Aches and points.
That about sums up the Nashville Predators’ season through five games, the last of which was a 1-0 overtime loss to the Calgary Flames before 15,684 at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday.
Defenseman Ryan Suter became the latest prominent player to sustain an injury when Calgary’s Cory Sarich hit him just in front of the Nashville bench as Suter was headed off at the end of his first shift. As he sat on the ice, Suter grabbed at his left knee and then needed help to the bench. Moments later he went back to the locker room and never returned.
“(It’s) not too serious,” coach Barry Trotz said, albeit unconvingly. “He may miss a little time here, but nothing major.”
Suter’s injury quickly (it happened two minutes after the opening faceoff) diminished any positive feelings from the returns of goalie Pekka Rinne and Martin Erat, both of whom missed the previous three contests with injures.
Not that the Predators entered the game in good health. Centers Matthew Lombardi (concussion) and Marcel Goc (shoulder) both were out. Their absences forced Colin Wilson to play center for the first time this season and the recall a day earlier of Nick Spaling, who spent the first part of the season in Milwaukee.
Despite all of that, Nashville is one of two NHL teams (Toronto is the other) to earn at least one standings point in every game thus far – three victories followed by consecutive overtime defeats.
“It’s great to get the points but it’s a tough pill to swallow when you’re that close and you feel you played a great game,” defenseman Cody Franson said. “We take the positives out of it.”
Even without Suter, who has not missed a game in more than two seasons, the Predators outshot the Flames in regulation (34-32), and none of the five remaining defensemen committed any penalties despite the fact that they played more minutes – significantly more, in some cases – than usual. Shea Weber, for example, played a game-high 29:11, and Kevin Klein and Francis Bouillon each were on the ice for more than 25.
“I think the forwards really helped us out like that,” Weber said. “You know you’re going to get a lot more minutes, but the forwards did a great job coming back and helping us out. It’s a big hole, but guys are able to step up in there and that gives us some confidence coming out of this game.”
Flames’ winger Rene Bourque scored the only goal when he knocked the puck out of mid-air and into the net during a scramble in the Nashville end. It came 2:10 in the extra period, during which Calgary got off three shots to the Predators’ zero.
Ironically, Bourque was back in the Calgary lineup after having missed the previous two games with a concussion.
“He hadn’t played in a while and had only been through a couple of practices,” Flames’ coach Brent Sutter said. “… In the last 12 minutes of the third period, he really started playing that big man’s game. He had the puck a lot in the offensive zone and he played really solid and he got a big goal for us in overtime.”
The Predators can only hope their injured players return – whenever they return – in similar fashion.
• Nashville already has as many overtime losses as it had in all of 2009-10. Last season, the Predators were 6-2 in games decided in the five-minute, four-on-four period and 8-4 in ones that extended to a shootout.
“It was still a big point for us,” Rinne said. “Obviously, we will always take a point over losing altogether.”
• This is the fourth time in franchise history the Predators have been shut out for the first time within the first five games of a season.
Each of their first two campaigns opened with zero goals, and last season a 1-0 loss at Buffalo in Game 3 started a six-game losing streak.
“You had a feeling it was going to be a 1-0 game,” Trotz said. “I was hoping it was going to be more on the positive side.”