Had Rich Clune simply shrugged his shoulders his teammates might have done the same.
Instead, the pugnacious Nashville Predators forward dropped his gloves.
Clune’s decision to fight Vancouver’s Steven Pinizzotto at 5:23 of the opening period Monday was a well-executed attempt to provide a lift the best way he knew how.
“We got down two goals, and if I could score a goal on command I would,” Clune said. “I was just trying to get the team into it, get myself into it. They’ve got some physical guys that can run around. I just tried to match that.”
By the end of the first period the Predators still trailed 2-0 but they had matched Vancouver at nine shots apiece. Fewer than 12 minutes into the second period they had tied the score and dominated the action in a way they had not in any of their previous six contests — all defeats. They ultimately registered 19 shots in those 20 minutes, a season-high for a period.
“He sort of injected a little bit of fight into our locker room,” coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s what those guys do. You need some guys with some grit and spit so they can change something, or at least get everybody’s attention. That’s what he does.”
Rarely has Nashville had someone do it as frequently as Clune, who was claimed off waivers from Los Angeles on Jan. 15, four days before the start of the season.
Monday’s was his 12th fighting major of the season, which is tied for the most by a Predators player in the eight seasons since the lockout that wiped out the entire 2004-05 campaign. The last time a player had as many was 2007-08 when Darcy Hordichuk did it.
Unlike the previous seven, though, this season consists of just 48 games. Clune has appeared in all but one of the 44 Nashville has played and his current pace translates to 22.4 fights over a standard 82-game schedule.
The franchise record for a season is 30, set in 1998-99 by Patrick Cote, who led the NHL in that regard. No one has had more than 16 since.
Clune’s 12 ties him for second in NHL behind Tampa Bay’s B.J. Crombeen. Plus, he had 14 for for the Kings’ AHL affiliate, Manchester, during the lockout that delayed the current NHL season.
Nashville is 5-7-0 in the games he has had a fight.
“He has a great feel for [when to do] it,” coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s a good trash talker too.”
He’s done it pretty much by himself too, without support from a secondary tough guy.
No one else has more than two fights for the Predators this season. In four of the previous five, Jordin Tootoo was second on the team in fighting majors with totals that ranged from four to nine. The one exception was 2008-09, when he and Wade Belak shared the team lead at 10 apiece.
So when things went wrong at the start against Vancouver, there was no question who was best suited to try something different.
“He did a good job there,” Trotz said. “We were in stun mode. It was six minutes into the game, we had already taken two penalties and we were down 2-0.”
They eventually lost 5-2. It can’t be said, though, that they went down without a fight.
• Briefly: With one game over a seven-day stretch that started Tuesday, the Predators reassigned center Austin Watson, left wing Daniel Bang and defenseman Mattias Ekholm to Milwaukee (AHL). The Admirals were at home Tuesday, had another home game scheduled for Friday and one at Chicago on Saturday.
Nashville’s next game is Friday at Chicago, which will make it easy to recall any or all of three, as needed. After that it does not play again until next Tuesday at home against Calgary.