The problem was not that the Nashville Predators lost one of their top defensemen to injury two days earlier.
No, the bigger issue Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks was that one of the defensemen who did play lost his footing.
A stumble by the recently acquired Denis Grebeshkov after a collision with teammate J.P. Dumont allowed Canucks’ forward Jannik Hansen to get free for a breakaway and to score the game-winning goal as the Predators fell 4-2 before a crowd of 16,096 at Bridgestone Arena.
Hansen’s goal was the second of three unanswered by the Canucks in the final 10:01 as they rallied from a 2-1 deficit at the start of the period.
For the Predators, it was just their third loss in 23 games they led after two. It didn’t help that their two closest pursuers in the Western Conference playoff chase — eighth-place Detroit and ninth-place Calgary — both won.
“We sat back in the third and let them come at us instead of taking it to them and getting up by a few more goals,” captain Jason Arnott, who had a goal, said. “We have to do a better job of that. When we’re leading going into the third, we have to keep forcing them and keep playing the way we are.”
Nashville played without Shea Weber, who sustained an upper body injury after just 7:37 of ice time in Friday’s loss at Detroit. His status was considered “day-to-day,” according to coach Barry Trotz who also called Weber “doubtful” for the next contest, Tuesday at Atlanta.
Dan Hamhuis moved into Weber’s spot as part of the top defensive pairing with Ryan Suter. Actually, he moved into Suter’s spot on the right side, and Suter took Weber’s place on the right side.
Even with those adjustments, the Predators limited Vancouver – the Western Conference’s third-highest scoring team – to one goal on 17 shots through two periods.
“(Suter and Hamhuis) were fine together,” Trotz said. “Obviously, it put (Suter) on his off-hand, but I thought they were fine together. I thought, for the most part our defense corps did a pretty good job most of the night.”
Kevin Klein, Hamhuis’ regular partner, was with Francis Bouillon. Grebeshkov was paired with with Cody Franson, who was recalled Saturday due to Weber’s injury.
Grebeshkov played just 11:59, his lightest workload since he came to Nashville in a trade a week ago, but was on the ice – literally – when Hansen went the other way and had enough time and space to shoot twice in order to get the puck past goalie Pekka Rinne with 5:42 to play.
That all took place a little more than four minutes after Rinne allowed the game-tying goal – “a weak goal,” he said – on a seemingly harmless shot from the right boards.
“That was just unfortunate … more than anything,” Trotz said. “… (Grebeshkov and Dumont) ran into each other and (the Canucks) get a breakaway.
“I was hoping (Rinne) could redeem himself and make the save. He made the save but didn’t know where the puck was, and Hansen stuck (the rebound) in the net.”
The Predators never recovered.
• Hamhuis estimates that he fights “about once a season.” He’s right – he’s never, in fact, fought more than once in any NHL campaign.
After being hit from the blind side by Vancouver’s Alexandre Burrows fewer than three minutes into Sunday’s contest, he decided it was ‘go time’ for 2009-10.
“He’s known for hitting like that,” Hamhuis said. “He tends to hit guys when they’re not expecting it, on the edge of hits from behind. When you do it to him, he dives and rolls around, but he’s not afraid to take cheap shots on guys.
“That’s the type of player he is, and I didn’t want to put up with it.”
• Forward Dustin Boyd, acquired shortly before Wednesday’s trade deadline, made his Nashville debut. He centered a line with Colin Wilson and Jordin Tootoo.
His 10:49 of ice time was the lowest on the team, but he had one shot, three hits and a plus-1 rating.
“After the first period I started getting my legs underneath me,” Boyd said. “I haven’t played in a while. It was good to get back at it.”
His last appearance was Feb. 11 with Calgary.
• Arnott’s goal was his third in four games since the Olympic break. He nearly had a fourth, when a potential game-tying shot when off the top of the stick of Canucks’ goalie Roberto Luongo with 1:09 to play.
“I thought it was in,” Arnott said. “I was ready to celebrate. It just hit his knob and went into the corner. It’s one of those unfortunate breaks.”