Klein plays big in return from illness that had him shrinking

Monday, January 2, 2012 at 7:50pm

Kevin Klein was a mere shadow of himself in recent weeks.

In his return to the lineup on Sunday, though, the 27-year-old defenseman was as big a factor as he has been all season.

“It was probably his best game of the year,” alternate captain Ryan Suter said. “Just all around he was solid. Not because he scored a goal but because he was skating, making good plays, hard plays and he was physical. He was the old Kevin Klein.

“I thought it was a really good game.”

Klein did, in fact, have a goal. His second of the season put the Nashville Predators ahead to stay late in the first period of a 5-3 victory over the Calgary Flames at Bridgestone Arena.

He also had a game-high four blocked shots, recorded one hit and added the lone assist on Sergei Kostitsyn’s empty-net goal that put the game out of reach for good. He also had a plus-1 rating as he logged nearly 22 minutes of ice time, which was nearly two minutes more than his average,

He did all of that after an illness that had sidelined him for the previous six contests.

“The third period came along and I was a little winded,” Klein said. “But you get the energy from the crowd and the adrenaline gets going, which is always nice. It threw me right back in.”

Klein is listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds and says he lost eight or nine pounds in relatively short order due to his health issues.

“I can’t afford that much,” he said. “I lost a little bit of weight and I didn’t feel right. I had a couple issues. … It was just a big drop. It was one of those things that you can’t really control but it happens.”

It had been some time since anything happened that kept him out of action for any extended period. He had missed one game each of the previous two seasons and two earlier this season with an injury.

The Predators were 3-3 without him during this latest stretch, which overlapped with captain Shea Weber’s current absence due to a concussion.

“You get those flu bugs or whatever and it just knocks the you-know-what out of you,” coach Barry Trotz said. “… We felt he was ready to go … and we put him right back in the lineup. It was good because [the Flames] were a real good forechecking team.

“Klein, when he’s at his best, he’s going back and he’s such a strong skater and — from a penalty kill standpoint — he really does what you saw [Sunday]. He blocks shots, he uses pretty good angle and has pretty a pretty good stick. … When he’s on his game he’s real valuable for us.”

Klein and the rest of the Predators have time to rest before the next game.

Nashville does not play again until Thursday at home against Dallas (7 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee). It is the first time since the first full week of the season the team has had three days between games.

“We have a day off [Monday], which is nice, so I can get a little bit of rest in,” Klein said. “Just practice hard and get at it Thursday.

“… But it’s nice to be back and starting the New Year with a win.”