Following their morning skate Tuesday, Nashville Predators players and coach Barry Trotz tried to ignore questions about the return of forward Alexander Radulov. Such queries elicited only comments about the evening’s opponent, the Edmonton Oilers.
Radulov flew from Russia in the morning and still was en route when the game started, thanks to a reported delay at customs in New York.
It was, however, impossible for anyone in the organization or the sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena to ignore the return of a couple other former Predators. Darcy Hordichuk and Ryan Jones each scored as the Oilers routed Nashville 6-3 despite the fact that the Predators had a 44-20 edge in shots on goal.
“They didn’t have that many chances, but I think every chance they had they scored,” captain Shea Weber said. “We did a pretty good job. … As far as scoring chances, we had a ton, I think, we just need to finish.”
Hordichuk’s goal was his first of the season, not to mention his first in 91 games. Jones’ goal, on the power play, made it 4-1 fewer than six minutes into the second period, not long after starting goalie Pekka Rinne had been pulled.
The real problem was Ales Hemsky, who became the second opposing player this season to score a hat trick against Nashville (he also had an assist) as Edmonton maintained its mastery of Nashville in Music City. The Oilers won 6-2 back on Nov. 22 in their only other visit to Bridgestone this season.
“The last time they deserved all six [goals] and were probably worthy winners in that game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “This time we played pretty good. It was just one of those things where we couldn’t get a bounce or a save or anything.
“That’s going to happen sometimes.”
What does not happen often is that a team gets to add a 25-year-old scoring sensation in the final stages of the regular season and with the playoffs not too far in the future.
That is exactly what is in store for the Predators, though.
Radulov, 25, heightened tensions in the international hockey community four years ago when he abandoned the Predators with one season remaining on his contract to play professionally in Russia. Over the weekend he negotiated his exit from the Kontinental Hockey League after weeks of rumors about his desire to return to the NHL.
As of the conclusion of play Tuesday there had been no official word from the team about his pending return other than a email that said he would not be available to the media until Wednesday at the earliest.
Radulov, though, created a buzz in the morning when he posted a picture of himself on an airplane and posted it to his Twitter account. The caption said he was flying to Nashville. Captain Shea Weber said he had seen the photo and that it made him laugh. Trotz ultimately relented and answered a couple questions on the subject.
“He’s got a high skill level,” Trotz said following the morning skate. “One thing that Rads does is that he will compete and he loves to score. And he works. … We know him, which is a good thing. So it’s not like this guy we never knew."
Even with the loss to Edmonton, Radulov will join a team that is fourth in the Western Conference standings and in line for home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs. It’s a team that won seven of 11 before the Oilers’ visit and one that added as much talent as any prior to the trade deadline.
One of those acquisitions, left wing Andrei Kostitsyn, played on the third line against Edmonton and Gabriel Bourque played alongside David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist, an alignment first used in the third period Sunday at Anaheim. Legwand scored twice and Hornqvist had one goal, albeit with another unit while on the power play, plus had one overturned by the officials, and Trotz called that line the best for either team.
Even so, it was tough not to imagine Radulov on that line in place of Bourque as soon as Thursday when Nashville travels to high-scoring Pittsburgh.
Not that anything of the sort was on anybody’s mind during the game.
“Our guys know the situation and they just played — and played hard,” Trotz said. “I didn’t have any problem with the effort. It just wasn’t our night.”