Hard Times

logo392-cpIt’s been a difficult time in Nashville, Tennessee for sports fans.  I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a successful active team in the city between football and hockey.  Among the NFL’s Titans, the NHL’s Predators, University of Tennessee football, and (recently) Vanderbilt University football there was always one, and usually many more, that were successful and buoyed the city’s spirits in the sporting world.  When none them are any better than average, the combined pall it casts makes everything seem even worse to many people.  If it gets any worse, someone’s bound to write a song about it.

So it goes for the Nashville Predators.  The Predators enter tonight’s game with the Minnesota Wild in 14th position of the Western Conference standings.  They have the worst power play success rate in the league.  They have one of the worst penalty kill units in the league.  They are averaging a paltry 1.8 goals per game, while allowing 3.3 goals per game.  Many of the veteran players that the coaching staff leans on are either injured or in a slump of epic proportions.  There are signs of desperation by the coaching staff in that they are attempting nearly every possible combination of players in an attempt to get something going offensively.

All of that has led to columnists and bloggers suggesting everything from firing Barry Trotz (Mike Barnes @ Section303.com), making wholesale line changes (myself), pointing out the problem areas (Mark Willoughby @ HockeyIndependent.com), and more.  Most of us have also made our own suggestions from the safety of our computer keyboards (not to disparage our efforts).  Is there hope?  I think so.

Firstly, Nashville can still be seen in the review mirror.  Within the Central division, Nashville is 2pts behind St. Louis, 3pts behind Detroit, and 5pts behind the 8th seed in the Western Conference in Columbus.  That’s three or four games.  While that can still be said, they have time.  Of course, it’s imperative that they make a move quickly.  Now is the time to make that move.  November, with 8 home games, has the second most home games of any month (with March having the most at 10).

Quite frankly, the players that are slumping are the players that are just too talented to stay in their slumps forever.  Martin Erat has been the worst player on the ice most nights.  Steve Sullivan has been almost as bad.  Those two players typically have the primary responsibility to bring the puck into the offensive zone with speed.  Their problems have spread to their line mates.  Their inability to get the puck into the zone has affected the shot totals for others like David Legwand.  Defensively, Kevin Klein is regressed very badly from last season.  Dan Hamhuis has been in a slump as well, and their combined slump has really exacerbated things.  They can’t all continue in this fashion.  Fortunately, for those that do, it appears that the coaches are prepared to make some changes in keeping a full roster complete with seven defensemen.

There have been some bright spots for the Predators.  Shea Weber and Ryan Suter continue to be extremely solid for this team and also look to be just as offensively potent (although they need help to prevent teams from just locking in on them).  Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist have been the best forwards on the ice.  It appears from the practice report that the coaching staff are making extra efforts regarding the power play to induce movement and capitalize on those players that aren’t slumping.  The coaching staff has also rewarded Wilson and Hornqvist by moving them to the (perceived) top line for tonight’s game.

From the practice report, it appears that Nashville will ice the following lines tonight:

Sullivan-Wilson-Hornqvist

Dumont-Legwand-Scatchard

Erat-Santorelli-Ward

Smithson-Goc-Belak

Defensively, Dan Hamhuis returns from injury to make seven defensemen from which to choose.

I like a lot of what I see there.  The top line could allow Sullivan to focus on shooting by pairing him with the two best forwards at this time in Wilson and Hornqvist.  Both can be given the primary responsibility to bring the puck up the ice thereby freeing Sullivan from that responsibility as well.  Both can win the battles in the corner and can find Sullivan for his shot.  This line should be an effective forechecking line as well.  For similar reasons, I like the Erat-Santorelli and Ward line if the primary duties for bringing the puck into the zone and running the offense are given to Santorelli (or Suter) instead of Erat.  Running the offense through Dumont with Legwand as the shooter on that line could have similar results.  I have some concerns with the Dumont line being kept in the defensive zone, but this line has possibilities as well.  This is the line that I would ensure Weber is on the ice for both defensive and offensive reasons.  On paper, these are the best combinations of speed, grit and skill (top to bottom) that I’ve seen us ice this season.  Something about this lineup just feels right.

One final thought regarding Barry Trotz.  How seriously hot is his seat?  My personal opinion, with no support other than the overall feeling I have from reading my fellow bloggers and columnists, is that the seat is more than warm.  If David Poile believes in the players that he has assembled (and I believe he does) and the veterans continue to struggle, I think he makes a change if they fall roughly 10 – 12 pts behind the 8th seed.  Will it happen?  I don’t think so.  I think that some of the changes that Trotz and his staff are implementing will pay dividends- starting with tonight.

We’ll see soon enough.

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About the Author: Nashville Predators Blogger, Software Engineer (C#.NET), Novice Woodworker, Southern Cook, Husband, Father of Two. You may contact me at David.R.Singleton AT gmail.com.

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