Joel Ward’s style of play is one that suggests an anchor. He’s sturdy, rugged and often goes to the so-called dirty areas, particularly the front of the net.
Without him, it was his linemates who sank like a stone.
David Legwand and Martin Erat, who — along with Ward — comprised the Nashville Predators’ top line in recent games, both were a minus-3 Tuesday as the Predators — without Ward, a late scratch — fell 4-2 to the Los Angeles Kings before 15,761 at Bridgestone Arena.
“That line — he could really stabilize that line,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… You can put everybody in their right place [with Ward], and that line had lots of chemistry and was going really well.
“It’s unfortunate that he wasn’t able to go in such a big game.”
Nashville started the day in ninth place in the Western Conference standings, one point behind eighth-place Calgary and just three shy of Los Angeles, which was in fifth after having won three straight and seven of its last 10.
The Predators limited the Kings to just 18 shots but giveaways led to three goals against, including Los Angeles’ empty-netter, which sealed the outcome with 1:02 to play. Nashville committed 17 giveaways (two each by Erat and Legwand), which was more than twice as many as Los Angeles.
“Their chances were just too good,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said. “It’s OK to give up chances, but when you’re giving up point-blank chances, odd-man rushes — that’s not going to win games.”
Ward, who had a goal in each of the previous three games and the last two game-winners, reported to the rink for the morning skate with some degree of lower body pain, according to Trotz. He met with team doctors and was cleared to play.
Hours later, after the pregame warmup, he informed the coaches that he was unable to play. He was one of four Nashville players who had appeared in all 69 games this season, up to that point.
“I don’t think it’s too serious at all,” Trotz said. “I just think it’s day-to-day. We’ll just see where he is [Wednesday] and we’ll see where he is on Thursday.”
J-P Dumont, who was told following the morning skate that he would be scratched for the seventh time in eight games, took Ward’s spot in the lineup. He played sparingly (9:09 of ice time) but scored a goal that pulled Nashville within one, 3-2, and renewed hope with 7:17 to play.
Patric Hornqvist filled Ward’s spot on the line with Erat and Legwand. He finished with a minus-2 rating but did not commit a turnover and, with his presence in front of the net, created a power play when he drew a roughing penalty against Los Angeles’ Willie Mitchell with 20 seconds to play and the Predators desperately trying to score.
“I was kind of surprised,” Dumont said. “I got the call and they said Joel Ward was no good to go. … It’s one of those things where when you get caught by surprise your heartbeat goes up right away, and I was just ready to go.
“It’s too bad we lost the game, but I’ve got to keep myself ready for a situation like that. We lost, but I thought we played a solid game.”
• Goalie Pekka Rinne fell to 25-20-8 on the season. It’s the first time in his career he’s lost 20 in regulation in a single season.
The last Nashville goalie with at least 20 regulation losses was Chris Mason in 2007-08 (22). The franchise record is 31 by Tomas Vokoun in 2002-03, when he appeared in 69 of 82 games.
Rinne has played the last 18 games.
• Dumont’s goal was his 93rd with the Predators, which tied him with Greg Johnson and Scott Hartnell for sixth on the franchise’s all-time list.
• With Ward’s absence, Weber, Jerred Smithson and Colin Wilson are now the only Predators who have played in every game.