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Predators and their Captain go down in Flames

Heading into Tuesday night's tilt at Calgary the Nashville Predators have seemingly righted their ship, having won twice at home over Atlanta and Florida before heading out for an extended five-game road trip. The Flames (5-3-3) have been playing mostly competitive hockey of late, balancing an amazing comeback win over Minnesota last week against a 4-1 loss to San Jose two nights before. In their previous meeting this season, the Flames toasted the Predators 7-4 in Nashville, breaking open a 4-4 tie with a dominating third period. For those of you out celebrating Devil's Night, here's the detailed recap....

Goaltenders:
Chris Mason for Nashville vs. the newly-signed Miikka Kiprusoff for Calgary

Period The First:

Continuing a trend seen against Florida, Martin Erat starts on left wing next to Jason Arnott & J.P. Dumont. Whatever it takes to get him rolling...

At the 18:12 mark David Legwand chases down a sloppily-played puck by Calgary that leads to a breakaway, but as he charges in towards the Flames net he just stuffs a wrister into Kiprusoff. Too bad, really, as he had plenty of room to deke to the backhand instead. Legwand continues to create plenty of scoring chances (he leads the team with 31 shots) without cashing in.

A tripping call to Jerred Smithson at 16:08 puts Calgary on the power play, which only takes them 7 seconds to convert, with Jarome Iginla banging home a centering pass from the top of the crease. Another bad looking play for Greg de Vries, who had Iginla covered but failed to tie him or his stick up. Score: 1-0 Calgary

For most of the early going, Calgary applies pressure in the Nashville end, with only sporadic rushes the other way for the Predators. At 10:33, Legwand picks up a pass off the boards and comes in alone on goal... only to stuff it right into Kipper again.

Yikes, another bad penalty, this time on Radek Bonk behind the Nashville net. The Predators penalty kill has been decent so far this year, and they'll be put to the test here.

Nashville stands strong on the PK, and draws an interfence call on Owen Nolan with 10 seconds left on the Bonk penalty, giving the Predators their first power play chance. They go with Hamhuis-Arnott on the points, with Legwand-Erat-Dumont up front. As has been all too common lately, however, the PP is largely ineffective, failing often to enter the offensive zone with control and never mustering a dangerous scoring chance.

The period ends with the shots 12-12, but I'd wager the time of possession in the offensive end favored Calgary. When the Predators did break out, however, they did get in behind the Flames defense, which occasionally got caught flat-footed.

Period The Second:
About a minute in, Chris Mason makes a strong save on Craig Conroy, who tried to catch the goalie leaning to his glove side. Shortly afterwards, however, Matthew Lombardi soars down the wing to pick up a crossing pass by Jarome Iginla, and lifts a nifty backhander over Mason's stick-side shoulder to put the Flames up 2-0.

Marek Zidlicky gets away with a late elbow that flattens Mark Smith behind the Nashville net. I don't know why Zidlicky is trying stuff like this, particularly since he's not the type to drop the gloves and defend his actions. Neither ref saw the Zidlicky elbow, so they whistle Alexander Radulov shortly thereafter on a ridiculousy cheap Holding call as a makeup. So the Preds deservedly go back on the penalty kill...

About a minute into the kill Vern Fiddler inadvertently hooks Dion Phaneuf, so the Flames get a minute of 5-on-3 action. Greg Zanon gamely blocks a point shot at the start, and then Legwand carries the puck down to get a shot on Kiprusoff. The 5-on-3 gets killed, but then Kristian Huselius lucks out with a whiffed shot that catches Mason moving and puts Calgary up 3-0.

So what's going wrong for Nashville so far? A combination of a lack of consistent offensive pressure on the one hand, and too many penalties on the other.

Kudos to Greg de Vries as he successfully defends a 2-on-1 for Calgary, blocking the crossing pass. I've called out de Vries when he's been scored upon, so it's only fair to point out the good as well.

At this point, of course, Nashville desperately needs to score the next goal. The line of Fiddler-Legwand-Radulov looks to have some jump, but someone needs to take charge and get the Predators on the board.

Calgary changes their style of play, focusing on locking down that three-goal lead. When the play is set up in their end, all five players collapse towards the goal, with the wingers barely above the faceoff dot as shots get fired from the point.

Greg Zanon blocks another shot, and this time limps slowly off the ice. Not a good sign for Nashville.

The Predators' best chance to get back into this game comes after two quick penalty calls on Calgary, giving them 1:34 of 5-on-3 time to work with. Zidlicky and Suter start on the points, with Dumont-Arnott-Bonk up front. They focus mainly on setting up Arnott for the one-timer, and get some decent shots, but Kiprusoff is sharp tonight. Both penalties expire, and Nashville remains 0-for-2007/8 on the road power play.

