The losses continue to mount for the Nashville Predators. Except in the standings, that is.
It’s three games into the season and they have lost several players – prominent ones, at that – to injury. They lost a lead … once. Thursday, Jordin Tootoo even lost his cool, which created some problems but ultimately not enough to keep the Predators from winning.
With a 4-3 victory over the St. Louis Blues before 15,103 at Bridgestone Arena, Nashville improved to 3-0-0, which made this the second-best start to a season in franchise history. The 2005-06 team won its first eight, but other than that the best this team has done has been to win three of its first four, and the last time that happened was 2003-04.
“Over the past few years we haven’t really had great starts and that’s kind of hurt us,” captain Shea Weber said. “We’ve had to be really good in the second half. So our focus this year is trying to get off to a good start and keep that pace and really push for a playoff spot.”
Playing back-to-back for the first time this season they got off to a very good start with three first-period goals, the last two by Steve Sullivan, and led 3-1 at the first intermission. They were up 4-2 after Patric Hornqvist’s power-play goal at 16:21 of the second, and carried that advantage into the final period.
They did all of that despite the fact that they were without starting goalie Pekka Rinne and forward Martin Erat, the franchise’s second all-time leading scorer, for the second straight game because both are injured. They also were without center Matthew Lombardi, the marquee free agent acquisition of the offseason, who was scratched with an upper body ailment sustained in Wednesday’s 3-2 triumph at Chicago.
Things took a turn just 3:38 into the third period when Tootoo dropped the gloves to fight with Blues’ forward Ryan Eaves. One problem – rather than drop his own gloves, Eaves dropped to the ice and into a turtle position the moment Tootoo took a swing at him.
The result was a double-minor for roughing assessed to Tootoo and just one minor to Eaves for the same. St. Louis took advantage and got back within a goal when it converted 1:15 into the resultant power play.
“Obviously, when we sort of have the game in control there a little bit you want to be smart about everything,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I’m not quite sure what got that going – what was said or what was done – (but) … the other team is looking for momentum and you don’t want to give it to them.”
Buoyed by that goal, the Blues outshot the Predators 12-2 in the third (35-22 for the game) but couldn’t get anything else past rookie Anders Lindback, who joined Dan Ellis as the only Nashville goalies ever to get wins in their first two decisions. Ellis won his first six in 2007-08.
“Every time I play it is important and it gives me experience,” Lindback said. “It gives me a good head start. I’m just enjoying it. It’s a great team and a great group of guys here.”
Never mind that all of the best players aren’t actually playing at the moment.
• Sergei Kostitsyn, acquired in an offseason trade with Montreal, made his Predators’ debut after having missed the first two contests with a broken toe.
He had one shot, a minus-1 rating and was called for a high-sticking penalty in 13:17 of ice time.
“He’s not 100 percent healthy … but he’s battling through it,” Trotz said. “I thought he was OK. … It’s really key for him to get his pace up, (but) he hasn’t played for a while.”
Erat was placed on injured reserve to make room for Kostitysn, who came off that list.
• Sullivan has four goals in the first three games. A year ago, he didn’t get his fourth goal (or his first multi-goal game) until the 18th contest.
“It’s a product of chemistry with your linemates,” Sullivan said. “… I just have to get open.”
His linemates are center Cal O’Reilly, who tied his career-high with three assists, and Hornqvist, who had a goal and an assist.