Cross Checks: Andrei Kostitsyn

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- They’re b-a-a-a-c-c-c-k-k-k!

Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, as expected, will suit up Monday night with the Nashville Predators’ season on the line against the Phoenix Coyotes.

"I got something to prove, not to you guys or to somebody, but first of all to myself, and that's about it," Radulov said after the morning skate at Arena.

"In light of everything that's happened, we expect [Radulov] to be real, real good," said center Mike Fisher. "He loves to play, and we expect him to bring some energy and enthusiasm, like he normally does, and same as Andrei."

Radulov and Kostitsyn were suspended for Game 3 after breaking team curfew and didn’t dress for Game 4 as coach Barry Trotz decided not to mess with success.

But the Predators were shut out 1-0 on Friday and trail the series 3-1.

Back in go the two offensive players.

"Rad’s a pretty proud guy," Trotz said Monday morning. "He wants to be part of this series and he’s going to be part of this series. He wants to make a difference."

Trotz hopes reinserting the two late-season pickups will be the turning point his team needs.

"It’s a big challenge for them," Trotz said. "They’re coming into a situation where we’re behind the 8-ball. They can make a difference tonight in a very positive way. If they do, it might be the thing that changes the whole series. What we did in the past and why we did it were for all the right reasons and that won’t change. But we’ve got to look forward."

Trotz told the players Saturday morning, wisely wanting both players to spruce up and get their focus sharpened for Monday's game.

"I just told them, 'You’re back in. You can make a difference. It’s not going to be easy and people aren’t going to let you off the hook. You’re going to be judged, you’re going to be weighed, all those things,'" Trotz said. "I needed to tell them early so they could get in the right frame of mind."

Radulov and Kostitsyn will begin with defensively aware Nick Spaling as their center. Other changes see Colin Wilson replacing Sergei Kostitsyn on the top line with Fisher and Martin Erat. Sergei Kostitsyn was dropped to the fourth line after an ineffective Game 4.

The Preds sounded like a confident group despite being on the brink of elimination.

"We’re feeling good," Fisher said. "We know our position. Our focus is just tonight. We feel like the series could be the other way around with a bit of luck, and that’s not an excuse. That’s just the way it is. They’re playing well, they’re finding ways to win. And that’s what we need to do. They’re not outplaying us heavily, by any means."

The Preds’ mantra over the past few days, clearly, is that they’re the ones who can be the first team this spring to reverse a 3-1 series hole.

"Why not us? Every year someone does it," Fisher said. "No one has this year. Someone has to do, might as well be us."

Trotz has obviously been sharing that message with his players.

"I don’t think there’s a team that’s done anything special in sport that has won anything that hasn’t gone through some adversity," he said. "Well, this might be our adversity. There’s moments that pass you by. You’ll look back 20 years and say, 'That was the moment.' The moment that you can make a difference. Tonight might be their moment where they can be a difference and we get back into the series a little bit and get it back to 3-2. That’s all we can do. We’re not going to win the series tonight. No team has ever won three games in one night in the NHL, that I know of. So we just got to win a hockey game."

The Coyotes, who skated Monday morning across town in Scottsdale, will have to do without Rostislav Klesla, who was suspended one game by the NHL for a hit from behind in Game 4. David Schlemko will replace the veteran Klesla in the lineup.

"It’s unfortunate, we weren’t expecting that, but there’s nothing we can do about it,’’ Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told reporters in Scottsdale on Monday morning regarding Klesla’s suspension.

Schlemko has played in two playoff games this spring.

"He’s champing at the bit to make an impact," Tippett said. "He gets an opportunity tonight."
NASHVILLE -- The night owls may be back Monday.

Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz, on a media conference call Saturday, said there is a "high probability" both Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn will return to the lineup Monday night with his team down 3-1 in the series to the Phoenix Coyotes.

Trotz said the Predators had a lot of chances in Friday night's 1-0 loss at home, but several of his top players failed to finish. So he may re-insert Radulov and Kostitsyn. Both players were suspended for Game 3 after breaking the team curfew on the eve of Game 2. Trotz sat them out again for Game 4, because -- like most NHL coaches at playoff time -- he was not willing to change a winning lineup from Game 3.

