Smith overtakes rookie scoring lead in Preds win over Ducks…

Craig Smith

So, there’s this one guy named Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. You may have heard of him. He plays for the Edmonton Oilers and, despite being drafted just a few months ago, has played well enough to be the Calder Trophy front runner as the league’s rookie of the year.

All of a sudden, someone else has joined the party.

The Nashville Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-2 in front of 13,529 inside Honda Center on Wednesday night. While it’s great to be 8-5-2 on the season, 3-1-1 on the road trip, and a single point away from Central Division leading Chicago, it’s the emergence of rookie Craig Smith that’s the most exciting for the long term.

With his two goals and one assist tonight, the former Wisconsin Badger is now tied with injured center David Legwand for the team lead in scoring (14 points). Furthermore, Smith now leads all NHL rookies in the same category. Nugent-Hopkins has six goals and six helpers in 14 games while Smith has played in one more contest but now leads in goals (seven) and is tied for the lead in assists with Buffalo’s Luke Adam (seven).

Predators fans have long been asking for a goal scorer. They always thought it would come via trade but, instead, it appears as if Nashville drafted their scorer in the fourth round of the 2009 draft. Who knew?

The man of the night wasted no time getting the Preds on the board. Smith collected the puck behind the Ducks net and banked a shot off of Jonas Hiller‘s right skate and in for the 1-0 lead.

Just minutes later, after a sick spinning, backhand pass from Colin Wilson, Saku Koivu redirected the puck past Hiller to make it 2-0, Nashville. (Hornqvist was originally credited for the goal but it was later changed).

In the waning moments of the opening period, Nashville had sustained pressure from the unlikely fourth line of Niclas Bergfors, Blake Geoffrion and Brian McGrattan. They came up with a few scoring chances on their shift but, they were out there so long that they struggled getting off the ice and the Ducks capitalized. Sophomore defenseman Cam Fowler wristed a shot through traffic to cut the Preds lead in half before the intermission.

Halfway through the middle stanza, Martin Erat went on a breakaway shorthanded. Ducks blueliner Lubomir Visnovsky did what you’re taught from a young age: use your stick to tap the player on the hips, forcing him to hurry his shot or, at the very least, think too much about the deke he’s planning. The referee, however, didn’t get that memo and awarded Erat a penalty shot. The 10-year veteran made the most of his opportunity scoring high glove side to make it 3-1, Nashville. The score sheet will read “Erat 2 (unassisted)-sh -ps” but, really, it should read “Erat 2 (referee)-sh -ps.”

Less than 2:00 later, however, the Ducks would answer. Pekka Rinne, thinking he had it covered up, froze the puck but François Beauchemin put the puck over the line with a second effort tap-in.

Early in the final frame, the Predators cycled in the corner of the Ducks zone and, eventually, Wilson got free and fed a perfect pass to Smith in front for this second of the game and seventh of the year.

Nashville finished the road trip with a 3-1-1 mark, scoring 18 goals in those five games.

The next time the Predators take the ice will be on Saturday night back home at 501 Broadway. It just so happens to be the 1,000th time the Preds will take ice in the regular season. There’s a special start time of 6:00pm Central and there will be lots of really cool events going on due to the milestone. You don’t want to miss it.

LEFTOVER THOUGHTS:
* Kevin Klein made his return to the lineup tonight. He had missed two games after blocking a shot against Phoenix.
* Nashville had three odd-man rushes in the first period alone. They converted on none of them.
* Erat took a puck to the face while skating to the bench early in the middle frame. He missed a couple shifts but returned relatively quickly.
* Rinne turned aside 31 Anaheim shots.
* Anaheim registered 11 shots in each of the three periods.
* Smith led all Preds with six shots on goal.

THE THREE STARS OF THE GAME:
1) Martin Erat (NSH)
2) Craig Smith (NSH)
3) François Beauchemin (ANA)

PHOTO CREDIT: Sarah Fuqua // special to section303.com (used with permission)