In broadcast lingo, it’s called the “quick hit”. It’s a short interview with a player outside of the locker room right as the 2nd period ends. At times it’s rather uneventful, but after Monday’s wacky 2nd period in Denver it was hard for anyone to put it into words. The lucky Predator was Defenseman Jonathon Blum, who’s late goal (the 7th of the period by the teams combined- tying a Preds franchise record) capped off the madness and brought Nashville to within 6-4. When asked to describe what had just transpired, Blum (one of the more articulate Preds) started his answer with a prolonged “umm….”
Who could blame him? It was a baffling period of loose defensive play, which was a stark contrast to the Predators staple this season of solid coverage in their own end. It proved to be Chris Mason’s undoing—along with a candidate for “worst no-call of the season” by the linesman (he missed an obvious offsides call which resulted in a breakaway goal by Matt Duchesne to start the festivities of the middle period).
Unfortunately, the game which ended the first third of the 48 game season left a sour taste. It was a missed opportunity to take advantage of an undermanned Avalanche team missing several key players due to injuries (and the holdout of top forward Ryan O’Reilly).
There is no time to wallow. Jordin Tootoo and the Red Wings come to town Tuesday night in what promises to be an emotional battle- the latest chapter in what is becoming an even spicier rivalry with each passing year. Nashville will face Detroit twice in a very busy week- with both matchups coming on the back end of “back-to-backs”.
As we close the book on the first third of the Predators season, here are a few “Quick Hits” of my own:
- COLIN WILSON IS LOOKING GOOD: Not only is he the team’s leading scorer, he is doing his work in tough situations. Unlike some gifted scorers, he is not being shielded in any way. At times young skilled players can be protected by being put on the ice in favorable spots (faceoffs that start in the offensive zone, or against weaker opposing players). According to Rob Vollman from Hockey Prospectus, this is not the case. Read Here: http://insider.espn.go.com/nhl/story/_/id/8943304/nhl-ranking-top-10-most-impressive-early-season-players
The key for Wilson—how does he handle the success? Consistency is the issue for him. At 23, we’ll see if he has matured enough to get to the next level.
2. CRAIG SMITH IS DUE: After a poor start, I’m not really sure how Smith HASN’T scored somewhere during the last stretch of games. He’s had a good burst on his skates, and is starting to at least get his potentially lethal shot away. He’s trying to stay confident. If he can, and he stays focused on defensive responsibility,
Smith will bust out soon.
- SETTLING THE DEFENSE PAIRINGS: The adaptation of the Preds defense corps without Ryan Suter was realistically going to take some time. As Vollman pointed out in our latest pregame chat on 102.5 The Game, both Suter and Weber’s numbers have been more “mortal” without each other. But Weber, who has racked up huge minutes as expected, has been on the ice for just 6 even strength goals (two in Monday’s 6-5 barnburner). The play in his own end has been solid—in extremely high degree of difficulty situations. The next step is to try and get him going offensively, which has started to happen with 4 points in his last 3 games.
After Barry Trotz shuffled the pairings around, it now appears that Roman Josi is the right man to play with Weber, as the Predators had hoped. Josi, with his “Suter Lite” type of game has the ability to move the puck and the creativity to set Weber’s big shot up. Josi’s offensive numbers aren’t there yet, but the potential is there. Like with Craig Smith, it’s just a matter of time.
The emergence of Blum has also been a key. He is a good match with Kevin Klein (they played together extensively during the ’11 playoffs), and he is a creative force on the Power Play with the offensively gifted Ryan Ellis.
Blum’s role also slots Scott Hannan on the 3rd pairing with Ellis, providing a veteran presence along side Ellis. Hannan had been playing big minutes, often with Weber, and while he had played admirably based on where he is in his career, he is better suited for the role he is in.
The tricky issue going forward (at least for the moment) is what to do with Hal Gill, who is the currently the odd man out. Gill brings a lot to the table with his experience and penalty killing ability, and it’s not easy to sit him. But right now it doesn’t appear that Blum is going anywhere. The Predators did not sign Gill to a two year deal for him to be the 7th defenseman, which creates a quandary for Trotz, albeit a good one.