The Predators managed 25 shots on goal on red-hot netminder Mike Smith in Game 4, but also had 14 missed shots.

“I thought we did a good job to pressure them to make those bad shots,” Smith said after the game. “It’s one thing to have time and get a good look and get a shot away, but we forced them tonight where they got in situations where they had to shoot the puck quick. When you have to shoot the puck quick, you can’t get it on target. My D were outstanding tonight, back pressure was great and we found a way to sneak one out.”

Preds winger Patric Hornqvist missed five shots by himself, wasting a few golden chances.

"I have to score," Hornqvist said after the game. "If I get that opportunity, I have to put one in the back of the net to get us to overtime. It was bad. I tried to get it up. I'm so close to [Smith on one play]. He's so big. So I tried to get it over. So, yeah, I missed the net. And then when Leggy [David Legwand] gave it to me backdoor, I didn't really see it -- it was bouncing and couldn't finish and one hit the post. Yeah, that happens. Now we have to get three games in a row."

Discipline for Klesla?

Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla will have a disciplinary hearing Sunday for pushing Predators winger Matt Halischuk into the boards from behind during the first period of Friday night's game.

Klesla got a two-minute boarding minor on the play. Halischuk was shaken up on the play and briefly went to the locker room but returned to the finish the game.

Trotz said Saturday that he thought it was a dangerous hit.

"When I looked at it on film, I thought it was a very dangerous hit," Trotz said. "I played defense, not well mind you, but I’ve played defense before. Klesla grabs the back of Halischuk’s shirt, and pulls him back. That’s that whiplash effect that when you push him right between the numbers when he’s facing the boards, I looked at it and it was a really dangerous hit in my eyes. How the referees or the league will view it, I can’t really speak on that, but from my eyes and knowing from playing defense, drilling him when you do that whiplash effect of pulling the shirt and then driving him, it was really fortunate that Halischuk did sort of spin at the last moment or that could have been very similar to a Kris Draper type of hit when he was playing for the Red Wings against Colorado and [Claude] Lemieux hit him. He could have took the edge of the boards right across the face there and it could have been a lot worse than it was. I think Matt was very fortunate and it was a dangerous hit in my eyes. From my perspective, I’m obviously partial to our players and our team. We’ll let the league decide what they’re going to do with it, but if they’re looking at it, I think it’s the right thing to do and I’m sure they’ll deal with it with the way they always have with the thoroughness of all the other situations. A hard game to call and I respect all the decisions no matter what the decision is. But personally, I thought it was a dangerous hit."

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It’s rare you change a winning lineup in the playoffs unless forced by injury.

And for the Nashville Predators, that means no Alexander Radulov or Andrei Kostitsyn again Friday night in Game 4 against the Phoenix Coyotes.

"The decision for me was pretty simple: The group that went in there was very committed and got the job done, plain and simple," Predators coach Barry Trotz said Friday morning. "Alex and Andrei are good players, they’re top players. At the same time, I felt the group responded really well, and I expect the group to respond again."

Neither player is suspended further, Trotz added. This is now simply a hockey decision.

My guess is, if the power play continues to struggle -- the Preds have only five goals on 34 chances this postseason -- it opens the window win or lose for Trotz to at least reinsert Radulov for Game 5 Monday night in Phoenix. But that’s just a guess at this point.

"They’re ready, obviously they want to be in," Trotz said of his two curfew breakers. "They want to have some vindication if you will. But at the same time, they’re good about being good pros. ... As long as we’re winning, they’re OK. If someone doesn’t play well or if we have an injury, they’re ready to go."

Trotz said he was going with the same lineup as Game 3. And with that, the Preds coach said he was done talking about the Radulov-Kostitsyn affair. At least for Friday.

"Can we talk more about hockey? That’s the last question I’m answering about those two," Trotz said.

Both the Predators and Coyotes had optional skates with several regulars missing, although Radulov and Kostitsyn took part.

Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett said he was leaning toward the same lineup as Game 3, although he wasn’t 100 percent sure yet.

"We’ll look at all the options, I won’t rule out a change possibly, but right now it looks like the same lineup," Tippett said.

