Thursday, October 21, 2010

Suter on IR, uhhh...yikes?

If you're at all like me, you had a hard time enjoying the majority of Tuesday's tilt with the Calgary Flames.  Was it the low scoring, 1-0 result that sullied your enjoyment?  For me, that didn't even register:  I was feeling too sick after watching Ryan Suter helped off the ice just 1:26 seconds into the game, on his first shift.  It appeared that Suter hyperextended his knee after taking a hit from Cory Sarich in front of the Preds' bench.  For those calling for the customary pound of flesh for the offending hit, I should opine that the hit was clean.  For those calling for justice, either in league-sanctioned or good old-fashioned frontier form, you're better served to look at the flying elbow delivered to the face of young "Fruitcup" Franson, later in the game. It was difficult to really focus on the game after the Suter injury, though the remaining five defenseman performed admirably while stepping up to eat huge minutes in his absence. The darkest recesses of my mind kept whispering "torn ACL, out for the season," no matter how desperately I tried to quiet them.  Like everyone else, I tuned into the postgame show with hopes of good news, only to be greeted by Trotz's typical, noncommittal "day to day" prognosis.  This wasn't exactly reassuring, given that he once similarly described Sullivan's back injury, which went on to keep him out for 2+ seasons.  Suter himself brought a little bit more relief the next day, when he told Josh Cooper that he didn't think it was too bad, and that he felt confident he'd be ready to get back on the ice by Monday.  Regardless, with gutpunching gloom, Suter was placed on the IR, rendering him ineligible to return before the contest with the Blues on October 28.

So how will the Predators get by without a guy that not only plays big minutes across all situations, but comprises part of the Predators' leadership triad?  Of course Weber is still there, but like Lennon and McCartney, their individual talents, while appreciable and notable on their own,  seem to meld into something so much more when paired.  Like Voltron without the green tiger-bot, there's a limb missing when they're separated.  To make up for this loss, the sometimes-maligned pairing of Klein and Bouillon will need another strong outing.  Both played close to 26 minutes -- the most I can remember from either, without doing any empirical research. It's also important for perma-scratch Alex Sulzer to seize this opportunity for what it is-- possibly his last chance to show that he belongs in this league.  Even with a good performance from the young German, it is probably prudent to shelter the minutes of the third pairing.  The x-factor in the equation is Shane O'Brien.  Most agree that SOB has been a pleasant surprise since arriving from Vancouver -- far exceeding the most optimistic expectations.  O'Brien acquitted himself well while playing with Weber on Tuesday, and we'll need to see more of that if we're to have a chance. the very least, an unreal performance from our Finnish superhero.  While some could argue that it would be better to split up Klein and Bouillon, placing one with Franson and the other with Sulzer, so that no one pairing is too green, I think that weakens the entire pool.  As mentioned before, you can control the matchups that the third pairing faces, while icing two strong(or at least semi-strong) pairings.  The alternative would mean that you'd have a solid first pair -- but two shakier pairings after that.  You could afford to roll your pairings a bit more with this approach, but with Suter's injury hopefully short-term, I think you have to load up your top two pairs and hope they get you through until he is ready to return.  Just how I'd do it.  Maybe I'll shout the idea to the coaching staff pre-game.

They'd probably welcome my opinion, right?


Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Is There Really Anything Wrong with what Lou is Doing?

There's a good deal of hubbub across the blogosphere this morning as hockey media, professional and amateur alike, are either up in arms or coming to the defense of the latest Devils scandal.  Salary cap constraints are not new to the New Jersey Devils, and their evil genius GM Lou Lamoirello has long been lauded at the master of maneuvering the loopholes, going back to the Vladimir Malakhov fiasco of 2006, and leading up to the events of the highly-publicized "Koval-gate" scandal.  If there's a way to manipulate the CBA, Lou has likely identified and exploited it.  So why is anyone surprised at the latest chapter in Lamoirello's almanac of string-pulling?  And worse yet, why is anyone upset with actions benign, if not advantageous, in regard to the competitive balance of the league?

 Lamoirello addresses press at recent conference at his lair in Hell

If you somehow hadn't heard, the Devils iced a lineup of 15 skaters yesterday, as they took on the Pittsburgh Penguins.  This was done for the sake of getting under the cap without having to make any real roster moves to replace the injured Anton Volchenkov and Brian Rolston, and also to allow the signing of successful free agent tryout Adam Mair.  My daily perusal of Twitter and my blogroll shows that a good many people are not happy with this approach, some even calling for further penalties against the Devils organization.  I simply don't get that.  There's no stipulation in the CBA or NHL bylaws to state that a team can't ice BELOW the maximum of 20 players (23, with scratches).  And why should there be?  The Devils played the Penguins with 3 forward lines.  Wouldn't you say that any advantage they gain in regard to getting under the cap, they lose on the ice by having to overtax nine guys, as opposed to better distributing the icetime over 12 skaters?  It's a little ridiculous to call for some investigation or amendment of the rules--essentially the Devils are having to penalize themselves.  The 12 Penguins forwards averaged  15:14 of icetime.  By contrast, the 9 Devils forwards averaged 19:41 of icetime.  A pretty substantial difference.  To further illustrate, Craig Adams had the least icetime of all Penguins forwards, with just 11:03.  For the Devils, our old friend Jason Arnott came in with the lowest icetime at 16:24.  Any perceived advantage the Devils reap from "twisting the cap" goes out the window when you examine the absurd icetime the forwards are having to take on to pick up the slack.  No team can sustain itself for very long at that rate -- the Devils are punishing themselves more than any cash penalty could. 

I don't normally weigh in too much here on non-Predators related news, but I felt strongly enough about this topic to want to get my two cents in, so hopefully you enjoyed the perspective.

