An unmistakable groan went up from the sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena the moment the scratches were announced shortly before faceoff Monday.
Shea Weber was among the three players not in uniform for the home team. It was a first since he became captain of the Nashville Predators and it came against arguably the worst possible opponent, the Detroit Red Wings.
The exact impact of his absence — the official report is that he has an upper body injury — is impossible to judge fully, and it is not likely that it was the sole reason the Predators lost 4-1. Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard, for example, played a prominent role in the outcome.
Nashville was, however, undeniably younger and smaller along the blue line given that 5-foot-10, 179-pound Ryan Ellis was recalled prior to the game and made his NHL debut in Weber’s place.
“[Weber] logs a lot of ice time and he’s one of our best defense,” Ryan Suter, Weber’s regular defense partner, said. “Guys stepped up, though. I thought everyone played well. … We bared down defensively like we had to.”
Offensively, though, the Predators did not produce in the way they had of late.
Weber leads the team in points (29), assists (21) and power play goals (five). He also shares the team lead with Suter for power play points. He had an assist in each of the last four contests and a point in five straight.
The Red Wings held the Predators scoreless until Jonathon Blum scored with 2:12 remaining.
That despite the fact that Nashville outshot Detroit 32-22 and had a 5-2 edge in power plays. The power play had converted 18 of its last 56 (32.1 percent) and was ranked second in the league at the start of the night.
“For the most part we moved it around pretty good,” center Mike Fisher said. “We probably didn’t get enough second and third opportunities. It happens. We had some good nights lately on the PP but you’re not going to get them every night. Unfortunately we didn’t [Monday].”
Without Weber, the Red Wings penalty killers noticeably collapsed around their own net and dared the Predators to shoot from the perimeter. Nashville attempted 15 shots (only five made it on net) on its three power plays. Eight of those, including all three on their last attempt, were from the defense.
Perhaps the best chance was by forward Craig Smith, who rung a shot off the post on the final power play. He was out near the blue line when he did so, however.
“He’s such a threat when he’s lined up for a one-timer,” Suter said. “They have to respect that. I thought we moved it around great on our power play. We just couldn’t bury it.”
The last time Weber missed a game was March 9, 2010, at Atlanta (the Predators won that one). Since then he had appeared in 133 straight regular-season contests plus 18 more in the postseason.
He was on the ice early in the team’s morning skate but left before it was finished. He had little — if any — contact with teammates and coaches after that.
“I was on the other side of the ice when he went off,” coach Barry Trotz said. “One of the other coaches came over and said that he just went off. When I got off the ice, he was already gone. Our trainers just had him get looked at.”
No update on the exact nature of the injury or estimates on the length of his absence were provided. Trotz said only that he would have a better idea on Tuesday.
“I think there was probably an apprehension,” Trotz said. “We had a very good Detroit team coming in here and you didn’t know how you were going to respond — the matchups and all that. I thought we responded pretty well. I think we played as well as Detroit.
“… Hopefully he bounces back real quick here. Missed him [Monday] night.”