Predators prove they can kill penalties without their defensive stopper

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 9:50pm

About one second passed Tuesday before Barry Trotz realized his decision to sit defenseman Hal Gill was one that easily could be second-guessed.

Then came the second period.

Any questions about the ability of the Nashville Predators’ penalty kill to survive without the 37-year-old defensive specialist were answered. Nashville had a season-high six successful penalty kills in a 1-0 overtime victory over the San Jose Sharks – all of them in that period.

Trotz and his staff now know they have increased flexibility in terms of their lineup decisions for the remaining 35 games, beginning with Thursday’s against Phoenix at Bridgestone Arena (7 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).

“I said it might have been the biggest mistake I’ve made by not having Hal in there,” Trotz said following the contest. “Because that’s a very dangerous power play that [the Sharks] have.

“I thought … we should be the ones drawing the penalties but that wasn’t really the case. But the guys came through.”

The Sharks’ six power plays lasted a total of 8:19 of those 20 minutes. They included a double-minor called against right wing Martin Erat 1:48 after the first intermission, and 41 seconds of a 5-on-3 play with Erat and Nick Spaling in the box later in the period.

Defenseman Scott Hannan logged 10:21 of ice time in that period and more than half of it (5:18) was with his team at least a man down. Similarly, center Paul Gaustad played 3:52 of his 5:11 in shorthanded situations and Spaling had 2:55 of penalty kill time among his 6:44.

Four Predators’ defenseman had at least 2:45 of shorthanded ice time in the second period. Only two – Gill and Kevin Klein – average more than that per game.

 “The penalty kill gave us momentum,” Trotz said. “They got determined. They sacrificed themselves. They got angry at themselves and they fixed it.

“… We battled throughout the second period.”

San Jose came into the game with 14 power-play goals – tied for second-most in the league – and a success rate (23.3 percent) that ranked among the NHL’s top 10.

Nashville’s penalty kill was in the middle of the pack (13th, 81.8 percent) and had not gone back-to-back games without at least one power play goal against. Two days earlier against Chicago it was perfect in two tries.

“The power play could definitely have been the difference,” San Jose left wing Joe Pavelski said. “… But it wasn’t.”

The first time the teams met, a 2-1 Nashville shootout victory 10 days earlier, San Jose was 0-for-5 with the man-advantage. In that one, though, Gill led all Nashville blue liners with 4:02 on the penalty kill.

He still leads the team with an average of 3:38 of penalty kill time per game but averages just 9:58 overall.

Jonathon Blum, his replacement on the third unit with Ryan Ellis, played 15:41 against the Sharks, which was more ice time than Gill had in all but four of his 12 appearances. Blum did not spend a second on the penalty kill.

“Guys are stepping up and that’s what you like to see out of the young guys,” Klein said. “I thought we did a great job getting in the shot lanes, blocking shots. They have a lot of skill and that’s part of [the Sharks’] bread and butter – it’s their power play.

“To kill off that many against those guys, it says something.”

And no one can say Trotz made the wrong choice.