Back in Nashville, NHL Preds Insider reports that our worst fears have come to fruition, and Pekka Rinne will not be making the trip to Chicago for tomorrow's tilt with the Blackhawks.  Mark Dekanich has been recalled from Milwaukee to back up Anders Lindback.  To make matters worse, Erat, Kostitsyn, and Lundmark are all staying behind as well.  I had maintained a small hope that we might take a flier on waived Sharks netminder Thomas Greiss, who I feel is better than Lindback not only now, but also has more potential, but Bob McKenzie reports that he did in fact clear.  I understand the glut of goaltenders that we're currently faced with, so I'm not all that surprised, but I would have liked to have picked up Greiss, and then shuffled the deck as needed.  Lindback could have been loaned back to his Swedish club, or Dekanich could have been loaned to another team in the NHL to accommodate an addition, but I understand the hesitance. 

On the subject of goaltenders, Chet Pickard was pulled in his first start of the year after allowing 3 goals in the first period to the Peoria Rivermen.  After a bit of an underwhelming training camp and inconsistent year last season, you have to wonder if the pressure starts to build up on young "Picks."

Lastly, 'Hawks defenseman Niclas Hjalmarsson is scheduled for a hearing with the NHL in regard to a suspect hit that left Sabres forward Jason Pominville unable to leave the ice under his own power.  While I don't think there was malicious intent, and the hit was more unlucky than anything, for the sake of leveling the playing field a bit in tomorrow's game, here's to hoping for at least a one game suspension :)


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Why not Nashville?

Outrage directed at the characteristic disrespect shown by prognosticators of both the amateur and professional variety to the Nashville Predators is becoming a fall ritual for many of us. With yesterday's season-eve posting of standings prediction from Canadian sports juggernaut TSN, it should have come as now surprise that the Predators are predicted to finish on the outside precipice of the postseason, in ninth place It seems that every year, the pundits love nothing more to extoll the virtues of whatever flavor of the previous season team has captured their spot as feel-good darlings.  Last summer it was the Columbus Blue Jackets, this year it's the Phoenix Coyotes. Of course the media, like everyone else, loves an underdog.  So that raises the question: why not Nashville?  Invariably, when these ultimately meaningless rankings are published, Nashville is on the outside looking in.  Why is that?  Is it the stigma of backing a team in a warm-weather climate?  No, everyone loves the Coyotes.  Recent expansion team?  See the Wild, and even at times the NHL's great trainwreck, the Atlanta Thrashers. So is it something personal?  Do they hate us for our only-a-mother-and-a-fan-could-love-it goal song? The mustard thirds? Our neckless coach?  When I examine the teams that we are realistically in competition with from an analytical standpoint, I repeatedly come up empty.  So what is it?  What did we do to you?

With this eternally burning question, I'd like to look at two teams in particular that seem to be getting all of the predictive hype in favor of the Nashville Predators:  St. Louis and LA.  An argument could be made that the Coyotes are possibly unfairly rated above the Predators, but I like enough about their lineup and coaching that I think most of the predictions around them are justified.  They get a pass--for now.

A season ago, the Blues finished with 90 points, good for 9th place and a full ten points behind the Predators. Their offseason has consisted of jettisoning older veterans such as Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk, while replacing the solid--albeit inconsistent-- goaltending of Chris Mason with Montreal's playoff hero Jaroslav Halak.  While admittedly, this is theoretically an improvement, Halak is still relatively unproven, a good playoff year aside.  As most of us remember, Chris Mason and Dan Ellis both had similarly dazzling playoff performances, only to return to earth the next season.  Many in the media point to disappointing years from young contributors like Patrik Berglund, David Perron, David Backets, and Brad Boyes.  It's just assumed that most, if not all, of these guys will rebound.  Can the same not be said for David Legwand, JP Dumont, Steve Sullivan, and Martin Erat?  When I look at the Blues, I see a team that looks, more or less, similar to the team that fell short last season.  So why then does TSN have them at 6 in the west?  CBS Sportsline sees them at 8, just above the Predators, who finished ninth in both places.

Almost as confusing as the love for the St Louis Blues is the massive amount of fanfare surrounding the Los Angeles Kings.  The Kings came out of nowhere last season, rising above the belief that many held that would have seen them as a lottery team(further proof that preseason rankings are bunk), eventually finishing in fifth place.  While it's impossible to ignore two young stars like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, what else is there?  The Kings defense is extremely young\unproven, with both Davis Drewiske and Jake Muzzin  are both coming into their first full season.  The elder statesman, recently-signed Willie Mitchell, has had trouble staying healthy.  The Kings are best known for the offseason acquisition they DIDN'T make, playing also-ran to the New Jersey Devils in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes.  But Alex Ponikarovsky is a fine consolation prize, right?  The Kings will rely on a sophomore goaltender in Jonathan Quick, who will need to avoid Steve Mason-itis, if they are to be successful.  The other hope would be that highly-touted rookie Jonathan Bernier can shoulder the load quicker than expected.  What this all adds up to is a lot of "ifs."  Despite these questions, many consider the LA Kings to not only be a playoff lock, but a "top contender!"  According to XM NHL Home Ice's celebrity correspondant Denis Potvin, "The Canucks, Red Wings, and Kings are the heavyweights in the west."  This, in spite of the fact that the Kings nearly plummeted out of the playoff race down the stretch, before rebounding to finish sixth and "provide a challenge" to the Canucks.  Very confusing, indeed.

