Found April 18, 2012 on
Fox Sports Tennessee:
Detroit Red Wings
Having taken a commanding 3-1 series lead against the Detroit Red Wings, its not surprising that the Nashville Predators have gotten scoring from their defense, as All-Stars Ryan Suter and Shea Weber both ranked in the top five on the team in points during the regular season.
Whats been surprising is the name of one of those defensemen who has come up with two huge goals, including the game-winner in Game 4 on Tuesday in a 3-1 win over the Red Wings.
Hes Mohawk-coiffed Kevin Klein the Predator who has 12 career goals in the regular season spread out over seven NHL seasons and 309 games. He entered the playoffs with one goal in 18 career playoff games.
Hes also the same one who, as a junior player, was once named the top defensive defenseman in his conference. But now hes charging down the ice, scoring highlight-reel goals.
On Tuesday, Preds right wing Martin Erat skated up ice on the rush and drew three Red Wings to him, including goalie Jimmy Howard. Erat fed the puck through that mass of humanity to Klein, who, using his wits after being abandoned in the neutral zone by Red Wing forward Valtteri Filppula, found himself all alone in front of a literally wide open goal and slammed the puck home.
Kleins goal in Game 3 was even more spectacular, as he stickhandled through the defense and roofed a shot over Howards glove after breaking in alone on the goal. It gave the Preds a 2-1 lead and would have stood up as the game-winner if the Detroits Henrik Zetterberg had not drawn to within 3-2 with 54 seconds left in regulation.
Klein said he doesnt think goal-scoring surge is a result of his jumping into the play any more than usual. He said hes just having more luck when he does. His shooting percentage 40 percent, which ties him with Sidney Crosby for sixth-best in the playoffs would seem to bear that out.
"I may have jumped into the play once or twice last game,'' Klein said. "Marty just happened to make an unbelievable play to get me the puck in front of the open net. Its just one of those things about being in the right place at the right time and its worked out the last couple games that Ive managed to go to the net.''
While Weber and Suter get so much of the press on the Nashville defense corps and deservedly so Klein shares a connection with them that goes to the essence of how the organization has built the team into a serious contender. All three players were selected during the 2003 NHL Draft, which, incidentally, was held in Nashville.
The Preds took Suter seventh overall, Klein 30 picks later and Weber 49th. For the last two seasons, those three players have represented the Preds top three in time on ice per game on the defense corps. While Suter worked his way into the lineup as a regular by 2005-06 and Weber did so one season later, it took Klein a little bit longer.
With those two being ahead of him on the depth chart and others like Kimmo Timonen and Dan Hamhuis being older and more established, Klein did not become a regular until 2008-09, when he played 63 games.
But now, not only is he a regular, hes a trend-setter. He was the first to go to the Mohawk haircut and he inspired fellow backliners Roman Josi and Francis Bouillon to do the same.
Much attention in this series has focused in an off-ice way on another defensemen Hal Gill and whether he will be healthy enough to play. The Predators traded for him in February for his penalty-killing and shot-blocking abilities but so far a lower-body injury has sidelined him. Little did the Preds know that they would be able to overcome that absence, in part, because of Kleins offense.
Nonetheless, Klein is eager to get the 6-foot-7 Gill, still listed as day-to-day but improving, back in the lineup.
"He's obviously a veteran force back there, great on the penalty kill,'' Klein said of Gill. "Wed love to have him back as soon as possible. He's working towards that goal and well definitely welcome him back with open arms when he comes back in the lineup.''
For now, the Preds are holding down the fort without Gill. Klein has a plus-2 rating after going minus-8 during the regular season. Backed by the incredible postseason play of goalie Pekka Rinne, the Preds have allowed only eight goals in the four games.
Thats a huge improvement over the last few weeks of the regular season during which the Preds added four new players to the lineup as a result of trades and Alex Radulov returning from Russia.
"We had to figure that out then we had to get used to each other,'' Klein said. "We've been working on the (defensive) zone all the time, just communication with the (defense) and the forwards. Peks has been unbelievable, obviously, so that always helps, and I think that the main thing was getting used to each other, gearing up the intensity towards the playoffs.''
The man with the Mohawk seems to have geared up his intensity as much as anyone.
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