At the end of a rush coming into the Nashville zone, Kevin Klein gets whistled for Delay of Game for knocking the net off its posts. He bumped shoulders with a Calgary forward right before hitting the net, so it wasn't what I'd call a blatent penalty, but right now nothing's going right for the Predators.

This PK effort is probably their best yet, as the skaters harrass the Calgary puck-carriers and Mason steps up with a fine save. The period ends with another flurry for the Flames, and the Predators still searching for the solution to their offensive woes.

Period The Third:

Coach Trotz sends out the "energy" line to start the 3rd, Tootoo-Bonk-Smithson, but they fail to mount any pressure. On the next shift, however, Martin Erat draws a holding call on Cory Sarich, which again presents a power play opportunity for Nashville. At this point, I'd put that energy line out there on the PP, as the main unit isn't doing much.

Finally, Alexander Radulov puts a nasty wrist shot into the top glove-side corner past Kiprusoff, and the Predators crawl back to within 3-1. Barry Trotz visibly lets out a sigh of relief, but there's still a steep hill to climb.

A few minutes later, Radek Bonk draws a tripping call on Matthew Lombardi, giving Nashville the chance to get back within one. A quick shot by David Legwand staggers Kipper momentarily, but Calgary clears the rebound. The Flames forwards pester the Predators all the way back behind their own goal, and even get a 2-on-0 at one point. Other than getting the puck to Radulov in space, the Nashville power play hasn't shown many interesting tricks.

After the kill is complete, J.P. Dumont hooks Dion Phaneuf, putting the Preds down a man again, not exactly the formula for a successful comeback. Fortunately for them, Adrian Aucoin takes an interference penalty almost immediately afterward, so it's 4-on-4 for 1:52. Good chances are exchanged each way, with Paneuf sneaking in across the crease for a shot, and Ryan Suter pinching low in the Calgary end for a point-blank shot that Kiprusoff stops.

With 9:18 to go, the Preds make their most undisciplined play yet, and this time it's by the captain Jason Arnott. Upset at getting checked while trying to enter the Calgary end, he whacks an opponent's hockey stick away to the corner. It's the kind of senseless, retaliatory move that you'd expect from a hot-headed rookie, not your veteran captain. Not at all a good sign, indeed. The interference call puts his team down a man while trying to mount a 2-goal comeback.

The Preds successfully kill off the Arnott penalty and get a power play of their own with Owen Nolan in the box. This time they set things up pretty well and fire some good shots, but Calgary defenders sweep away the rebounds and prevent the more dangerous chances.

The Flames ice the game shortly afterward as Eric Nystrom gets in behind everyone to take a pass from David Moss and stretch the lead to 4-1 Calgary. On the 2-on-1, de Vries fails to stop the pass, and Martin Erat trails Nystrom by a step the whole way. Chris Mason's played pretty well in the Nashville net tonight, but he didn't have much of a chance on this one.

During the final minute, as the team scrambles to apply offensive pressure, Alex Tanguay breaks out on another 2-on-1 with Jarome Iginla. In what looks like a training camp drill, he makes the pass easily to Iginla who fires it home to make it 5-1 Calgary. And yes, it was Greg de Vries yet again failing to take that pass away (although he at least was in the area code, unlike the rest of the squad).

SUMMARY
The Predators' power play is seriously broken right now, and when you combine that with persistent, unneccesary penalties, it's a recipe for disaster. The Arnott penalty in particular is especially galling. There's no way a professional player should take such a ridiculous action while his team is trying to get back into a game that's not out of reach, let alone the captain of said team.

While the boxscore looks awful, Chris Mason put in a fine effort in goal. He was simply left hanging far too often.

On offense, Alex Radulov looks like the only dynamic force. While Nashville outshot Calgary 40-33, most of those shots were long-range. Right now, as much as Radulov looks like a finisher, David Legwand looks like he's aiming for the goalie's belly button with each shot. His skating ability creates a handful of opportunities, but then results in a pedestrian wrist shot that is easily stopped. J.P. Dumont was basically invisible, and Martin Erat handles the puck deftly on the perimeter, but seems to tentative to head towards the net.

Defensively, Nashville needs Shea Weber back in the lineup ASAP. There's no physical intimidation going on, and plenty of scrambling to cover whirling opponents.

In short, tonight's team looked more like the losers of six-straight than the recent team that won two at home. Thursday's matchup in Vancouver should be interesting, as the Canucks aren't exactly scoring in bunches either. I'm betting on a scoreless game that takes about 15 rounds of shootout action to decide it...

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