To play devil's advocate for a moment, I can see some of the things that might make an outsider skeptical of the Nashville Predators.  Dan Hamhuis and Jason Arnott are gone.  There continues to be a question of scoring.  Aside from perhaps Patric Hornqvist, there's no one that you could call a bonafide top line forward, rather a solid group of second liners.  For those of us familiar with the team and the way it operates, these aren't really questions we have to ask ourselves.  We've watched Hamhuis's abilities and physicality degenerate over the past couple of seasons.  Arnott's leadership and work ethic have been a rumored source of contention behind the scenes for some time, now.  As for scoring, the Predators have never had that marquee guy that can pot 50 goals.  It's always been a matter of getting it done by committee, and the additions of Matthew Lombardi and Sergei Kostitsyn should help in that regard.  With Trotz running a new-look power play, there should be improvement on special teams, as well.  Of course, these scenarios represent a lot of "ifs" as well, similar to what I documented with the Blues and the Kings.  I'm sure their fans believe that the lofty predictions are justified. 

The question that will continue to vex me is, "why do they get the benefit of the doubt?"

Why not Nashville?  Why not, Nashville.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Let's all step back from the ledge, shall we?

"A huge step backward."

"Undoing an entire summer of great moves in one day."

"...bringing another player that doesn't fit the Predators mold."

The previous three statements are just a small sampling of the jumping-from-the-rooftops panic/outrage that has taken hold of the Preds' Twitter community.  While much of this sentiment was culled in the hours immediately following yesterday's surprising transaction, and certainly cooler heads have since prevailed in many cases (including my own), I'm surprised at how many are still upset.  With a good night's sleep behind me, I'm one of those that's warmed to the move, after a bit of reflection.  There are tangible reasonings for this, but also a few that might not be so apparent.

First, I try to pride myself on not letting my emotions get the best of me.  I don't like to think of myself as a unerring apologist or pollyanna.  I certainly have the capacity to disagree with some of the moves made by the Predators' front office.  For example, I've stated my belief that failing to sign a more experienced, proven backup goaltender could be a mistake. From that standpoint, I'm also not one to get easily worked up when I do disagree with the actions of management.  At the end of the day, David Poile and company don't have the reputation of doing more with less than any other team by accident.  While it's easy to look at Ryan Parent as a guy that played well in training camp, or Jonas Andersson as solid depth for our weak penalty kill, it's important to keep things in perspective.

Let's start with Ryan Parent. While he had a solid preseason, he was not without some worrisome history.  Most evident is his failure to stay healthy, with last season representing a career high of 48 games, tracing back to chronic back trouble.  In addition, simply being healthy hasn't been a guarantee of getting on the ice for Ryan.  In the Flyers' run to the Cup finals last year, he was a frequent healthy scratch.  At the end of the day, he's still young and has room for improvement, but the Predators don't have the luxury of time for him to reach his potential.  Worth noting also is that Vancouver promptly waived Parent.  He has since cleared.

On the note of waivers, I've seen several complain that we could have had SOB for free the previous day.  While this is true on the surface, it's important to remember that Nashville operates on a strict budget.  According to David Poile, in an interview yesterday on 104.5, they had inquired about O'Brien at an earlier point, but with the stipulation that the trade would need to be dollar to dollar.  Mike Gillis initially rejected the idea, but later relented.  The Canucks, in need of cap relief, could afford to bury the one-way contracts of Parent and Andersson.  The Predators were able to turn two guys who they felt couldn't significantly contribute to the team this season into a guy that makes them immediately better, and did so while adding only minute payroll.  As the old adage goes, "he who gets the best player in the deal--wins the trade."  I could be paraphrasing that, I'm not sure.  Something like that, at any rate.

Speaking of Jonas Andersson, I had high hopes for him when he was signed.  Like many, I saw the way he was able to produce at last year's WCs, and felt that he could be a great bottom six utility forward for us.  While I do think his defensive skill could have been beneficial, unfortunately his offense didn't appear to be NHL level in any of the chances I had to watch him play.  That leaves him as yet another one-dimensional "specialist," and I simply think there are better options.  I couldn't figure out where he was going to fit into the lineup, and apparently neither could Trotz.  It'd be nice to be able to afford to hide a guy like that in the minors, but that's not our reality.  No huge loss, at any rate.

 While the quantifiable reasons to like this trade are easy enough to point out, the biggest reason that I'm pleased is more philosophical.  In the Predators' entire history, there's been a recurring theme of "safety."  We love safe draft picks, and as a result, we have a knack for finding "good" players.  We like "safe" players; blue-collar guys that might not command a lot of star power, but you can comfortably say that they won't hurt you.  Even our front office and coaching staff is replete with safety and familiarity.  We've come to love and appreciate our safe players -- the Vernon Fiddlers, the Joel Wards of the league.  How can anyone not root for these never-should-have-been success stories?  Unfortunately, all of that safety doesn't necessarily breed success.  I don't need to remind anyone of our postseason record.  David Poile, if one can criticize him, it's that he too often shies away from the "homerun swing."  Moves like the Kostitsyn and now O'Brien trades represent to me a new attitude.  These are guys that, in the past, I think Poile would have evaluated as "not worth the risk."  Safety.  While many of us are scratching our heads and even tweeting our discontent with these moves, I'm personally excited.  This is such a departure from the type of move we've always made, and I think the potential for reward far outweighs the risk.

Shane O'Brien looks like an intriguing player -- big, strong, not afraid to play a physical game. I think that he makes the bottom pairing better than Parent would have.  For that reason alone, I like the trade.  But at the end of the day, it's the attitude and moxy from our GM that has me really excited.  Safety can only carry you so far, so the time might be right to roll the dice and see what happens.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Preds acquire Shane O'Brien and some other dude for Parent and Andersson

According to official release from the Preds (find it here), Nashville has acquired 6'3, 225 pound tough guy Shane O'Brien, as well as ECHL winger Dan Gendur for defenseman Ryan Parent and forward Jonas Andersson.

