New tough guy tough to ignore in first action on Predators home ice

Monday, September 26, 2011 at 11:08pm

Zach Stortini has exactly one power play goal in an NHL career that consists of 256 appearances.

Yet arguably no one gave the Nashville Predators power play — seemingly an annual source of consternation — a bigger boost this preseason than Stortini, the 26-year-old tough guy who signed as a free agent back in July.

He provided that unit an extended opportunity Saturday when he drew a double minor for roughing against Winnipeg’s Troy Bodie with 8:29 to play in the second period. As Stortini watched, Nashville converted twice in just 2:18 and capped a string of three straight power-play goals that lifted them to a 4-3 victory at Bridgestone Arena.

“He probably had a tremendous effect on the game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Not only did he deliver some big hits but he knew it was a situation where he could get us back in the game.”

The Predators finished the night 3-for-4 with the man-advantage. They had just two power play goals in their first three contests.

“We have to continue to build on that,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “I think if we can just keep working on it each night, simplify it by shooting a lot of pucks, I think we’ll be successful.”

With the Predators behind by a goal, Stortini delivered a big hit (one of his team-high four in the contest) to defenseman Tobias Enstrom behind the Winnipeg net. Bodie took exception, sought a fight and even dropped his gloves. When Stortini refused, Bodie threw him to the ice and earned himself a pair of roughing penalties.

“It was a situation where I was very cognizant of what was going on,” Stortini said. “I knew I had a good, clean hit on the defenseman and usually when something like that happens there’s somebody coming. I knew who was on the ice — it’s always important to know who you’re out there against.

“It was a situation in the game where we needed a couple goals and a power play would benefit the team more than a fight would at that time.”

His reluctance certainly had nothing to do with a disdain for the rough stuff.

Playing at Bridgestone Arena for the first time as a member of the Predators, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound right wing fought with Chris Thorburn just 2:50 into the contest.

Stortini had 80 fighting majors, including a league-high 25 in 2008-09, during his time with Edmonton, the team that drafted him in the third round in 2003.

“There has been a little bit of a change to that role where you have to be able to play the game as well,” Stortini said. “But being a physical presence is a big part of the game. I think every team plays a hard, strong game.

“… For me, it’s very important for me to establish myself and make sure that my teammates know I’m going to be there for them.”

Throughout their history, the Predators rarely have relied on tough guys for more than an occasional appearance.

The last to have the job, Wade Belak , appeared in just 39 contests in his only full season with Nashville (2009-10). The most-used were Patrick Cote (72 appearances in the inaugural 1998-99 season) and Jim McKenzie (61 appearances in 2003-04, the season prior to the lockout).

Stortini averaged 65 games playing for Edmonton over a period of three seasons (2007-10) before he split time between the NHL and AHL last season.

He signed a two-way deal with the Predators, which gives them the option to send him to Milwaukee if they don’t want to play him. So far, though, he looks like one tough guy who will make it difficult for the coaches to keep him out of the lineup.

“If you really watch him — the thing with him is he’s got lots of detail in his game,” Trotz said. “He’s not the fastest or most skilled, but he doesn’t hurt you. For some guys that are tough guys, they’re out there just cruising and there’s not a lot of detail in their game; their forecheck is wherever they go, it’s not a structured thing.

“He has the ability to get the puck out along the wall. He’s got the ability to do a few things, so if he gets caught out against top players he can get around a little bit.”

Briefly

Forward Ryan Thang was reassigned to Milwaukee. The 24-year-old appeared in three preseason games and had one goal.

The third-round pick in 2007 is poised for his first professional season after having played four years at Notre Dame and a brief debut with Milwaukee last spring.

With his departure, 32 players (18 forwards, 11 defensemen, three goalies) remain on the training camp roster.