opportunities once we got it going with our low cycle. We got pucks to the net and were generating some rebounds as well, it was just one of those games where we started the fight a little late and it came back to bite us.”
Both teams showed plenty of jump early, immediately bringing the raucous crowd of 15,056 to a deafening level. Nashville had the best chances of the opening handful of minutes, including a two-on-one break at the six-minute mark by Martin Erat and Alexander Radulov. The Red Wings withstood the early pressure, and scored the game’s first goal on a tape-to-tape feed from Pavel Datsyuk at 8:39.
Cutting down the left boards, Datsyuk shielded the puck from Jordin Tootoo and fired a cross-the-slot pass that Tomas Kopecky one-timed through Ellis’ five-hole.
Detroit used a penalty shot to take a two-goal lead at 15:06 – the second taken against both the Predators and Ellis this season. Valtteri Filppula was awarded the try upon being tripped by Jerred Smithson while in all alone. Filppula went to his backhand and roofed the puck by a sprawling Ellis for the 11th all-time penalty-shot tally against the Preds.
“I told the guys we lost the game in the first period by giving up two goals, but overall our structure wasn’t good and our though process wasn’t great early,” head coach Barry Trotz said. “The second goal was a perfect example – both of our defensemen were at their net, and their job was to play defense. I think if we get out of that period 1-0 we win the hockey game.”
A recent trend of Nashville dominating the shot clock in the opening 20 minutes was reversed against the Red Wings – Detroit held a 17-9 shots-on-goal advantage through one period. In the two previous opening frames of this four-game homestand, the Preds had outshot the opposition 35-14.
The second commenced the same way as the first, with plenty of back-and-forth play that produced no results.
The Predators received three power plays in a span of 5:50 midway through the second period, giving them ample opportunity to bear down at put one by Osgood, but the seventh-ranked Red Wing penalty killers kept the Preds at bay, only allow four shots on goal, all of which came from the outside of their offensive-zone setup.
“We had lots of chances on the power play, but we just couldn’t close the deal,” Trotz said. “There were a couple of power plays where we had nearly two minutes of zone time, we just couldn’t put it in the back of the net.”
Martin Gelinas crashes the net in one of the Predators countless chances in the third period.
Ironically enough, it was the penalty kill that scored the Predators first goal of the game, coming with a mere 24 seconds left in the second to give Nashville a shot of momentum heading into the intermission. David Legwand sparked the play by pouncing on a loose puck in the neutral zone and driving to the net with a defender draped on his back. The puck trickled wide, but with Nashville’s No. 11 and a pair of defenders creating havoc in front, Martin Gelinas simply threw the rebound back into the traffic, and it trickled through Osgood’s legs.
“You have to love these games,” Gelinas said. “Anytime you play a team like Anaheim or Detroit, that is when you want to shine and show your stuff. They are battling to stay on top and we are battling to climb the ladder so it is easy to get up for these games.”
The helper gave Legwand 28 points (10g-18a) in 40 career games against his hometown team, best of any Predator in franchise history. The shorthanded tally was Nashville’s third in the past five games after producing none in the first 23 outings of 2007-08. It was also the first man-down goal for Gelinas since 2000-01 as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Nashville used that extra jump to kill the remaining 2:33 of four-on-five time created by a Dan Hamhuis double-minor for high sticking, and continued to pour it on, earning its sixth power play as a result of the pressure at 6:03.
The Predators racked up an 8-2 shot advantage in the first 10:30 of the final period, but couldn’t put an elusive second goal past the Detroit netminder.
“The effort was there,” captain Jason Arnott said. “If the effort wasn’t there we would have to dig deep in our souls about this one. Now, we just have to finish and get some goals.”
Nashville's leading goal scorer, Radek Bonk, attempts to slam a rebound past goalie Chris Osgood and defenseman Andreas Lilja during the final 20 minutes of action at the Sommet Center on Monday.
Ellis was summoned to the bench at the 18:38 mark, while the home team was already skating with a power play, creating a six-on-four that created all kinds of mayhem, but no results.
Nashville’s power play was fruitless on seven man-power advantages, while Detroit was fruitless on six attempts.
“If you get a goal early in the first it would definitely change the game,” Arnott said. “But, we were down 2-0 early and didn’t back down; we kept going and showed a lot of heart and character. If we continue to play like that we will win a lot of hockey games.”
The Predators return to action Thursday, when they wrap up a four-game homestand against the Colorado Avalanche. Tickets are still available by calling (615) 770-PUCK, logging onto ticketmaster.com or nashvillepredators.com and by visiting the Sommet Center Box Office located in the arena tower.
Game Notes: Nashville scratched Kevin Klein, Scott Nichol, Darcy Hordichuk and Pekka Rinne, and Detroit sat Kirk Maltby and Chris Chelios… The penalty kill has extinguished 23 of the last 25 chances against… Nashville is 8-5-1 on home ice and 12-6-2 since Oct 25, outscoring opponents in the third period by a 30-17 margin in that span… David Legwand led the Preds tonight with 22:13 played… Alexander Radulov put a game-high six shots on net… The teams meet again for the fourth time on Feb. 12 at the Sommet Center.
Wrist shot -