Predators' newest tough guy finds a new way to agitate

Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 11:21pm

Rich Clune will do almost whatever it takes to irritate an opponent, even if it’s one of the last things anyone would expect from him.

Take Tuesday’s game at St. Louis as an example.

Maybe it is just coincidence that the Nashville Predators rolled to a 6-1 victory in a game that included his first career goal. Or maybe, the fact that he slammed home a rebound and made it 2-0 midway through the first period so unnerved the Blues that they never recovered.

It was, after all, the first career NHL goal for the 25-year-old forward.

“There’s no reason why I can’t provide that kind of secondary scoring,” he said. “I think this team needs me to be physical and be responsible in my own end and get the other team off their game. One of the best ways to get under another team’s skin is to put the puck in the net and kind of show you can do that.

“But I’m not going out and judging my game by whether I scored or not. My game is rated on how hard I work and how physical I am.”

Since Nashville claimed him off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings just prior to the start of the season, Clune irritated in typical fashion much more often than not.

None of the Predators averages less ice time per contest (5:36) and he was scratched for the opener, but his 22 hits and 19 penalty minutes lead the team into Thursday’s game against his former franchise (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena). He had three fights in his first four games with just one shot on goal and no points.

“I’ve turned away from as many fights as I’ve been in,” he said. “There’s a time and a place for it. I think I have an understanding of when it needs to happen. Sometimes I’ll fight for no reason. Sometimes there will be a reason. … I look for it but I don’t worry about it. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”

It has not happened in the last three games. In fact, he has not been assessed any penalty minutes in those contests — all Nashville victories — but has managed two shots and, of course, the goal.

Not coincidentally, he set a season-high with 7:17 of ice time in Tuesday’s victory over the Blues.

“He’s a player who’s not afraid of anything,” coach Barry Trotz said. “He plays with energy. He’s a good skater. Really, from that standpoint, I said ‘You’re not going to make the team just fighting every day. I want you to be a guy that I can put on.’ ”

He’s already proved that he’s a guy who will stand up for his teammates.

“The only thing I care about is the respect of my teammates,” he said. “As a hockey player, the only thing you should really be concerned about is your teammates and your coaches and if they respect you.

“For as much as I agitate and get under the other teams’ skin, I’ll stand up for my own teammates and I’ll back it up. It wears thin if you don’t answer the bell, and that’s not who I am.”