VANCOUVER – The Nashville Predators need a hero, says coach Barry Trotz.
After watching Ryan Kesler drive his club to the brink of Stanely Cup playoff elimination, Trotz is looking for someone to step up against the Vancouver Canucks.
“To me he’s been like (Hall of Famer) Mark Messier,”Trotz said Friday of Kesler who has three power-play goals in the last two games, two of them game-winners in which he drew the penalty.
“He’s a big physical guy who can score. He has a lot of different roles. He’s got a second gear for a big guy. He’s playing outstanding.”
Trotz said he had heros in Mike Fisher and Jordin Tootoo when his club eliminated Anaheim in the first round.
But the Predators are down 3-1 in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal and face an elimination game here Saturday.
“Every series there’s different heroes,”Trotz said.
“In this series it looks like it’s Kesler’s turn on the Vancouver side. Now we’re looking for a hero.
“Maybe our hero hasn’t evolved other than Pekks (goalie Pekka Rinne).”
While Vancouver’s top forwards like Kesler, Henrik Sedin and Alex Burrows are starting to score, Nashville’s have disappeared.
The Canucks’mobile defence has mostly denied Sergei Kostitsyn, Patric Hornqvist and Fisher entry to prime shooting areas in front of Vancouver goaltender Roberto Luongo.
Canuck defenceman Kevin Bieksa said he and partner Dan Hamhuis relish playing against the Predators’No. 1 unit.
“That’s what we take pride in,”Bieksa said at Vancouver International Airport.
“That’s what we do. That’s what we have done all season long. We have been playing them hard and doing to them what we do to everybody else. No secrets.”
And while Rinne has been brilliant, his club has been outshot by an average margin of 35-23 if you discard the 46-shot double overtime Predator win in Game 2.
“I didn’t score but if other guys score that’s OK for me if we win the game,”said winger Kostitsyn, who led Nashville with 23 goals in the regular season.
“We lost the last two games in our building so we have to play much better and I have to play much better.”
The Predators have manufactured only six goals in the four games but Kostitsyn said the problem is not how the Canucks are shutting them down.
“I think it’s us maybe not playing our best game, not doing a good job on the forecheck (or checking) in the neutral zone or our zone. Our offence comes from the defensive zone.”
Nashville, which scored 22 goals in a six-game dismissal of Anaheim, is 1-for-16 against Vancouver on the power play after scoring six with the man advantage against the Ducks.
Norris trophy candidate Shea Weber, who has a cannon shot from the blue-line, said execution is the problem.
“We’re just not making plays,”Weber said after a 35-minute practice that featured shooting drills.
“Little passes, little things … we can’t even get set up. That’s frustrating.
Kostitsyn, Hornqvist and Fisher combined for 13 points against Anaheim. Against the Canucks? Nothing.
While they are no longer playing consistently as a unit, the trio is pointless and a combined minus-eight in four games against Vancouver.
Hornqvist was second with 21 goals for defensive-minded Nashville and tied Weber for third in team scoring during the regular season with 48 points.
Weber said the Predators’best players have to respond but the club doesn’t have the skill and depth of Vancouver.
“It’s a group effort in here,”Weber said.
“There’s not a superstar in here. We need a group of guys to chip in and different guys to score.”
Rinne, who gave up only two goals on 63 shots in the two games in Vancouver, has watched his teammates try to score at the other end.
“They have a really good team defence,”he said of Vancouver.
“But we have to play more north and south, more aggressive and our style of game. That’s why wearen’t getting those second pucks and those rebound chances.”
The Predators are led in the playoffs by late-blooming third-line right-wing Joel Ward who has five goals and nine points in 10 playoff games.
Trotz is looking for offence from J.P. Dumont who will take the place of Jerred Smithson who didn’t return to Thursday’s 4-2 loss after being elbowed by Kesler.
“He’s got that knack of just being able to put pucks in the net,”Trotz said of the veteran who will dress for his first playoff game against Vancouver.“How he does it, I have no idea, but he does.”
NOTES: While Vancouver has outscored Nashville 9-6 in the series, Trotz pointed out that three goals have come on the power play and one was an empty-netter … that was scored by Henrik Sedin who gave Vancouver its first two-goal lead of the series … it lasted all of 21 seconds … Smithson, who also kills penalties and is strong in the face-off circle, remained in Nashville.