Parent and Andersson both enjoyed only a brief tenure in Music City, and like many of you out there, I'm left scratching my head a bit on this one.  It's not so much that SOB was available on waivers yesterday, and could have been had for free.  I understand that from a dollars and cents perspective, Andersson + Parent and their one-way contracts > O'Brien's 1.6 million contract, which he has one year remaining on.  What I can't get my head around is why this trade was made.  In my own semi-qualified observations in both training camp and preseason play, Parent looked to be the type of observation that would be regarded in hindsight as another one of David Poile's legendary "steals."  Number 77 arguably outperformed both Klein and even the veteran Bouillon, and had many of us believing that the pains of losing the perhaps overrated\definitely overpaid Dan Hamhuis might not be so bad afterall.  He played a simple, smart game, and seemed to have the footspeed and defensive acumen to compliment the slower, more offensively-focused Cody Franson.  Andersson had a bit of a disappointing camp, looking to be more in the Jerred Smithson ilk than a defensively responsible scorer, but was still a useful player.  But throw out Jonas, and look only at Parent.  What does Shane O'Brien offer that Ryan Parent doesn't?

On the "pro" side, O'Brien is a tough, erm...SOB.  He out-PIM'd Jordin Tootoo by 7, and would have thus lead the team in that category.  Perhaps the greatest facet that could come of this trade is that Wade Belak's usefulness and role are even further diminished.  O'Brien can go toe-to-toe with most anyone in the league, but unlike Belak, can provide some tangible on-ice value.  If this trade means that Belak's time as anything more than a funny guy in the locker room--WIN.  As for Andersson, he was a useful player, but appears to have been surpassed by not only SK74, but also Jamie Lundmark and Matt Halischuk, both of which had better camps.

As for the "cons," O'Brien comes with a bit of a checkered past.  Last season, he was disciplined by Canucks' benchboss Alain Vigneault for nebulous "disciplinary issues."  He has a reputation for not having the greatest work ethic, and also not placing a high value on conditioning.  Could this be another reclamation project, similar to the acquisition of Sergei Kostitsyn?

I guess to err on the side of safety, they probably shouldn't room together.

As with most trades, the verdict can't really be made until we see how it unfolds.  While I'm clearly one of the preeminent hockey minds in amateur sports journalism, I allow for the outlandish possibility that maybe David Poile knows what he's doing, and there's motivations beyond what the armchair GM in all of us can see with the naked eye.

I'd be remiss not to mention one quick anecdote from last night's Meet the Team party:

After receiving my autograph from the oblivious-to-the-impending-death-knell Ryan Parent, I jokingly asked Steve Sullivan if he could talk his old friend Dan Ellis into returning to Twitter.  He immediately began laughing. Hard.

"That's not going to happen. He is a BRUISED MAN!"

I was tickled by that. :)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Weighing in on the Ersberg rumors...

The 2010/11 NHL season is nearly upon us, but we're not quite there, yet.  As such, PredsNation is not immune to getting a little overexcited over the prospect of acquiring a player, regardless of who that player is.  Kevin Allen caused quite the buzz across the Twitterverse earlier today, when he pondered the possibility of the Preds putting in a claim on the Kings' wayward backup, Erik Ersberg.  It was reported earlier today that Ersberg had been cut, despite a favorable track record as the Kings' backup (and even sometimes starter).  With the Predators leaning on unproven behemoth Anders Lindback to play behind Pekka Rinne, it's understandable that such speculation would be drawn.  While there were some reports that the Predators had officially claimed Ersberg, it's worth noting that he was only placed on waivers this morning -- thus making such a claim impossible.  Bob McKenzie verified this obvious oversight, but did allow that it's possible that the Predators could have already put in a claim, though there are 18 other teams that would get the opportunity before Nashville.

Regardless of the merit of any of the rumors, it does pose an interesting question: are the Predators truly set in goal?  If Peks plays a Vokounian amount, and shoulders a 75 game workload, we might be alright.  After all, much like Vokoun, Rinne has shown that he thrives under heavy action.  But what if the worst-case comes to be, and Rinne is injured long term?  I'm not sure that Anders Lindback has done enough to earn the confidence of the team to step into a starting role.  While he certainly outperformed Pickard and Dekanich in training camp, I would stop short of saying that he did so with any sort of authority.  Flashing back to Dan Ellis's first training camp, coming in as a relative unknown, there was a statement in the way he played.  You knew that there was no other option to back up Chris Mason, and you could see the potential for an eventual coup.  I'm not sure the same could be said of Lindback, who I would personally rate as "adequate."  He stood in the goal, he stopped shots...but there was something missing.  I look for a sort of "swagger" from a goaltender, a tell that makes it known that a goalie has the confidence to win a game for his team.  It's not something that you're born with or that happens overnight.  I like Lindback as a prospect, but I'm not sure he's there yet.  Again, it may not even matter--Pekka could play 77 games, relegating Lindback to the tailend of a back to back versus the Blue Jackets and the occasional mop-up-duty game. have to consider the unexpected.

So what if we do claim Ersberg?  Jeremy Smith was sent to Cincinnati yesterday, and the tandem of Pickard\Dekanich appears ready for a reprise of last season, in which they split starts nearly down the middle.  What do we do with Lindback, in this case?  I would guess the best option would be to "loan" him back to the SEL, to ensure that his playing time and development stay on track.  This is similar to what we did with Finnish netminder Atte Engren, earlier in the spring.

I would like to see us put in a claim on Ersberg, but if not, I still believe we'd be best served to pick up an experienced backup.  I was with many in PredNation that had hoped to snag Jose Theodore, though his eventual contract (1.1 for one year) is likely a little rich for Nashville, given the playing time he could see.  Another interesting option that's currently on waivers is Joey MacDonald, of the Red Wings.  He acquitted himself well in several  appearances for the Islanders last season.  Speaking of the Red Wings, there's always former archnemesis Manny Legace to consider...though the sight of his name on a Preds' sweater might induce too much bile for many fans to stomach.

So for now, we can only wait for 5 more days to see what happens. least until 11 CST tomorrow morning, when Erik Ersberg will either clear--or not clear--waivers.

