By Jim Diamond
Late in the first period of Thursday night’s game against St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators center Mike Ribeiro was sent off for a hooking penalty at 16:53. As is custom, Eric Nystrom was one of the forwards who got the tap on the shoulder to go out and start the penalty kill. One difference was that Paul Gaustad, Nystrom’s normal penalty killing compadre, was not out there with him due to the fact that Gaustad was scratched because of a lower-body injury. Mike Fisher joined Nystrom for the start of the penalty kill.
Things got hairy quickly for Nystrom early in that kill after his stick was broken after blocking an Alexader Steen shot and drifted harmlessly into the neutral zone. He was stuck out there sans twig, as heading to the bench for a change or a replacement stick with the puck in the defensive zone would have been akin to giving the Blues a 5-on-3 advantage.
“You’re just useless once you have no stick on a penalty kill, you’re just trying to get in the way out there,” Nystrom said. “Earlier in the season, I went to the bench to grab a stick and the guy went back door and ended up scoring. We decided it was probably best just have a body in the way out there. I battled it out. It was tiring.”
So Nystrom did what he could in trying to fill the passing and shooting lanes tried to make himself as big as he could.
“Lucky it was him, he’s one of our veteran PK players and kills a lot of penalties,” Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “That was one of the key kills in the game and overall, I thought that we did a really good job on PK.”
Later in the long 1:26 shift, Nystrom was able to chase down the puck near the left boards before clearing it just over the blue line with a jai alai type move with his glove. Soon thereafter, he was able to change and the penalty was over not long after that.
“Right at the end of the penalty kill and get it out,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought he had a good game. Mike Fisher and Ny did a good job, penalty killers in general.”
After a brief rest, Nystrom’s name was called again, this time for a shift at even strength. It wasn’t nearly as long as his previous one, but it ended with him scoring Nashville’s second goal of the game, and it was the kind of goal that brings a smile to a coach’s face.
Let’s look at the photos:
Fresh out of the penalty box, Ribeiro has the puck on the left boards, so Nystrom goes to an open space and gets into a good shooting position with his head up, shoulders square to the passer, and his stick ready for a one-timer.
“He’s such a good passer that he just put it right in my wheelhouse and I shot it as quick as I could and got lucky,” Nystrom said.
Vladimir Tarasenko tries to close the gap on Nystrom, but he’s too late and the puck is already en route toward Blues goaltender Martin Brodeur, and yes, it’s weird writing that.
Tarasenko continues on and finishes the hit, knocking Nystrom to the Bridgestone Arena ice. Nystrom takes a hit to make a play.
“I didn’t even feel it,” Nystrom said. “When you know they go in, you don’t really even think about that.”
While still on a knee, Nystrom gives a subtle fist pump in celebration of his fifth goal of the season.
And then there was much rejoicing with friends.