For a time, it looked as if the Nashville Predators could not be any better. They registered 13 of the first 14 shots and all but set up a base camp in the offensive end.
After 60 minutes, though, players and coaches were left to ponder one of the worst defeats of the season, a 4-0 thumping by the Edmonton Oilers that left the announced crowd of 14,388 at Bridgestone Arena dismayed, displeased and departing early.
“‘It’s just a matter of time’ is what goes through your head,” Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter said. “… We were getting chances early, and we really dominated the game early. I thought we played well.
“We just didn’t get one early, and usually when you don’t get one early the other team comes and bites you in the butt.”
In those opening minutes, the Predators looked very much like a team that had been honed to a fine edge by contests last week against Philadelphia and Detroit, two of the NHL’s top teams. Their heightened level of performance was that much more obvious in contrast to the Oilers, the team with the fewest points in the league. Edmonton came in having lost four straight and nine of its last 10, not to mention having played four of the last five on the road.
“We didn’t take these guys for granted,” Steve Sullivan said. “We knew they were a very fast, young hockey team coming off quite a few losses. We were ready for them. We didn’t score early and let them hang around, and then they got a couple goals.”
The youthful Oilers caught the Predators flat-footed on several occasions and took advantage with their speed.
Their first goal came when they exploited a line change, the second when a winger — former Nashville player Ryan Jones — was unaccounted for as he drove the net, and the fourth when 6-foot-2, 245-pound forward Dustin Penner skated around defenseman Alexander Sulzer and carried the puck to the net unabated.
Edmonton finished with just 22 shots (six fewer than Nashville had in the first period alone), two after its final goal.
“When they got that first goal, I think we kind of sagged on the bench a little bit,” captain Shea Weber said. “We did have a great first period. We had a lot of chances and just didn’t capitalize. Give credit to them; they capitalized on their chances.”
The third goal was open to dispute. Center Jordan Eberle was credited with it on a deflection of a shot from the point. Of course, before the puck hit Eberle, he hit Rinne and knocked the Nashville netminder off balance.
“It shouldn’t have been a goal,” Trotz said. “It was totally interference. … [Rinne] gets run over and they allow it. To me, right there it’s game, set and match. If they make the right call on that, it’s 2-0. Then, if we get one, I guarantee you they’ll have a little doubt.”
Then again, if they could have gotten one in the opening minutes, the Oilers might never have had a chance.
“We didn’t take this team for granted,” Trotz said. “We came out smoking and moving the puck around and doing all those things. Our inability to score probably gave them some momentum.
“… It was one of those cases where, probably, our frustration with not being able to score led to our downfall.”
• Edmonton goalie Devan Dubnyk made 37 saves for the first shutout of his career. The 24-year-old was playing in his 38th career contest.
• The Predators’ shot total (37) was their highest in more than a month and the first time in 17 games they topped 30.
• Nashville prospect Blake Geoffrion became the first player to win the American Hockey League’s Player of the Week award in consecutive weeks. He had two goals and five assists in two games last week, and six points in two games the previous week.