Speaking of waivers, TSN reports that Aaron Johnson did in fact clear.  I have to think that the only reason he's not our seventh defenseman, rather than Alex Sulzer, is his two-way contract.  DP was likely not keen on the idea of paying Sulzer 650K to ride the bus in Milwaukee again.  Sulzer is likely on his last opportunity to do something to earn his NHL contract.  He is a free agent at the end of this year.

See everyone at the meet the team party!

KHL and NHL sign transfer agreement(Finally)

There's an old saying about locking the henhouse door after the fox has already gotten in.

According to Dan Rosen's Twitter , the NHL and KHL may have finally put a padlock on the chicken coop.  While this does little to salve the still-festering wounds left when the Red Fox absconded with Preds' beloved golden chicken Alexander Radulov, it does provide a modicum of hope.  What will be key, and hopefully there is clarification soon, is how\if any "grandfathering" is applied.  There's been speculation on both sides of the pond about the way things will shake out when Radulov's final year of his three-year contract with Salavaet Ufa expires, this summer.  We've heard loose assurances from David Poile that the chain of communication has been constant, and a contrite Radulov has seen the error of his ways.  Conversely, we've heard that a patriotic Radulov is enjoying his national-hero status in mother Russia, and will continue to thumb his nose at the soon-to-be-inferior NHL.  The wildcard in all of this will-he\won't-he has been the lack of a formal transfer agreement between the two countries.  While there has been a loose "gentlemen's agreement" between the two leagues for some time, it's always felt like a Mafia arrangement.  Maybe they'll come through -- maybe they won't.

Radulov currently lealds the KHL in scoring with 3g, 14a in 19 gp

With this new agreement, there's some hope that a binding order will see Radulov delivered back to Nashville.  The key item to interpret will be whether Radulov will somehow be excluded from this arrangement, perhaps using semantics to allow Ufa to re-sign him.  It wouldn't be surprising to see the KHL claim that they meant "from now on," or that there's a difference in signing a NEW contract versus renewing an EXISTING contract.  For all the ivory-white smiling the KHL is doing now, it's hard to believe there isn't a forked tongue hiding behind the teeth, somewhere. I'd be surprised if the KHL was ready to easily relinquish their reigning MVP and biggest star.  The real leverage will exist when there's an IIHF transfer agreement, subjecting the Russian national team to potential disciplinary action in the event that there's a breach.  Currently, Russia is the only major national entity without a formal transfer agreement, and has been without one since 2006.

Of course, suppose Radulov is ready to return?  Are the fans ready to have him back?  Are his teammates?  There's been a fair amount of rumbling that Radulov was not popular in the Arnott-helmed Predators dressing room.  On the other hand, there's been a fair amount of rumbling that ARNOTT was not popular in the Arnott-helmed dressing room, either.  I would have to think that Radulov would likely have some explaining to do, but an offensively-starved Nashville squad would be foolish to turn their noses up at what could be an enormous boost to their scoring arsenal.  With much of the "old guard" moved on, Radulov should be in a position to make a fresh start, and I would have to believe that much of the ill will would evaporate the first time he lit the lamp and treated us to his trademark stick-twirling celebration.

Let the Van Halen-inspired theme song blare from the Bridgestone Arena loudspeakers once more.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Predators\Blackhawks Game 4 Preview

"The most important game in franchise history."

It seems that these seven words are being thrown around so much that they are nearly becoming cliche.  While you may be hearing it quite a bit, don't for a second doubt the merit of such statements.  Game 4 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals is, in fact, the most important game to date in the Predators' 12-year history.  The weight of these words is surely not lost on anyone that's witnessed even half of Nashville's 920-ish competitions, throughout the years.  Much new ground has been tread in this postseason, most recently the leading of a series beyond game one.  Unfortunately, all of that will be of little consolation if we fall short of the second round for the fifth time in five tries. 

The Predators have staged valiant comebacks, memorable efforts, and impressive victories against strong opponents in previous playoff rounds.  They've provided difficult tests to teams laden with future hall of famers.  Despite those moral victories, they provided little solace as those teams eventually cleaned out their lockers two months short of when they had hoped.  The one element that has eluded the Nashville Predators prior to this season is the opportunity to truly take charge of a series.  They've never been in a position in which they had an opponent even close to the ropes.  Tonight's game represents a firm toss of an opponent toward those ropes, and a promising opportunity to launch them over the top once and for all, in the next game.  A quick look at the statistics of a team gaining a 3-1 series lead shows that the chance of advancement is right around 90 percent.  While the Predators have always been an antagonist in the face of empirical statistics and conventional odds, those are numbers that they would likely love to have on their side. Such a lead gives the Predators the luxury of 3 tries to win 1 game.  On the other hand, a Blackhawks victory would do far more than even the series at 2.  Chicago would regain the home-ice advantage lost by splitting the opening games at home, and create a situation in which a win in the Windy City becomes requisite to winning the series.  Supposing Chicago wins tonight's game and the next, and Nashville wins game 6 at home, that sets the stage for a game 7 showdown on the road in front of an intimidating 22K+ crowd, eager to see Goliath press David beneath his sandaled foot once and for all.  Are such circumstances insurmountable?  Of course not, especially for a Preds squad that has shown throughout the season that it's comprised of a balance of skill, moxie, and intestinal fortitude previously unheard of at 501 Broadway.  With that being said, wouldn't it be better not to get into that situation?  I certainly like to think so, and I'm not sure there's enough Pepto on the shelves at my local Kroger to get me through such a scenario.

