The Nashville Predators continued their west coast swing with a visit to Los Angels to take on the Kings at the Staples Center. The Predators gave workhorse Pekka Rinne the night off and Anders Lindback got his first start in net since March 20th of last season.
The Kings went with their back up netminder Jonathan Bernier.
The Kings opened with an interference penalty just 25 seconds into the contest. The Predators did not get a shot on net during their power play, and just as the penalty expired, Patric Hornqvist was called for interference. With 10 seconds remaining in that penalty, Jerred Smithson was called for tripping. The Predators killed off Hornqvist penalty but 5 seconds later gave up a power play goal as defenseman Alec Martinez got open on the weak side and took a nice cross ice pass from Justin Williams and buried the shot past an out of position Lindback to give the Kings a 1-0 lead.
Drew Doughty gave the Kings a 2-0 lead at 13:47 of the period as he unleashed a blast from just inside the blue line that beat Lindback over his shoulder and just under the crossbar. The Kings have struggled to score goals this season, and unfortunately for the Predators, they looked as if they had broken out of this slump early on in the contest.
It was a deficit that the Predators did not need to face and certainly not the start they wanted. It was now going to be another test of character for the Predators to claw their way back into this game.
Matt Halischuk cut the deficit to one with a 4 on 4 goal at 10:41 of the first. This goal was the result of nothing but hard work and hustle, as Haslichuk dumped the puck in the zone, retrieved it, got it out front and got a rebound of a Shea Weber shot and wristed the puck past Bernier. A Predator hockey goal and a nice answer to the push the Kings had put on early in the period.
Character showed itself at 16:02 of the period as Craig Smith blasted a rocket from the face off circle past Bernier while the Predators were on the power play. This was Smith's fifth goal of the season, and the thing about Smith is that he is not afraid to shoot the puck, and it is paying off in good scoring chances and in goals.
The Predators were guilty of some horrific turnovers in their zone- one by Teemu Laakso and one by Jordin Tootoo- that could have resulted in Kings goals, but Lindback made some big saves to keep the Kings off the board. The period ended with the score knotted at 2, but certainly the Kings had some glorious chances to take the lead late in the period.
The Predators troubling trend of getting badly outshot reared its ugly head in the first period, as the Kings outshot the Predators 16-8.
More ominously, the Predators lost David Legwand early in the period to an upper body injury.
The action in the second period was back and forth with both goaltenders making some good saves, but the Kings finally cracked the scoreboard at 9:28 on a 3 on 2 break out. Mike Richards took a nice cross ice pass from Dustin Brown and beat Lindback with a shot inside the post.
The Kings extended their lead to 2 on the power play with Jordin Tootoo in the box for hooking as Simon Gagne took a shot from the face off circle that was deflected by Predators defenseman Jonathan Blum and past Lindback to make it 4-2.
The second period ended with the Predators a man down as Patric Hornqvist took his third penalty of the night, one of five the Predators incurred through the first two periods. The Predators were also down 4-2 on the scoreboard. While the first period demonstrated the character and grit of this team, the second period was the complete opposite. The Predators gave the Kings numerous quality scoring chances and didn't generate much of anything in the way of offensive push.
The second period was in a word, disappointing. The lack of discipline and response by the Predators was frustrating to say the least.
With one period left, it remained to be seen how the Predators would respond. Would it be a San Jose effort, or we we see another Edmonton implosion?
For most of the period, we saw very little. The Predators failed to generate quality scoring chances and challenge the Kings in their zone. Yes, we shot the puck, but it was a fairly easy period for Bernier.
But at 18:48, with the extra attacker on, Ryan Suter threw the puck at the net and Patric Hornqvist deflected the puck past Bernier to make it 4-3. Nice to see Hornqvist atone for some of the penalties he took earlier. This was the 6th straight game in which Hornqvist has recorded a goal.
The Predators had a good flurry in the final minute, but it was too little too late as a horrifically sloppy second period and a mostly flaccid third period effort doomed the Predators as they fell 4-3.
This team cannot take a period off, and must play Predator hockey for 60 minutes if they are going to have an opportunity to win games. Tonight, they did not play a full 60 minutes and it cost them.
Hopefully, this team does not have to keep learning this lesson.
My three stars:
1. Jonathan Bernier
2. Dustin Penner
3. Craig Smith