On the Nashville side, the one concern after Game 3 was the health of winger Matt Halischuk after he left the game for a while following a scary collision into the boards. But he returned to finish the game and also skated Thursday and Friday morning.

"Yeah, I feel good to go, ready to go if I get the call tonight," Halischuk said after the morning skate.

He went to the "quiet room" after that collision in Game 3.

"It’s never a good situation when you’re flying like that, out of control, into the boards,” he said. "I was kind of winded. Took a second to get everything back together.’’

NASHVILLE -- We should not assume that Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn are benched for only one game.

There’s no way Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz messes with his lineup if his team wins Game 3 on Wednesday night to get back in the series.

“Obviously with our situation, tonight if we get it done, I would expect I would probably go back with the same group, the group that gets it done,” Trotz said Wednesday morning.

And then, as if he was just waiting for someone to ask, the coach decided to stamp out a rumor that’s been circulating: That somehow he knew before Sunday’s game that Radulov and Kostitsyn had broken curfew the previous night.

“I’ll throw this out because it has been asked on a lot of shows: We did not know before Game 2,” Trotz said. “We found out after Game 2. Hell would have had to freeze over if they would have played Game 2 if I knew before. That’s how I am; that’s how the management team is and that’s how the Nashville Predators are run.

“There’s been a lot of speculation that we knew and that’s a bunch of crap. We didn’t. I just wanted to throw that out there because it’s been asked a lot, but not never to me.”

To say Trotz is disappointed in those two players is a massive understatement. But I also think he’s a clever coach. He’s making the best out of a bad hand here. He knows this is a moment that can galvanize his team, which needs a spark down 2-0.

From player to player Wednesday morning in the Predators' dressing room, you got the sense that’s exactly what’s transpiring.

I expect a much better effort from the Preds on Wednesday night. They deviated from their game in Phoenix. Perhaps because most people picked them to win the series, I feel like the Preds tried to put on a show in Phoenix instead of playing Predators hockey, which is a defense-first philosophy.

By benching Radulov and Kostitsyn, two late-season additions, the Preds can go back to almost their original lineup. And that can be a good thing when you’re trying to re-establish your team identity.

“The guys that are out tonight, Andrei and Rad, they weren’t with us for 65 games or so,” Trotz said. “The guys who are going in have been together. A Craig Smith has been on the power play. We’ve had different people do that. They are going to be put in roles. They did it for 65 games. They’re going to be fine tonight."

The Coyotes, of course, know what’s coming at them. It’s not rocket science. The Preds are down 2-0, they’re desperate and they’re at home. Buckle up, boys.

“Yeah, if it was coming home to my building I know the home team would come out flying, and we expect that tonight from them,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said Wednesday morning. “We have to ready for it. We can’t sit back and wait. We have to go after it ourselves.”

And the fact they’re going to miss Radulov and Kostitsyn isn’t seen as a positive in the Coyotes' room.

“You look at what they did before those guys got there; they were a great team already,” Doan said. “Sure those two guys made them better, but it’s not as if they were struggling beforehand. They’ve got a great team over there. We’re going to have to be real good tonight.”

Trotz would not confirm his lineup, but I expect Jordin Tootoo to play his first game of the series. He’s going to bring the kind of energy at home that the Preds can feed off.

“I’m not going to put a lot of pressure on myself,” Tootoo said after the morning skate. “I’m going to do what I’ve been doing all year long: bringing energy. The playoffs are physically demanding, and I think I’m a player that can bring some of that game and wear those guys down. If I’m in the lineup, I’ll be ready.”

The right decisions in life are often the hardest ones.

And on Tuesday, the Nashville Predators made the right call under the most excruciating circumstances.

They are down 2-0 in their second-round series with the Phoenix Coyotes. Their season hangs in the balance. They need all the offense they can muster. Yet they decided to sit their two leading scorers, Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn, for Game 3 on Wednesday -- for violating a team curfew Saturday night on the eve of Game 2.

You might have noticed that both players were brutal in that game, even though Kostitsyn scored Sunday night.

"I’ve been a manager for 30 years. I care about each individual player, but I’ve never put an individual player above the team," Predators GM David Poile told on Tuesday. "In this case, the players violated a team rule. It’s disappointing any time a player has to miss a game because of violating a team rule, and it’s even more significant at playoff time, but the decision between the coach and myself was very easy. We have to do the right thing. Their actions spoke volumes in terms of their lack of commitment and focus to give our a club a chance to win."

