Even with the trades they made in recent weeks, the Nashville Predators do not have anyone who would cause them to change their score-by-committee approach to offense.
Thursday, though, that committee was short a couple. Two of the eight Nashville forwards who have at least 12 goals — Craig Smith and Colin Wilson — were scratched for the third of this season’s four meetings with the Colorado Avalanche.
The scoring did not suffer and the defense allowed just 17 shots on goal, which equaled the team’s second fewest against of the season. Ultimately, it added up to a 4-2 victory before a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena.
“We’re trying to look at what might fit,” coach Barry Trotz said. “We have 24 or 25 guys, and we can only dress 20 so there’s some decisions that are hard to make. I thought that would sort of be the way to go for [Thursday] night.”
Even without Wilson (15 goals, including four in his last eight appearances) and Smith (12 goals), forwards scored all four Predators’ goals. Among them was Mike Fisher’s 20th of the season, which gave him a share of the team lead again, and Martin Erat’s empty-netter with 44 seconds to go.
The victory was Nashville’s 39th of the season and kept it closer to fourth place (four points back of Detroit) than sixth (six points ahead of Chicago) with 15 games remaining.
The Predators have won three of five since the trade deadline, when they added forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad.
“We have a lot of depth and that’s key for our team to make a deep push in the playoffs here,” right wing Brandon Yip, who was scratched Tuesday but scored Nashville’s second goal in this one, said. “Everyone’s great up front and on the back end so there’s a lot of health competition. But I think it’s good.”
Yip spent the first three months of the season with the Avalanche but appeared in just 10 games for them. Two different injuries caused him to miss a total of 22 contests and the rest of the time, he simply was scratched.
His goal gave him four points (two goals, two assists) in 24 games (he’s also been scratched seven times) for the Predators. That was four points more than he had for Colorado this season.
“He’s been great for us ever since we claimed him off waivers,” captain Shea Weber said. “He’s been great when he’s been in the lineup, and when he’s out he still works hard and he gets back in and he’s still that same player. That’s not an easy thing to do.”
That’s the challenge now for Wilson, who is tied for third among Nashville forwards with 63 games played. The only ones he missed before Thursday were three straight in early January because of an injury.
“Wilson was a little bit of a tougher decision for me,” Trotz said. “… I want him to play a little bit better with pace and with detail. … I know he’ll respond well. I had to make a tough decision.
“I think he’s going to be fine. I think he’s going to be determined. I think when he’s back in the lineup he’s going to be romping around and doing the things he needs to do.”
As a team, the Predators need to continue to get scoring throughout the lineup — they’re among the NHL’s top 10 in goals per game — regardless of which players actually are in the lineup.