NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It could not have been a fun couple of days to be Sergei Kostitsyn.
Last Sunday in a 3-2 loss at Edmonton, the Nashville Predators forward had the bad judgment to give up on a play and go for a line change that turned into a 2-on-1 situation against his team and which resulted in the Oilers scoring a shorthanded goal.
The video went viral. It was broadcast on general interest sports programs that typically don’t venture into hockey. His own coach Barry Trotz called it “an illogical event.”
To hold Kostitsyn accountable, Trotz held him out of the next game, only the second time this season in which Kostitsyn has not played.
This is a player who, two seasons ago, led the Predators in goals with 23 and tied for the team lead in points with 50.
Alas, on Thursday, Trotz inserted Kostitsyn back in the lineup, deciding that five days of shame was enough.
“He’s served his time, if you will, and he’s going to go back in the lineup,” Trotz said before the game.
The coach was rewarded for his faith in the player and the player was rewarded with the second chance in a 5-3 win over Calgary. Not only did Trotz put Kostitsyn back in the lineup, but the coach also elected to reunite him on a line with Mike Fisher and Martin Erat. For most of the last three seasons, that trio has formed the team’s top line. They have played together this season, but each of them has run into his own struggles, and so Trotz had split them up.
Kostitsyn played 17:17 and while he did not earn a goal nor an assist, the line generated two even-strength goals and he finished plus-2, tied for the best on the team on Thursday among the Predators’ forwards.
Life, it seems, had achieved a degree of normalcy again for Kostitsyn.
“It felt good that we won last night,” he said on Friday. “We lost four in a row. I think we didn’t play the way we could. We give up two goals on the power play (on Thursday), but still I think we play very good last night.”
Trotz said that if he had continued to hold Kostitsyn out of the lineup, it would have meant punishing the entire team. Among the interesting things to come out of Kostitsyn’s bit of infamy this week is that Trotz has praised his intelligence numerous times.
“Sergei made a poor decision but he is one of the most intelligent players we do have,” Trotz said. “He can kill penalties. He can play on the power play. He can do a number of different things.
“From that standpoint, I can punish the group some more, but I felt that we needed him in to win and he served his time. Now, he gets sort of a reprieve to show that it wouldn’t happen again and he contributed.”
Give credit to Trotz for not playing the guilty-by-association game. Last season, Kostitsyn’s brother Andrei helped to torpedo the Preds’ playoff chances by breaking curfew during the second round with then-teammate Alex Radulov. The Predators suspended both players and the situation became a huge distraction. To his credit, Sergei Kostitsyn was not among the players suspended that night and when it came to meting out justice this week, the sins of the brother were not held against Sergei Kostitsyn in terms of prior bad acts.
Sergei Kostitsyn said he tried to block out the furor that raged around him in the media during his few days in purgatory.
“Well, I tried not to think about that,” he said. “Just going out and played the way I can.”
When asked if he were glad that his punishment did not extend beyond the one game, he became a bit more uncomfortable.
“Well, actually I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know. I wasn’t thinking about that.”
One could further categorize Trotz’s handling of the situation as one of “forgive but not forget.” While Kostitsyn earned his way back into the lineup, he did not play at all on the power play – the situation in which he committed his sin. So let’s not go so far as to say he has completely worked his way back into his coach’s good graces.
Trotz said the idea of putting Kostitsyn back on the point on the power play – where a defenseman usually would play and which can force a forward into defensive situations with which he is not generally accustomed – still makes him “a little nervous.” Nonetheless, Trotz said he is reserving that option.