The Nashville Predators have been playing so well that the upcoming All-Star break might be viewed a momentum killer.
But few teams need a break worse than the Predators, who are dealing with injuries to four of their forwards. Center David Legwand left the St. Louis game Monday night after two shifts. He did not play in Colorado Tuesday night and he will not play in Phoenix Thursday night in the final game before the break. Center Radek Bonk missed the Colorado game with an arm injury and also did not play against St. Louis Monday night. He is doubtful to be in the lineup in Phoenix.
Those are the most recent injuries. Also on the sidelines are wingers Darcy Hordichuk (leg) and Jordin Tootoo (hip flexor). Neither one is expected back until after the break.
“We are shorthanded up front,” said Predators associate coach Brent Peterson. “We are going to be mixing everyone in and out on the lines looking for the right combinations.
“Legwand is a top center. Bonk is a top center. We do have centers like Vernon Fiddler and Jerred Smithson — who have been playing on the wings — [as] centers.”
The Predators have historically responded well to such challenges and this time around it has been no different.
“The guys who have to fill in are playing strong,” Peterson said. “We are asking some guys to play more minutes. They are responding by working hard and playing tough. They are doing a good job.”
Peterson compares the situation to earlier in the season when Shea Weber and Ryan Suter both were dealing with injuries on defense.
“Kevin Klein stepped up and played great,” Peterson said. “That is what we are getting from the guys up front in this situation.”
PREDS TAKE DOWN AVS: Dan Ellis stopped 38 shots as the Predators shut out the Avalanche 4-0 on Tuesday in Colorado.
Martin Erat scored two goals for the Predators. Alexander Radulov had a goal and Shea Weber had a goal and an assist, while Ryan Suter collected two helpers.
RICH DOING WELL: Rich Peverley, who can also play center, has been solid in the four games since his recall with one assist. He had been playing on a line centered by Legwand.
“Rich has the skills,” Peterson said. “He has the speed and the knowledge of the game.
“But he has to play the game that is given him. The ice isn’t always going to be open for him to use his speed. And it isn’t always going to be a physical, grinding game that he has to play.”
While the coaches have liked what they have seen from Peverley in the short term, they next want to evaluate his consistency over a long period of games.
“He has been strong in the hard areas and he has been good in the corners,” Peterson said. “He has played pretty good defensively. He just has to play an all-around consistent game if he wants to stay up here.”
Right winger Josh Langfeld was recalled from Milwaukee. He has played in 141 NHL games in his career. But the last time he was called up he did not play in a game. He won’t be a healthy scratch during this stint.
One player who has been a healthy scratch on several occasions is right winger Jed Ortmeyer. He has played in only five games since Dec. 31.
“Ortmeyer hasn’t been in the dog house,” Peterson said. “There are other guys who have been playing better. There are other guys who have had more of an impact on the game when they play. He is playing again and he has to be more of an impact guy if he wants to be part of the regular rotation.”
No matter what lineup is on the ice, the Predators are already feeling the pressure. Detroit is head and shoulders above every other team in the Western Conference and a playoff cinch. The Predators are one of 14 teams fighting for the remaining seven playoff spots.
“Lose a couple of games and you can be in 14th place,” Peterson said. “Win a couple of games and you can find yourself in sixth place, but you might be only one point of falling out of the top eight.
“We are scoring goals. The guys are playing good defense. Every night we have to try to win or at least work to get a point. Every game is important. We can’t afford to let up.”