Central: Kostitsyn whistling happier tune in Music City

By Andrew Sykes

Photo: Newly acquired forward Andrei Kostitsyn is finding his game in a Nashville Predators‘ uniform (courtesy of

Danny Murphy/Icon SMI)

Sometimes a change of scenery is all it takes for a player to turn around their season. A new city, a new team and a new environment can often be exactly what a struggling player needs to snap out of a season-long slump.

This notion could not ring any truer than in the case of Andrei Kostitsyn.

A highly scrutinized player through much of his six-and-half years with the Montreal Canadiens, Kostitsyn had fallen under heavy criticism for his lack of production with the club this year. In 53 games with Montreal, the 27-year-old winger had modest numbers with 12 goals and 12 assists but often drew the ire of the team’s demanding fans who saw Kostitsyn as an underachieving player.

A 20 goal-scorer on three occasions including a career-high 26 goals in 2008, Kostitsyn’s falling out of favor with both the fans and his coach made him a likely candidate to be moved at this year’s trade deadline.

There was a fair share of suitors interested in the enigmatic Belarusian, but none made more sense than the Nashville Predators. A playoff-bound team with a need for some added offensive punch, the Predators seemed like the perfect destination for Kostitsyn. Aside from the fact that he would likely jump onto one of their top two lines as well as receiving power-play duties, nothing could have been more enticing for Kostitsyn than the fact that he would be reunited with his younger brother Sergei, who also served as his teammate in Montreal for three years.

At the February 27th deadline, general manager David Poile went ahead and pulled the trigger on the deal that saw him acquire Kostitsyn in exchange for two future draft picks. Although it seemed like an obvious move for Poile, it was one that was considered to be high-risk/high-reward, given Kostitsyn’s offensive potential but also his reputation as a player who didn’t always bring forth a full effort.

To Nashville’s delight, Kostitsyn has indeed been rejuvenated by the trade and is relishing in the opportunity of a fresh start with a contending team, and must feel as if the incredible weight that comes with playing for the Montreal Canadiens has been lifted off his shoulders.

In five games with his new team, he has registered three goals and three assists including three multi-point efforts. In comparison, Kostitsyn had just four multi-point games with Montreal.

The joy of being able to concentrate fully on hockey under far less pressure was no more apparent that in Saturday night’s thrilling 3-2 win over Detroit. The elder Kostitsyn scored Nashville’s second and third goals including the eventual game winner early in the third period. Both goals came with the man advantage and both were assisted by Sergei.

"I feel comfortable because I know Sergei likes to pass to me and is more of a passer than a shooter,” Andrei told CBS Sports after the game. "It’s fun to play together."

Judging by the pure joy in his face when celebrating the two goals, it is clear that hockey is once again fun for Andrei Kostitsyn. Fun that he and his new teammates hope will continue as they battle for positioning in the West.

Central Division Notes

Chicago Blackhawks Chicago managed a split in their two weekend games, winning Friday’s home contest against the Rangers but falling in a shootout to the Kings on Sunday. Still in sixth-place in the West, the Blackhawks will be back at home on Tuesday for a meeting with the league-leading St. Louis Blues.

Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets had their season-high four-game winning streak snapped in a pair of weekend losses to St. Louis. The team’s next action comes on Wednesday when they will kick off a Western Canadian road trip in Edmonton.

Detroit Red Wings
Now on a three-game road losing streak, the Red Wings will need to improve their play away from the Joe Louis Arena if they hope to stave off Nashville for second-place in the Central. Detroit faces a challenging week on the road starting with a back-to-back against Los Angeles and Anaheim on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Nashville Predators –
Wrapping up a three-game homestand with the huge win over Detroit, the Predators will now take to the road for four straight. On Monday they will be in Phoenix followed by a clash with the struggling Sharks on Thursday.

St. Louis Blues
Equalling a season-high five consecutive victories, the Blues are now four points clear of the New York Rangers in the race for the President’s Trophy. The club will look to continue their dominance in upcoming games against Chicago on Tuesday and Carolina on Thursday.