The ingredients for victory tonight are no different than in the previous three games, but the emphasis increases with each game.  The Blackhawks are a wounded animal, at the moment.  They came into this series with a bravado and a regular season pedigree that brought forth a sort of entitled confidence.  They were SUPPOSED to coast through the Predators.  Three games later, those plans have gone terribly awry, and they're now faced with a game that likely means the difference between rebounding from an early scare and a hugely disappointing ouster.  Those wounds, that desperation makes tonight's Chicago Blackhawks a very dangerous team.  The Predators were able to feed off the raucous energy at the Bridge on Tuesday night, and cultivate it into a mean, physically punishing first period, rattling the Blackhawks in such a way that they never recovered.  They were able to control the pace of the game, and force the 'Hawks to adapt, rather than being forced to adapt themselves. The Blackhawks will be determined not to fall into that trap early in the game, again.  They've inserted some sandpaper into the lineup in Adam Burish, and a hulking net presence in Bryan Bickell.  These moves are in direct response to deficiencies in the previous games.  They've made adjustments, and so must the Predators.  However, "adjustment" must not be confused with "abandoning the gameplan."  Predators hockey has frustrated the Chicago Blackhawks to this point, and it's Predators hockey that gives Nashville the best chance at completing the upset.  If the Preds can continue to thwart the puck-possession of the Blackhawks, if they can continue to refuse speedy transition between the blue lines, and if Pekka can continue to make the big saves when he has to--while the defense limits those "have to" moments--Nashville will prevail, and put themselves in a great position to wrap up the series once and for all.

A few quick notes:

I'm hearing that tickets are moving much more favorably for this game than game 3.  TCAPs are over and the 730 start time is a little more palatable for families with school-aged children.  That said, if you do NOT yet have tickets, I urge you to get them now!  The crowd and atmosphere at the Bridge on Tuesday was among the most incredible I've ever witnessed, and our team deserves no less.  The only disappointment were the noticeable gaps of empty seats throughout the lower bowl.  I hope to see sellouts from here on out.  We're in uncharted waters, and you'll regret missing the chance to be a part of it in person.

According to Tom Callahan (@predsradio) Hornqvist is OUT for tonight, and despite early reports that Brian Campbell would be returning after suffering a broken clavicle nearly a month and a half ago, he is unlikely to play as well. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Preds\Hawks Game 1 thoughts

0-10.  15 goals for.  33 goals against.

These were the rather the foreboding statistics that greeted the Predators as they took the ice in front of a frenzied crowd of 22K+ at the United Center. The road had been cruel to the Predators in postseasons past, and these numbers likely resonated in the collective minds of the Preds as loudly as the steady-building roar accompanying the Star Spangled Banner.  With a host so hostile, and history an unkind reminder to past defiency, the odds were not on the side of the Nashville Predators.

Maybe that's why gambling is such a successful pursuit for some.

Eventually, the odds always turn, and that's what happened for the Preds last night.  No one will claim it was a perfectly executed game on the part of the Preds, but they consistently stuck to their gameplan, frustrating the Hawks offense at every turn.  I actually kept a running count of the amount of times at even strength that the Hawks were able to get set up for any sort of meaningful attack.  Five.  Five times.  Sure, there were inopportune turnovers.  Pekka was forced to make highlight-reel saves on both Sharp and Toews, but with all things considered regarding the offensive weaponry at the disposal of the Blackhawks, I think the Predators were able to mitigate their chances effectively.  A banner statistic for Chicago coming into the game was that they boasted the highest shot differential in the league - 34 for, 25 against, for a total of plus 9.  The fact that the Predators matched them at 26 speaks to the way they were able to manage the game.  Aside from a few dangerous chances and close calls, the Hawks never really sustained any pressure.  Their modus operandi is fierce puck possession, something the Predators rarely allowed.  It wasn't all pretty-- there was a stretch in the second period, shortly after the Hawks scored, that the Preds looked on their heels a bit.  Dumont's lucky(let's face it, the bounce went our way on that one) first goal couldn't have come at a better time.  The timing and nature of that goal did a good deal to deflate the confidence and spirit of the Hawks and their fans.  It was nice to finally get a bounce in our favor, for once.

Niemi was thought to be the Blackhawks' weak spot, but the loss can't really be pinned on the Finnish rookie.  Chicago coach Joel Quenneville basically said as much in his postgame comments, laying forth the vote of confidence.  As mentioned, Dumont's first goal came off a strange bounce on "terrible ice," according to Steve Sullivan.  The second goal should be blamed more on the lackadaisical turnover of Troy Brouwer.

There were a lot of positives to be taken away from last night, but I'd like to particularly recognize a few players.  David Legwand told the Tennessean before the game that he was looking at the playoffs as a "clean slate."  He acknowledge that the season didn't go the way he would have liked offensively, and he wanted to find another gear.  He delivered, turning in one of his strongest games of the year.  He was rewarded with 2 assists and a plus-3 rating, to lead all skaters.  Similarly, former Blackhawks JP Dumont and Steve Sullivan came back to haunt their former team with great efforts.  Both Sully and JP struggled with consistency this season, and by their own admission were a bit disappointing offensively, but attained a nice bit of redemption in game one.

While the excitement of game one is still fresh in everyone's mind, Barry Trotz's admonishment to keep a "short memory" is important.  That may be one particular benefit gained from the volume of games played in March.  There was never too much time to relish in a victory or dwell on a loss.  Chicago plans on juggling some lines and changing their approach, and it's guaranteed that they'll come out with an intensity that we likely didn't see in game one.  The important thing for the Preds is to remember what got them the win in game one-- stay the course, be patient, and play Predators hockey.  If they do that, and continue to limit the time and space given to the Blackhawks, there is no reason that they can't head home for game 3 with a 2-0 series lead.

The nailbiting resumes tomorrow at 7:30 PM in the Windy City.

Friday, April 16, 2010

PLAYOFF GAMEDAY! A breakdown of Preds\Hawks!

It's been two years since the Nashville Predators have played in a playoff contest.  Honestly, I would have thought it was 10.