Radulov has only one goal in these playoffs, although his six points (1-5) lead the team. He’s been up and down -- real good in the series-clinching win over Detroit but mostly invisible in the two losses in Phoenix.

Radulov was supposed to be more than this. The former KHL MVP in Russia was signed to be the missing offensive dynamo the Preds had craved. At times, he’s shown flashes of that. But overall, he has not had quite the impact most had expected.

Now with this lack of judgment from Radulov that forced the hand of the Predators to sit him, you wonder what the future holds for him in Nashville. He’ll be a restricted free agent July 1. You have to imagine he’s likely headed back to Russia and that the Preds would have reservations shelling out big dough to keep him. That’s certainly my guess.

But Poile warned against overreaching conclusions because of this one incident.

"Let’s not blow it out of proportion, it’s not the first time a player has missed a game because of a team rule violation," said the veteran hockey man. "We’re full of second chances in this business."

Poile then pointed to my personal life (sorry, folks) to make his point.

"It’s not different than your family; someday you and your wife may have to have your twins sit in the corner for a timeout because of their behavior," Poile said. "And you might not like the crying and how it makes you feel, but you know as a parent you’re doing the right thing. And it’s no different in this case. You still love your kids. It’s not that we dislike Andrei or Rad; we’re disappointed in their behavior, and we hope that because we’re punishing them, if you will, by missing this game that this will not be a repetitive situation. If and when they get a chance to put on a Predators uniform again, both their play on the ice and their behavior off the ice will be at the highest standard possible.”

Here’s what I think might happen Wednesday night with Nashville’s season essentially on the line: The Predators will rediscover their true identity. Before they added the likes of Radulov and Kostitsyn, they were the blue-collar Preds. They understood how they won games in this league, with a grind-it-out, defense-first style. My guess is they'll go back to that Wednesday.

The guy I feel bad for right now, though, is Predators captain Shea Weber. Behind the scenes over the past few years, he contributed to trying to persuade Radulov to come back to the Predators. He certainly didn’t have this in mind when doing so.
But Poile and head coach Barry Trotz ran their decision by Weber and the leaders before announcing it. Everyone is apparently on board.

"We talked to the leadership group in terms of their knowledge of it and what-have-you," Poile said. "Everybody was very much aware of the situation. We had to do the right thing."

Yes, the Predators might lose Game 3. And if that’s the case, their season would be essentially over. But Poile and Trotz will have zero regrets.

From drafting and developing players to fostering the type of hockey culture (with limited finances) that they believe breeds success, the Predators in my books have always done it the honorable way.

This is no different. The team comes first.

"Win or lose, we made the right decision," Poile said.
Our trade deadline experts are hearing rumblings -- not confirmed -- that Andrei Kostitsyn is on his way to the Predators. Confirmation or denial to come, but it would reunite the Kostitsyn brothers -- Sergei is in Nashville.
Some quick nuggets from Saturday morning as I make my way from Toronto to Bristol, Conn., where the ESPN team will assemble (picture Ron Burgundy assembling his team) for trade deadline coverage:

Hemsky Signing Changes Things
Ales Hemsky's re-signing with the Edmonton Oilers on Friday night eliminated the most sought-after rental for teams hoping to add a top-six forward.

Notably, it eliminated a target for the Nashville Predators, who had their eye on the slick Czech winger.

Now what?

There isn’t much left out there. Andrei Kostitsyn of the Montreal Canadiens is on the block. Kostitsyn will be an unrestricted free agent July 1, and he needs a change of scenery. But he’s had a mediocre season. My sense is that the Preds have discussed him internally.

There would be pros and cons in bringing him in. On the one hand, you’d be getting a three-time 20-goal scorer with a chip on his shoulder, hungry to prove himself again in a new setting. On the other hand, having the two Kostitsyn brothers together in Montreal proved to be a handful for the Habs (Sergei Kostitsyn is now with the Preds). But that was then, when they were young players, and now they’re a little older. Isn’t that what the Los Angeles Kings were betting on with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards?

