The Nashville Predators’ penalty killers have not been exactly at their best lately. Then again, increasingly, they have been without one of their best penalty killers just when they need him most.
Forward Jerred Smithson has racked up 30 penalty minutes over the last eight games. No other Nashville player has more than 26 penalty minutes for the entire season, and Smithson’s team-leading 48 is one shy of the number he had all of last season (when he played all 82 games) and six short of his career-high.
“He’s playing hard and getting and he’s getting caught a little more,” coach Barry Trotz said Monday afternoon. “He gets noticed because he’s so involved.”
Teams have taken advantage of his time in the penalty box. Three times in the last three games, the opposition has scored while Smithson has been in the box, and four of the last five calls against him have resulted in a power play goal for the other team.
They need him to be available if — and when — they are a player down Tuesday at Vancouver (9:30 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee) in their final game before the holiday break. The Canucks have the league’s fifth-best power play overall (22.4 percent) and third –best at home (25.9 percent).
In his four-plus seasons with the Predators, Smithson has been one of their best and most-used penalty killers. This season, in fact, his 2:25 per game average of shorthanded ice time is tops among the team’s forwards.
“(Smithson’s penalties) are part of it,” Trotz said. “He’s such an important part of our penalty kill. He blocks shots, he wins draws, he gets in lanes. He does a lot of those things you need done.
“When he ends up in the box, it hurts us.”
Nashville has finished 10th or better in penalty killing during his time with the team. Coincidental with his recent rash of violations, though, opposing teams have scored 11 power play goals in the last eight games, and the Predators have dropped to 28th in the league in that regard. Their current success rate (76.0) is on pace for the worst in franchise history.
Trotz said the team conducted a meeting specifically to talk about the penalty kill Saturday at Calgary.
“We just need guys to take pride in it,” he said.
• Jason Arnott did not play Saturday at Calgary because of an upper body injury. The team captain practiced with the team Monday at Vancouver, which created the possibility he could play against the Canucks.
“I wouldn’t say he’s probable, but he’s a possibility,” Trotz said.
The only other injured player is forward Jordin Tootoo, who remains sidelined with a broken foot.
• Right wing Patric Hornqvist was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week, based on his performance in games from Dec. 14-20.
The second-year NHL player led all NHL scorers with seven points (four goals, three assists). He had at least one point in each of the Predators’ four games – all victories.
The top two stars of the week were both goalies: Chicago’s Cristobal Huet (first) and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fluery (second).
• Nashville is guaranteed a winning record in December for the first time in three seasons. Currently, the team is 7-1-2 this month with five games to go.
Last season, the Predators went 6-6-1 in December and the year before they were 6-9-0.
The franchise records for wins in December (nine, in 2005 and 2006) and wins in any month (10, in Nov., 2006, Jan., 2004 and 2007 and Feb., 2009) are both well within reach.