I consider myself a fan of the game of hockey above all else.  While my passion for the Predators is surpassed by few, my devotion to the game itself sits at the forefront.  I can watch a hockey game at any level, involving any participants, in any circumstance.  It doesn't matter if I have no personal attachment to the teams involved, I can usually pick one to cheer on.  With all of that said, it's a hollow enjoyment when the playoffs roll around and the Predators aren't involved.  With a week to wait for tonight's game after the conclusion of the regular season, a child-at-Christmas anticipation building, I've had a lot of time to reflect  upon what the Preds will need to do to win, and also the things that if they are to do, they will most certainly LOSE the series.  I've also gained a healthy(or is it unhealthy) dislike for Chicago Blackhawks fans and media.  For a team not far removed from the basement of the Western Conference, they are carrying themselves with a new-money swagger and cockiness that for some reason really gets under my skin.  I've seen Nashville characterized by more Chicago-based pundits and fans than I can even count as a feeble, trap-oriented team that fluked their way through the regular season, only to serve as cannon fodder for the high-flying Hawks offense.  With each self-aggrandizing editorial, my urge to humble Chicago boiled over. Needless to say, I'm relieved that the day has finally arrived, and I can put out the fires raging in my brain. 

Let's start by looking at what the Predators will need to focus on, in order to win this series.  Chicago is characterized as an offensive juggernaut, not unlike the Washington Capitals.  This is a deserved label, given that they lead the Western Conference in goals per game, goals scored, and goal differential(a staggering +62).  However, the flip side of the GD coin is that unlike the Capitals, they're actually quite strong in all three zones, living near the top of the league in goals against for the entire season.  This starts and ends with puck possession.  The opponent can't score goals if they can't get and keep the puck.  This philosophy has been in place for the Blackhawks for two seasons, and it's one that they operate with great success.  It starts in the defensive zone, where they can showcase one of the most mobile, accurate-passing backends in the league.  There isn't a bad passer in their defensive ranks, and they're trained to gain control of the puck, and waste no time transitioning through the neutral zone.  They're not content to merely chip the puck out and hope to win possession between the blue lines.  Their passing is very methodical and precise.  There's always a target on the other end of their scope.  This leads to a high number of quick and odd-man rushes.  They can switch between defensive and offensive mode in a matter of seconds.  Many times, a scoring chance in their defensive end results in a goal down at the other end.  That speed of transition is deadly, and it's the foundation of their attack.

If Nashville is to succeed and win the series, they must take every measure to neutralize that attack.  An active stick on the forecheck, and hard puck-pressure to disrupt those outlet passes and neutral zone transport is crucial to offsetting the speed and precision of their attack.  They're not as big as teams the Predators have struggled with in the playoffs in the past; physical play becomes a necessary element to disrupt their offensive flow.  The proverbial "head on a swivel" approach is key as well, given the speed with which the Hawks can reverse the ice.  In addition, since the defense is so focused on getting the puck up ice and back into attack mode as quickly as possible, disruption of that transition can lead to turnovers, and thus goals.  They have a young, unproven goalie in Antti Niemi.  While Niemi has played well since taking over for the beleaguered and much-maligned albatross Cristobal Huet, a large part of that is due to the defense of the Hawks limiting the amount and quality of offensive chances he's had to face.  The Predators cannot expect to set up shop in the Blackhawks' end, hoping to cycle until the perfect opportunity arises.  Any goals Nashville scores will be of the dirty variety, and the result of shooting whenever possible and going hard to the net.  In the defensive end, the Preds will need to focus on emulating the 'Hawks' approach:  get the puck out as quickly and efficiently as possible.  Nashville can at times be guilty of making too many passes in the defensive zone, much as they are inclined in the offensive zone.  Chicago's forwards will be all over that type of play, and with their skill, it won't be long before pucks start finding their way behind Rinne.  Speaking of Rinne, the defense needs to allow him to see as much as possible.  The Blackhawks use their bigger forwards, particularly Dustin Byugflien(who is filling in at D for the moment, but still playing this role) and Andrew Ladd to screen the goaltender and bang in garbage.  Nashville must be cognizant of those guys, and careful not to become part of the screen or even a deflective object in doing their job of clearing the crease.  Another potential danger is being too set on blocking shots.  There is a lot of patience in Chicago's forward corps, and they will exploit a forward or defenseman who goes down to block a shot, taking himself completely out of the play.  Again...if Rinne sees it, he will most often stop it.  Focus on giving him that advantage.

As much as there are many things that the Preds must focus on if they are to win, there are an equal amount of habits they CANNOT fall into.  As described above, the Blackhawks are a tenacious puck-possession team.  They create a lot of turnovers, and the longer you take to make a decision or a play, the higher the probability that they're going to take the puck from you becomes.  The Predators must NOT fall into the trap of making too many passes, at either end of the ice.  In the offensive zone, the Chicago D is too good at stripping the puck and blowing it back up ice.  The shots need to be quick and plentiful.  Giving the defense too much time to establish themselves and their positioning will curtail any offensive momentum we can build up.  They play a similar style in the offensive zone.  You never possess the puck for long, when they're attacking.  The puck needs to be up and out with little hesitation.  The Predators sometimes have the tendency to forgo a clear outlet in favor of cycling the puck back behind the net, hoping for a "better" transition.  Every second the puck stays in the defensive zone is a ticking time bomb.

Part of what has made the Predators a success this year is that they've managed to attain a level of discipline unseen in any Preds teams of the past.  A complete inability to stay out of the box was a major factor in their prior defeats.  This diligence has to remain throughout the playoffs if Nashville is to succeed.  The combination of Chicago's firepower on the PP combined with Nashville's inconsistent PK is a recipe for defeat.  If the Predators can ensure that these games are played predominantly 5 on 5, and capitalize on whatever PP chances they do get, this becomes a very winnable series.

