8 games. In the NFL, that’s half a season—ample time to evaluate a roster. Normally in the NHL it wouldn’t be enough time to either panic or begin selling playoff tickets. But this hockey season is unique. 8 games is one-sixth of your season. The first sixth doesn’t have to be your best, but you’d better have some good sixths in there pretty soon: you only get 6 of them after all. (See how good I was with fractions back in the day?).
There was a lot of trepidation when the schedule came out regarding the long road trip right at the start. What if I made these predictions after 8 games on the day that schedule was released:
- The Predators will lose opening night to Columbus at home in a shootout
- Shea Weber and his new defense partner Roman Josi will have ZERO pts.
- Craig Smith will have 0 pts., and will be benched for stretches of games
- Patric Hornqvist will be injured in game number 5 and out 3-4 weeks.
- No Predator will score more than 2 goals or have more than 4 points
- The team will amass 12 goals total (not including shootout team goals)
- The power play will bring home an 0-17 drought from the west coast leg of the trip.
- The Combined records of the opponents would be 36-20-8
9. They will be outshot in 7 consecutive games, and be last in the NHL in Shots on Goal per game at just over 22 per contest.
If I told you these things before the season started—what would you have guessed as the team’s record? Would you not have at least gasped or had a little shortness of breath? A prediction of 5-6 regulation losses, 4-6 total points would not have been unreasonable.
The truth is, the Predators have squeezed as much value as is humanly possible out of the goals they have scored to amass their record of 3-2-3 (9 pts). Many around the league, and even among those following here, have to be scratching their heads as to how they have done it exactly.
But this seems to be how the Preds roll. They tend to have very good survival skills. Barry Trotz and his even keel usually serves his team well. It usually takes time to mold his team game of discipline and detail—starting with sound play in the defensive end. As he pointed out to Tom Callahan in his pregame chat prior to the 2-1 win Saturday in San Jose: as poorly as things had been, his team was actually much worse defensively at this point in the season LAST year.
Before the Sharks game, Trotz charted that his team was giving up “scoring chances” at about double the rate after the first seven games of the ’11-’12 season (as opposed to this season’s first 7games). They struggled through it last year (Trotz often said last year in the first 20 games “we weren’t a very good team”), but survived with spectacular play from Pekka Rinne and some excellent power play prowess. The team then hit it’s stride in the second quarter.
Trotz does not panic, he sees the little things and believes in the process. Plus, he has Rinne to erase mistakes. The attention to detail was much better on Saturday in the dramatic win against the Sharks. It’s coming along, and the final stage is to now start to create a higher volume of chances- and convert.
The Predators have been fortunate to stay stabile against tough competition AND on an extremely difficult road trip, despite these struggles. It’s ok to have a sixth of your schedule be this way—as long as this is not the best they have to offer.
With some home games coming up, it’s time for the Predators to get into the next gear. We will find out soon how good that next gear is.
Photo: Nashville Predators