Whether the Nashville Predators are in a 3-0 pothole or have sawed the series deficit to 2-1 after Wednesday night’s Game 3 against the Phoenix Coyotes, it may be because they were missing Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov.
In addition, the open or subtle responses from each suspended party could go a long way towards clearing the air in the Nashville dressing room.
Tuesday’s revelation that the two vital scorers would be barred from Wednesday night’s action due to a violation of team rules was doubtlessly the last piece of news Predators fans wanted to hear.
Radulov was virtually invisible as Nashville brooked back-to-back losses in Phoenix to commence the Western Conference semifinals, but is still the team’s top postseason point-getter. Kostitsyn is tied with Gabriel Bourque for the team lead with three goals in the playoffs.
But, of course, these two are also in the hunt for the team lead in the way of unsavory disciplinary histories. Their suspensions could thus mark a vital turning point in the Predators’ rise to long-term contention.
The absence of both players could invite the Coyotes to start ringing Nashville’s 2012 playoff death knell a little louder. If that happens, then kudos will be owed to Predators general manager David Poile for his integrity.
On the other hand, having Radulov and Kostitsyn could be an invitation for a multitude of mute scorers to perk up and pivot the Preds back in the right direction. If that happens, then kudos will still be owed to Poile for rewarding only those players who have demonstrated a genuine, consistent interest in the team.
From a Nashville standpoint, the best-case scenario for Wednesday night will have the home team feeding off the Bridgestone Arena masses and, in turn, feeding that monster with an assertive victory. All the while, Kostitsyn and Radulov will watch from a distance in the press area as their teammates have a fun, productive night at work without them.
That will arguably deliver the message even more effectively than if the Predators lose and suddenly find themselves facing elimination as early as this Friday. Ideally, the two rebels should feel remorseful if they see their team struggle in their absence and thereby renew their appreciation for common benefit.
But that is hardly guaranteed. It could work the other way.
Nashville could fall short in Game 3, and the likes of Radulov and Kostitsyn could harbor the smug notion that they were too important to sit this one out and should have been given a pass for their off-ice infractions.
Naturally, that scenario will not do much good for the Predators in the immediate future. But remember that neither Radulov nor Kostitsyn were with this team until after the trading deadline nor were they in Nashville for the franchise’s first-ever playoff series victory last spring.
Both parties are also due to hit free agency come July 1. Accordingly, if there are no assuring signs of character improvement between now and spring cleaning in the Predators locker room, it will be easy enough to let the cancer cells go after an altogether brief stint.
In turn, Poile’s candid commitment to keeping the “team” a winning “team” could be a deciding factor in retaining some more savory soon-to-be free agents in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter.
In other words, by either reforming or removing those who threaten to tear down the Nashville powerhouse, Poile assures retaining those who have served as a part of the winning foundation.