A loud, sustained roar rose up from the Bridgestone Arena crowd early in the game Thursday — during a stoppage in play.
The Nashville Predators ran a teaser video of the impending return of Mike Fisher, who has the city buzzing with the announcement that he is un-retiring to join the team for another Stanley Cup run. The game then took on that feel: The Predators looked primed to play into June while the Kings looked futile to stop them. A 5-0 loss split this two-game trip in extreme opposite directions for the Kings, unable to handle Nashville’s aggressive forecheck and possession game, fueled by its deep, skating defense.
“They had a simple game plan,” Kings coach John Stevens said. “We got checked off the puck all night.”
Forty-eight hours after the Kings delivered one of their best checking games of the season, they were on the receiving end and it extended beyond a three-goal onslaught in the first period by Nashville, led by Ryan Johansen. The Kings were beaten to the puck behind the goal line and near the net and Jonathan Quick was helpless to stop it in his return from a one-game suspension for missing the All-Star game.
“It was probably the mirror opposite of what we did the other night,” Stevens said. “They did [it] to us. We better learn from it. You’re not going to beat good teams when you lose puck battles to that degree.”
The Kings put Quick, Marian Gaborik, Nick Shore and Derek Forbort back on the ice, only to lose Alec Martinez to a lower-body injury in the third period. Stevens did not have an update on Martinez’s condition.
Nashville was also boosted by the return of Filip Forsberg from injury to give it a full, healthy lineup in front of 17,384 rabid fans. The Predators won all three games in the season series, and this one was never close. The Kings were shut out for only the second time this season, by Pekka Rinne’s 19 saves — and their last two losses are by a combined score of 11-2.
Anze Kopitar said of the latter, “it’s not a concern” in saying they’ll rebound. At least they’re done playing Nashville.
Johansen was on a mission from puck drop. He won a faceoff against Kopitar that led to Craig Smith’s rebound goal on the power play for the game’s first goal.
Drew Doughty committed two atypical gaffes that led to Nashville goals. He took a delay-of-game penalty for sending the puck into the stands to give Nashville a two-man advantage, and his giveaway behind the net turned into a 3-0 Predators lead at the first intermission. Calle Jarnkrok was credited with the score when he grabbed the puck and pushed it toward the goal as Quick accidentally swept it in underneath himself.
Forsberg made an impact right away with a takeaway of Kevin Gravel behind the net. It led to a Predators goal that was disallowed, but it didn’t matter. Five minutes later, Forsberg collected a pass off his backhand from Kevin Fiala and banked a shot off Quick for the five-on-three goal. The Kings were beaten down low again when Miikka Salomaki took the puck from Jake Muzzin and fed Colton Sissons for a 4-0 lead.
“I think they just are really good checkers,” Tanner Pearson said. “They hold the puck and [when] you’re transitioning up ice, they close on you pretty quickly from behind and try to create turnovers that way. They were [effective], and they beat us tonight.”