And so I’d say it’s a 50-50 bet that Kostitsyn ends up in Nashville before Monday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

Veteran Preds GM David Poile, as is the custom, refused to discuss names from other teams Saturday when reached by, but generally pointed to a difficult trade market.

"We’d like to add a forward, but right now there’s not a lot going on," Poile said. "Look at last night again with the teams winning. The standings are so close on both sides. There aren’t a lot of sellers. It’s not really your normal trade deadline situation compared to other years."

Certainly, between players re-signing with their teams and the parity in the standings, it has not created the buyer/seller market of most years. Some teams on the bubble, such as Dallas and Buffalo, are trying to make "hockey deals," where roster players are dealt for roster players, as opposed to players dumped for futures.

As for the Predators, they’ll keep working the phones looking for a forward. And you don’t have to worry about Ryan Suter, who is slated to be an unrestricted free agent July 1. He’s not going anywhere.

Stars at the Deadline
The Dallas Stars keep winning and the playoffs look more real than ever, so it’s hard to imagine they’ll be too eager to move Mike Ribeiro or Steve Ott, two players other NHL sources told earlier this week were in play for the right price.

Unless, of course, the Stars can entice the Philadelphia Flyers when it comes to young winger James van Riemsdyk. As I reported earlier this week, my understanding is that the Stars really covet JVR and will continue to pursue him. No question, he’d be a terrific long-term fit alongside Jamie Benn.

And what about Sheldon Souray? He’s UFA July 1 and the Stars would certainly be getting offers on him from contenders. But he’s a popular player in the Stars' dressing room, and as pointed out above, the Stars could be playoff-bound. My sense is that it will be an 11th-hour decision on him before Monday’s deadline.

Goalie Talk
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers had a conversation regarding Nikolai Khabibulin, although I don’t think the Leafs are too keen on the extra year on Khabibulin’s contract. I think Evgeni Nabokov (UFA July 1) remains the best bet, if the Leafs do indeed do anything in goal. That’s no sure thing after James Reimer played well in a 2-1 loss to San Jose on Thursday night, which might have cooled off GM Brian Burke’s desire somewhat. Then again, the Leafs host Washington on Saturday night, so let’s see how that goes. Nabokov might not go anywhere. His agent, Don Meehan, was slated to resume contract talks with Isles GM Garth Snow on Saturday. But even if there’s no extension, Snow might just decide to keep him.

The Ottawa Senators are without Craig Anderson for a bit after he suffered a hand injury using a kitchen knife. My sense is that despite the fact that Dwayne Roloson and Marty Turco could be options, GM Bryan Murray will make a deal only if he can find a younger netminder who can grow along with Anderson over the next few years.

Stock up

Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes: It hasn’t been a banner season offensively for the venerable Coyotes captain, but Doan is lighting it up now with an eight-game points streak, during which he’s collected 13 points. The Coyotes, by the way, were back in the playoff bracket and just six points out of the Pacific Division lead with a game in hand as of Friday morning. Doan’s continued strong play will be crucial to the Coyotes’ playoffs hopes.

Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators: Another player whose first half wasn’t exactly what he was hoping for is Hornqvist, who led the Predators with 30 goals last season. The Preds have been up and down in 2010-11, but are currently on an up-swing with four straight wins. Hornqvist is also starting to roll with goals in four straight games, five goals in all, including two in a big win over Los Angeles on Thursday. As of Friday, the Predators were fourth in the Western Conference.

Stock down

Andrei Kostitsyn, Montreal Canadiens: It’s been difficult times for the Habs of late. Defenseman Josh Georges is out for the season with a knee injury and the offense has gone south, as the team has fallen from first in the Northeast Division to the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. There’s not much help coming from Kostitsyn, who has scored once in his past 16 games. Maybe the Habs got rid of the wrong Kostitsyn? Andrei’s brother Sergei is thriving in Nashville.

James Neal, Dallas Stars: While the Dallas Stars continue to lead the tough Pacific Division, it isn’t all warm and fuzzy in Big D. The Stars are hoping Neal will rediscover his scoring touch in the second half -- he has scored once in the past 12 games, even though he has a respectable 14 goals on the season. Neal had a breakout season in 2009-10 with 27 goals.