By Jim Diamond
It has been quite a while since Harry Zolnierczyk scored an NHL goal, almost three years in fact. But at 9:01 of the second period Thursday night, Zolnierczyk ended the 1,087 day drought with a hard-nosed goal that put the Predators ahead of the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1.
Nashville’s lightly used fourth line of Colton Sissons, Cody McLeod, and Zolnierczyk was buzzing around the Columbus zone. Battling Blue Jacket defenseman David Savard in front of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, Zolnierczyk got just enough of a backhand shot to make it across the goal line while he was falling to the ice. It was his first since Feb. 5, 2014 when he was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“That’s all we are supposed to do as a fourth line,” Zolnierczyk said. “When we get an opportunity to be out there, we’ve just got to make sure we’re creating offense, creating energy, and keeping our guys going in the right direction.”
Since his time with the Penguins, Zolnierczyk has had very brief NHL stops on Long Island (two games played) and with Anaheim (one NHL game played), as well as AHL stints with Wilkes-Barre, Bridgeport, San Diego, and Milwaukee.
“I guess over the last couple of years, it’s been tough trying to find my spot, find my role with a team,” Zolnierczyk said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to kind of create one here right now with this little run. It’s always nice to contribute.”
Zolnierczyk looked like he was going to get on the score sheet early Thursday night as he carried the puck into the Columbus zone on a 3-on-1 rush two minutes into the first period. Bobrovsky turned aside his shot, and Zolnierczyk’s momentum carried him hard into the end boards.
Nashville’s coaching staff only gave Zolnierczyk 6:43 of ice time in the game, but he was noticeable each time he was out there.
“As far as Harry goes, he’s instant energy,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “He just moves. He’s fast. He plays the game fast. He rambles around and hits things and goes to the net.”
Laviolette was effusive of his praise of his fourth line, all of whom played fewer than nine minutes in the game.
“They were awesome, they were awesome,” Laviolette said. “From start to finish, that line Sissons and McLeod and Zolnierczyk, they just brought energy. They moved forward. They put the puck in the offensive zone. They banged things around. They banged bodies. They went to the crease. Harry got one. Mac could have had one. They just bring good energy, good physicality, and they’re bringing some good offense too.”
The Predators star players recognize the value fourth liners like Zolnierczyk bring to the team.
“I feel like that whole fourth line has been a big spark for us as of late,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “Harry, huge goal. He mucked it in. It is nice to see those guys get rewarded. Anytime they get a goal, it’s a huge boost for the team.”