It’s not that Martin Erat can’t miss. It’s that the Nashville Predators’ forward doesn’t miss too often these days.
Erat scored three times – once from behind the net – and lifted the Predators to a 4-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday before 12,565 at Sommet Center. He added an assist on the other goal and tied his career-high with the third four-point night of his career.
Held to just four points in his first 17 games, he now has racked up 13 points (eight goals, five assists) in his last 10 and has had at least one point in each of his last four.
“If we get the two points, I really don’t care if I get the hat trick or not,” he said.
Erat opened the game on Nashville’s first line with Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan and promptly scored on his first two shots, which gave him four goals in five shots over a span of three games. He hit the mark on his only attempt last Saturday against Minnesota, and a night before that he scored on one of two at Chicago.
He finished with a team-high five shots on goal, the last of which was at a big target. He hit an empty net from 84 feet away with 1:06 to play for his second career hat trick and his team’s third two-goal lead of the contest.
Vancouver, conversely, outshot the Predators 36-26 and had three players – Ryan Kesler, Daniel Sedin and Sami Salo – with more than five shots. Those three, in fact, accounted for 23 shots but had just two goals (Kesler and Sedin), one fewer than Erat had by himself.
“I thought we did work, but you have to work smart and you have to execute on the ice,” Canucks’ coach Alain Vigneault said. “… Right now we have guys that can play a lot better – that have to play a lot better.”
Then there’s Erat, who can’t seem to do anything wrong.
It was fewer than five minutes into the contest that he threw the puck from below the goal line toward the crease only to have it go in off the back of goalie Roberto Luongo’s skate for a 1-0 Nashville lead.
He made it 2-0 at 3:03 of the second when he went face-to-face with Luongo, courtesy of a pass from Francis Bouillon that sprung him down the middle. That time, he snuck a backhand between the goalie’s pads.
“When you put pucks on the net and you put pressure on the crease, good things can happen,” Predators’ coach Barry Trotz said. “Pucks are bouncing around, you find a loose puck, it sometimes goes off a goalie or a (defenseman).
“It’s almost like putting a ball in one of those bingo machines – it bounces around, and if it bounces to the right place you can put it in the net. Nothing wrong with that.”
Erat entered the game tied with Sullivan and Shea Weber for second on the team with six goals. With his three, he closed to within one of Arnott for the team lead.
All but one of Erat’s goals have been scored in the last 10 games.
“They didn’t bounce for me at the beginning of the season,” Erat said. “I was just trying to get myself together. … I’m happy just to get going.”
• Jerred Smithson was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for charging at 7:17 of the second period for a hit on Vancouver’s Alexandre Burrows. It was the first NHL game misconduct for Smithson, who came into the contest with 20 penalty minutes in 29 contests.
“They told me it was a head shot,” Smithson said. “Obviously, I disagree. I tried to finish my check. He might have gone into the boards a little funny, I’m not sure.”
Trotz reviewed video of the play following the contest and said the referees made the wrong call. He added that the team will petition the league to have the game misconduct lifted.
“It was a shoulder-type of hit, and Burrows sort of spun off – he was trying to avoid it, and he ducked it,” Trotz said. “It was a real clean hit, but I had the luxury of the film, the referees didn’t.”
• Defenseman Alexander Sulzer, recalled for the third time on Monday, played for the first time since Nov. 7. He had three shots in 10:49 of ice time.
Rookie defenseman Cody Franson, who had played in 23 straight games, was scratched. Also scratched were forwards Wade Belak and Dave Scatchard.
“(Sulzer) was good,” Trotz said. “I thought he was real solid. I don’t have any issues with (Sulzer’s) play.”
• Pekka Rinne made 34 saves and improved to 12-6-1 with the victory. Only once this season (Nov. 27 against St. Louis) had he faced more shots.