Predators climb back into eighth behind goals from youngsters

Saturday, March 19, 2011 at 10:49pm

Even General Manager David Poile questioned whether he was right when he opted to rely on more young players for this playoff stretch than he had in any previous seasons.

The last two weeks, no doubt, did a lot to put his mind at ease.

Blake Geoffrion and Jonathon Blum — two players who have been in the NHL less than a month — each scored Saturday as the Nashville Predators defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-1 before a sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena.

Nashville’s fourth victory in five games against Detroit this season came in a game that featured a lot of shots, a lot of hits and few penalties. With a Sunday matinee on tap at Buffalo (4 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee), the Predators similarly capped a run of five straight home games with a 4-1-0 record and climbed back into eighth in the Western Conference standings.

“I think that first period — honestly — was like, ‘Wow, this is it; this is the most intense game I’ve ever been in,” Blum said. “They were coming hard at us. It was physical. It was nasty. The crowd was into it.

“Everything was so good about it. I think I just enjoyed it and took it all in.”

Blum got the game-winner — his second goal in three games and third overall — with 11:48 to play after Geoffrion had tied it midway through the second period. He scored 68 seconds into his team’s second — and last — power play of the contest.

The Predators were outshot 18-9 in the second period but answered with 20 pucks on net in the third. The final shot tally was 40-39 in favor of Nashville.

The outcome finally was sealed with David Legwand scored an empty-net goal with 29 seconds left.

“We had a lot of opportunities and they did too,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “… We had some glorious chances just like they did. So give them credit.”

That Blum and Geoffrion converted their opportunities was the most extreme example yet of a sudden surge in offensive contributions from youngsters on the roster. And it happened on a night when proven scorers such as Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg came up empty on six shots, and Mike Modano put one off the crossbar.

Of the 17 goals Nashville scored in the last five games, seven came from Blum (two), Nick Spaling (two), Colin Wilson (one), Matt Halischuk (one) and Geoffrion (one). Among that group, only Wilson started this season on the NHL roster. None among them is older than 23.

Every one of the five games included at least one goal from those five.

“Obviously you hope for that,” captain Shea Weber said. “You never really know, but it’s good to see. We have some great young players. We always draft well and it’s good to see them be successful.”

The Predators acquired Mike Fisher from Ottawa three weeks before the trade deadline but then failed to add anyone else.

As it stands, the current roster includes 10 players between 21 and 24 years old. By comparison, Detroit (second in the Western Conference standings) has three in that age range.

“Everybody’s digging in, we’re finding ways and everybody’s contributing,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ve asked people to step up and play a little out of their element, give what they have and play to their potential a little more.

“We’re hanging in there. So it does help us a lot.”

Briefly


• Detroit had a goal negated that would have made it 1-0 with 1:38 to play in the first period when Tomas Holmstrom — a regular Nashville nemesis — was called for goaltender interference as he screened Pekka Rinne.

“He was right on top of me but it must be a tough call,” Rinne said. “… He’s one of the better guys at doing that — screening the goalies and being in their face all night long.”

• Patric Hornqvist snapped a streak of 12 straight games without an assist with a pair of helpers. He had the primary assist on both Geoffrion’s and Blum’s goal.

The first came when he passed to Geoffrion in front of the net. Blum scored off the rebound of a Hornqvist shot.

The last time he had two assists in a game was Jan. 20 at Colorado.

• Joel Ward returned to the lineup after having missed the previous two games with a lower body injury.

He logged significant ice time (20:29) as part of his regular line with Legwand and Martin Erat. Ward had two shots on goal, blocked two shots and won the only faceoff he attempted.

J-P Dumont was scratched to make room for Ward.

• Legwand’s goal was his third into an empty net in the last 17 games. He has just two other goals over that same span.

He is one of 13 players in the league with at least three empty-netters this season and trails league leader, Milan Lucic of Boston, by two.

• The sellout was the Predators’ 13th of the season.

“Once again, great energy from our crowd,” Trotz said. “I think you’d be embarrassed if you didn’t play hard here. Our crowds have been unbelievable.”