Return of two veterans not enough for Predators to win

Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 12:06am

It happened two seconds shy of the halfway point of the contest.

Francis Bouillon, playing his first game after a concussion that had sidelined him since January, did not simply get hit along the boards. The Nashville Predators defenseman took a hit to the head from San Jose’s Brad Winchester.

Any fear on the Nashville bench was fleeting. That’s because Bouillon took immediate exception, went after Winchester and expressed his displeasure.

“You’re going to get bumped up in this game,” coach Barry Trotz said. “Sometimes the best thing is to find out — if you get bumped around a little bit — that you’re OK and life can move forward.

“I was really happy for him. I thought he played really, really well.”

Perhaps the 5-foot-8 defenseman’s personal experience can serve as a sort of road map for the rest of the team.

Even with Bouillon and center Mike Fisher, who played for the first time since offseason shoulder surgery, the Predators continued to take their lumps this season. Outshot for the eighth time in as many games — decisively, at that — they remained winless at home (0-2-1) thanks to a 3-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks before 15,121 at Bridgestone Arena.

Nashville surrendered a first-period shorthanded goal and did not pull even until rookie Craig Smith scored on the power play with 6:48 remaining in the third. San Jose reclaimed the lead less than a minute later on a goal by Joe Pavelski, who then added a second into the empty net with 1:12 to go.

“Anytime you score a goal and the next shift they’re popping one in — especially in a game like that — it’s pretty tough to see,” Smith, who assumed the team lead with his third goal of the season, said. “But it’s something you have to take to heart and remember that late in the season when other stuff happens.”

The Predators were heartened by the returns of Bouillon and Fisher, seasoned veterans with more than 1,300 games of NHL experience between them. Trotz said their presence “stabilized” the lineup and allowed for more balanced use of every player.

Bouillon got virtually no ice time on special teams yet still played 17:32, virtually identical to Jonathon Blum, who killed penalties and was on the power play. Bouillon’s three hits were as many as the team’s other five defensemen combined and second overall to Jordin Tootoo.

Fisher’s 28 shifts tied David Legwand for the most among Nashville’s forwards and his 23 faceoff attempts (he won 12) topped all players on both teams. He also had the secondary assist on Smith’s goal.

“[I] just [wanted] to play good defensively and make good reads,” Fisher said. “Teams seemed to be cycling us pretty good and our defensive play was a little bit better [Tuesday] night, and then be buzzing and trying to create some chances around the net in the offensive zone.”

Fisher did not have a shot on goal but he was the center on a line that included Smith, who had a team-high six — half of them in the final period.

Still, the Predators, who had been outshot by an average of nearly 12 coming into the contest, gave up 17 in the first period and 36 for the game. They answered with just 20 of their own.

“They didn’t have as many chances [as other teams],” Trotz said, “Even in the first period they had 17 shots but a lot of them were from the outside, wrist shots. That’s sort of their mentality — they just want to get pucks to the net. We don’t, and that’s one of the things we have to work on.

“In terms of quality chances, they didn’t have many at all.”

Fisher and Bouillon certainly helped in that regard, and the fact that the latter was unfazed by the hit from Winchester, who was assessed a penalty on the play, means they can look forward to more of him this season. At times in recent months that seemed anything but guaranteed.

“[Bouillon] wasn’t backing down from anybody — he didn’t play shy,” Trotz said. “It was good to see him play just because he’s such a great person. He’s one of those teammates everybody cheers for.”

Now they know they need not fear for him.