Kevin Klein is not looking for a fair fight.
Almost every chance he gets, the Nashville Predators’ defenseman uses his feet to give his team the upper hand. Now 25 years old and with close to 200 NHL games to his credit, he recognizes those opportunities much more readily.
“If you have a chance to make it an odd-man rush, you definitely want to take it,” he said. “If you watch every team they have at least two or three defensemen who can jump up in the play and create chances. It causes the other team trouble.”
As an example, early in the third period of Wednesday’s game at Phoenix, Klein exploded up the right wing. Suddenly a balanced rush of forwards Colin Wilson and Joel Ward against two Coyotes’ players was a three-on-two scoring situation. Several games earlier, he carried the puck out of the defensive end during a penalty kill with such speed that the Predators suddenly had a scoring chance courtesy of a two-on-one attack.
“I like when (Klein) gets up in the play and jumps because he’s such a great skater,” coach Barry Trotz said. “I don’t mind that at all, and he’s getting a better feel for doing it. And he’s getting more comfortable doing it.”
His opportunistic approach already has resulted in one goal and two assists through the first 11 games. That’s already as many goals as he scored in 81 appearances last season, and – at this early stage – he’s on pace for a career-high in assists.
Among Predators’ defensemen, only Shea Weber and Cody Franson have more points entering a weekend back-to-back at Los Angeles (9 p.m., Saturday) and Anaheim (7 p.m. Sunday).
“I’m definitely trying to get up in the rush a little more to help out the forwards (and) give them another option, just trying to get in the play if the opportunity is there,” Klein said. “A lot of times when you’re playing against the top two lines you have to be careful when you jump up. You definitely still take defense first.”
With a goal last Saturday at Detroit and an assist Wednesday at Phoenix, he registered points in consecutive games for the first time in more than a year. The last time he did so was Oct. 29 and 31, 2009 – home games against Chicago and Dallas, respectively.
Not only that, but a player who entered the season with a minus-16 rating for his career currently is plus-1, plus-3 in the last two games.
The result is that he looks much more like the player who averaged better than 30 points over his final three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League and was drafted in the second round (37th overall) by Nashville in 2003.
“I think the first couple years you’re just trying to defend and play in the league and all those things,” Trotz said. “Now he’s getting more comfortable and he’s doing the things he did when he was younger – where you know where to go and you’ve had those experiences.”