Preds have chance to move up standings

Friday, January 11, 2008 at 1:28am

In the past, players on a fourth line were usually known more for how many fights they had started than how many goals they scored.

But in the new NHL that has changed. While the fourth line shooters aren’t going to fill the net on a regular basis, they are counted on to contribute offensively as often as possible. In Tuesday night’s 7-0 win in Los Angeles over the Kings, fourth-liner Darcy Hordichuk started the scoring and Scott Nichol chipped in a goal for the Nashville Predators.

The Predators have a chance this weekend to open up some space in the Central Division with a trip to Columbus to face the Blue Jackets Saturday night at 6 and a rare Sunday game at the Sommet Center at 7 against the Chicago Blackhawks. But to move up in the standings, they need to keep getting contributions from everyone.

“We wouldn’t be at this level if we weren’t able to score goals,” said Nichol. “They don’t expect it out of us, but on the side of it they really do. We get chances and when we do we have to bear down and score.

“We have to score by committee. We have to have all of lines chipping in here and there to help take a lot of pressure off of the big lines. It’s nice to not just kill penalties and be defensive minded. It’s nice to be thrown a bone with a goal here and there.”

Like any other player on the team, Nichol, Smithson and Hordichuk have to find themselves in the right situations to score.

“When you play more minutes you are going to get more chances,” Nichol said. “When you are playing 10 or 11 minutes and four or five of those minutes are spent killing penalties, it is tough to have the offensive prowess you used to have.

“But it is there. We shoot everyday in practice. We are like everyone else. We love to score. We get pigeon-holed as defensive specialists, but we all want to score and feel good about their games.”

The Predators have stressed many times that every player has to be on board in every game. Predators’ coach Barry Trotz calls the fourth line the “energy line.” Jerred Smithson leads the fourth line with eight points (four goals, four assists). Nichol has six points with two goals and four assists. Hordichuk has one goal.

“Every one on that line is contributing at a pretty high level,” Trotz said. “They are all working very hard. They are taking the body. They are keeping their game real simple and real North-South.

“They have a little confidence. They have been strong on the wall. They are putting in the work and getting some results.”

ARNOTT AN ALL-STAR: As expected Predators center Jason Arnott was named as a member of the All-Star team representing the Western Conference. The game will be played in Atlanta Jan. 77 at Philips Arena.

This is his second career selection. In 1997 he was named to the All-Star team representing the Edmonton Oilers.

Arnott is the fourth Predators player to earn a spot on the Western Conference All-Star Team, The others are Sergei Krivokrasov in 1999, Kimmo Timonen (2000, 2004 and 2007) and Tomas Vokoun (2004).

Arnott leads the Predators in points with 36 and power play goals with seven. He is second in both goals (15) and plus/minus rating (plus-11).

MASON RELAXED: One game does not a comeback make, but Predators goaltender Chris Mason hopes to build on his 7-0 shutout of the Los Angeles Kings.

“We needed that game as a team and that is where my focus is going to be,” said Mason. “I feel a lot better in practice. I feel a lot sharper. I just have better head space.”

Mason has spent time working on various aspects of his game.

“I’ve been working on my patience, shutting down holes and making solid movements,” Mason said. “In every sport every time you hear someone is struggling a bit you go back to the basics.

“I am slowing things down in my mind. I have my focus on the puck. I know where the other guys are on the ice when the play is developing. When I am relaxed I have an overall better perception of the things going on around me.”

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