Preds can’t convert in shootout, lose fourth in a row…

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In front of a sellout crowd at Bridgestone Arena, the Nashville Predators secured yet another point but ended up losing to the visiting New York Rangers 2-1 by way of the shootout. 

Pekka Rinne turned aside 23 Rangers shots but let in Erik Christensen‘s deciding goal in the first round of the shootout to take the loss.

Colin Wilson scored for Nashville early on but just couldn’t stave off the visitors as the Predators have now lost four in a row.

The current losing streak is due to a mixture of reasons. After a two game win streak, the Preds dropped a 2-0 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets after goaltender Steve Mason was flat out unbeatable. Then, just before Thanksgiving, Nashville lost a heartbreaker to the St. Louis Blues on home ice 2-1, also in a shootout. Then came an embarrassing 5-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild yesterday afternoon because of numerous defensive lapses. Which brings us to tonight’s contest.

The good news is that, excluding the loss to the Wild, the defense has been pretty good as of late. Nashville has only allowed 10 goals in their last six but, remember, that includes the five goals in Minnesota. In addition, in their last two shootout losses, they’ve failed to score even a single goal.

Things looked bright early, however. For the first time since Montreal, the Preds got on the board first. Wilson, on the forecheck, corralled a bouncing puck, got past the Rangers defensemen and slid a shot under Henrik Lundqvist for his third goal of the season.

Shortly thereafter, things got a little rough.

After Sean Avery and Jordin Tootoo were given penalties for trading cross-checks before a face-off, the two exited their respective penalty boxes and dropped the gloves. Tootoo cleaned Avery’s clock and promptly threw his hands in the air to pump up the crowd.

But the fistacuffs weren’t over. Just seconds later Shane O’Brien squared off with Brandon Prust. While there weren’t a lot of punches actually landed in this tilt, there was no question the sold out crowd was into the game.

Fast forward to the shootout. Cal O’Reilly, Marcel Goc and Martin Erat all failed to put one behind Lundqvist.

Like I said earlier, the Predators haven’t scored a single shootout goal in their last eight attempts. Which begs the question, do the shootout participants need to change? Take O’Reilly, for example. When he failed to convert tonight, it was his second miss in as many attempts after converting on his first three of the season. Goc is only 1-for-4 this year and Erat isn’t much better at 1-for-3.

Whatever the case, Nashville needs to find what works and do it. Fast. Just a week ago, the key to success for the Preds was simple: allow less than two goals. Now, that doesn’t even work. Heck, in two of their last three losses, Rinne needed to allow zero as one goal was apparently enough to force the shootout.

Nashville now sits at 13th place in the West. Yes, I know, they’re just one win away from eighth place but c’mon… there needs to be some consistency. How frustrating is it when your goaltender allows just one goal a night and you still can’t win? Is the answer recalling AHL superstar Linus Klasen? Is the answer getting back a healthy Matthew Lombardi? Is the answer the top line needs to return to top line production?

The answer is the power play.

Excluding the Minnesota game (because, let’s face it, that game was a lost cause), the last Predators powerplay tally was in the second period of the Chicago Blackhawks game on November 13. That’s an absolutely unacceptable conversion rate and easily could’ve produced another win or two. Which, by the way, would have Nashville in the middle of the playoff pack, making fans a lot more apprehensive about hitting the “panic button.”

The Phoenix Coyotes are next up for the Preds. The Coyotes are currently second in the West but only have 11 wins on the season, the fewest among the teams in Western Conference’s top eight.

Puck drops at 7:00pm Central and, yes, it’s at Bridgestone Arena.

LEFTOVER THOUGHTS:
* Rangers star forward Marian Gaborik, who had scored 8 points in his last eight games, sat out with the flu.
* The Predators lost defenseman Cody Franson after Avery’s stick hit him in the throat late in the game. Franson didn’t even go to the dressing room. He went straight to the Zamboni tunnel where the ambulance and medical staff are.
* You have to wonder if Kevin Klein was, in fact, scratched because of the flu yesterday. The much-maligned defenseman easily played his best game of the season tonight. While it’d be speculation, if he was a healthy scratch due to poor play, he certainly responded.
* O’Reilly, who had scored 12 points in his first 14 games, has only one in his last eight.
* Rinne has now only allowed one goal or less in four of his last six games.
* Shea Weber led all Nashville skaters with seven shots on goal.

THREE STARS:
1) Henrik Lundqvist (NYR)
2) Erik Christensen (NYR)
3) Pekka Rinne (NSH)