With the end of the regular season in sight, Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz is concerned about his team’s starts.
The Predators managed a point Thursday night but lost 3-2 in a shootout to the St. Louis Blues in a critical Western Conference matchup before 16,828 at Bridgestone Arena.
That Nashville even managed to stay close, let alone force the game beyond regulation seemed unlikely at the outset, The Blues had a 13-6 edge in shots during the opening period as they kept the puck deep in the Nashville end with a heavy forecheck.
“One of the things I believe in is the good teams in this league — and we ran into Vancouver and St. Louis our last two games — demand a certain level of work, a certain level of physicality and a certain level of detail to beat them. In the first period against Vancouver and in this game we weren’t as ready for that as we need to [be].”
Nashville ultimately outshot St. Louis 27-24 for the game and even led briefly — 34 seconds, to be exact — in the second period but was dominated in the shootout. The Blues needed only two shooters to earn the extra point that gave them a four-point edge of the Predators for fourth place in the conference race.
St. Louis’ T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald converted against goalie Pekka Rinne while Nashville’s Colin Wilson and Martin Erat missed. Erat, in fact, did not even get a puck on net when faced with an opportunity to extend the shootout to its customary third round.
Each team has 21 games remaining.
“It just goes to show how long we’ve got to play to get a win,” Oshie said. “One of the things [coach Ken Hitchcock] says is that our top players have to start playing. We’ve got to step it up, and we’ve got to play good at this time of year.”
Within the last four games, Nashville has played three of the four teams it trails in the West. The fourth, San Jose, comes to town Saturday (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena).
Not once in those contests against Detroit, Vancouver and St. Louis did the Predators get a first-period goal. Their combined shot differential for that period was a minus-13.
“We had to match [the Blues’] intensity," Wilson said. “They came out and were a little bit more hungry than us, and we got taken aback a little bit. In the second and third we sort of matched it, got some pucks behind their [defense] and that’s how we generated our offense.”
Wilson gave Nashville a 2-1 lead at 12:52 of the second period with a backhand swipe that ended a three-on-three battle with him and linemates Jordin Tootoo and Nick Spaling working near and behind the St. Louis net.
Perhaps the Predators saw that moment as a fresh start. Or maybe it had to do with the fact that the fans had not settled back into their seats just as they were not settled in at the start of the contest.
Whatever the reason, the advantage was short-lived as St. Louis’ Vldimir Sobotka scored a similar goal on the net shift. From there it was a tight-checking battle the rest of the way.
“When it goes to a shootout, it’s anybody’s game,” Trotz said. “Overall, just the first period and right after we scored that go-head goal — the next shift you want to maintain momentum and not give it back — we gave it right back to them in 34 seconds. People hadn’t even sat down yet.”
• St. Louis was the only Central Division opponent that had not beaten Nashville this season. The Blues joined Chicago and Columbus, which each have managed one in overtime or a shootout. Detroit has beaten the Predators three times, all in regulation.
Nashville’s record against the division is 13-3-3.
• Defenseman Roman Josi snapped streaks of 26 games without a goal and 13 games without a point when he scored Nashville’s first on a two-on-one with Brandon Yip. It was Josi’s third goal of the season.
• Nashville is now 3-4 in shootouts this season. Only twice in the six seasons since it was introduced has it finished with a winning record in the tiebreaking procedure.