I said to my wife, when our first-round draw was determined, that there was one thing that could determine the winnability of this series.  If we could overcome that first hurdle, I had utmost confidence that we could and would win the series.  We need to win one of the first two games in Chicago, preferably the first.  The United Center is known as one of the loudest, rowdiest buildings in the league.  The Predators need to do their best to neutralize that element of home ice advantage as quickly as possible.  If they can come out hard, to the fast start that has eluded them in the final weeks of the regular season, they can seize momentum.  On the other hand, if they allow the Blackhawks a shooting gallery in the early going, resulting in an early 2 or 3 goal lead...they will be hard-pressed to assert themselves, contending with both the crowd and an energized young Blackhawks team.

I've said since about the midpoint of this season that I believe the 2009-2010 are the best built team we've ever iced.  There may not be as much skill as the 2005-2007 version.  They may not be as physical or gritty as the 02-04 version, but they combine those elements in a way that none of those teams ever did.  They may lack the sheer skill of Patrick Kane or Marian Hossa, but they can truly ice 4 lines that are responsible defensively, but also able to chip in a timely goal.  With four lines contributing, and hopefully an elevation from some forwards who struggled a bit this season(as the old adage says, your best players have to be your best players), I think the Predators can take this series.

My prediction?

Preds in 6.  Book it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Playoff Prognostications and other assorted fun!

Greetings, ladies and germs!

Tonight begins the exciting annual mecca undertaken by 16 teams, all with a singular focus.  This myopic quest will engender joy, tears, blood, triumph, and despair--sometimes all in the same sixty minute span.  This is a time when the third-line, blue collar plugger can emerge as the hero.  A time when stars become superstars, and when moving on is achieved by those that can elevate their play to the very zenith of ability.  Now is the time when the pretenders are culled from the contenders, until only one can grasp the 34.5 pound, 107 year old Holy Grail.

This is all of course just an eloquent way of saying that it's PLAYOFF TIME!

Since, like anyone, I want to flaunt my vast hockey experience and prognostication skills, I've decided to dedicate today's blog to MY picks, and why I'm making them. Being that we still have a few days until our own eagerly-anticipated series gets underway, I thought today might be a good time. As always, I encourage disagreement, so if I say something that ruffles your feathers, feel free to drop me a line via the comment section.

We'll start with the Eastern Conference:

(1) Washington vs (8) Montreal

My Prediction: Washington in 5

There's already a bit of a buzz about this series, on the heels of Montreal forward Tomas Plekanec's statement regarding the Capitals' goaltending, or lack thereof.  Providing the offensively explosive Capitals with bulletin-board material may not have been a wise choice on the part of Plekanec.  While it is true that Jaroslav Halak has been stellar for the Habs, and I do give them the edge in net, I'm not sure that it will be enough to overcome the offensive firepower of the Caps.  The lack of mobility on the Montreal blueline might also mean problems when trying to contain the speed of Washington's forwards.  Halak may steal a game in the boisterous Bell Centre, but look for a short series here.

(2)NJ vs (7) Philadelphia

My prediction:  NJ in 6

There is no more important position in all of sports than a hockey goaltender.  A good one can make an average team look unbeatable.  A bad one can be the difference in heavy favorite or terrible disappointment.  With that said, the matchup on paper does not look like a good one for "Nashville East."  Brian Boucher hasn't been a playoff starter since the 99-00 series, whereas his counterpart boasts 3 Stanley Cups and 2 Olympic gold medals.  The fact that flashy acquisition Ilya Kovalchuk finally started to look comfortable with the Devils down the stretch just spells even more trouble for Philly.  The Flyers do have some dangerous weapons, and their punishing physical game should cause some problems for the smaller Devils, but in the end I think New Jersey takes this one.  On the physical note, the Flyers need to remember the boundaries between finishing checks and playing stupid--not always the strong suit of rough customers Dan Carcillo and Scott Hartnell.

(3)Buffalo vs (6) Boston

My prediction:  Boston in 7

To be honest, this is the hardest series for me to predict.  I think the Sabres are somewhat overrated\inflated by their likely Vezina-winning goaltender Ryan Miller, but I also look at the Bruins and see no one area that particularly impresses me.  I almost have to pick this series this way just so that I have an upset in the East, as well as a lengthy series.  Statistically, there should be why not here? :)  On a more analytical note, both of these teams struggle to score goals.  My not-so-bold prediction:  rookie sensation Tuukka Rask falters early, and Tim Thomas earns some redemption to carry the Bruins to the win.

(4) Pittsburgh vs (5) Ottawa

My prediction: Pittsburgh in 6

This was the other series that I considered for the upset, but in the end, I'll go with the Penguins--at least for this round.  The Senators, as I mentioned in a previous post, are my "adopted" Eastern Conference team this year, and I find it hard not to enjoy their combination of high-flying skill and brutal physicality.  Like the Flyers, the Sens will need to find the line between physical and illegal.  If the Penguins are given free rein on the power play, my 6 game prediction will never come to be.  Ottawa may actually be able to stifle Crosby and Malkin, they have one of the best shutdown tandems in the league with which to work in Chris Phillips\Anton Volchenkov.  However, the difference will be made by secondary scoring, as the Penguins get contributions from proven playoff performers like Jordan Staal once again.  The Sens' rookie goaltender Brian Elliott has been a pleasant surprise for Ottawa, but the pressure will be on to match the performance of Cup-winner Marc-Andre Fleury.

Western Conference:

(1) San Jose vs (2) Colorado

My prediction: San Jose in 4

The Sharks are my eventual cup-winner, so don't expect their annual upset, at least not here.  The Avalanche stumbled into the playoffs, barely edging out the Calgary Flames for the eighth spot.  First-year coach Joe Sacco has done an admirable job with a young group that was never expected to come as far as they have, but I think we saw some of that youth running out of gas down the stretch.  Craig Anderson has done a good job of keeping the ship afloat, and the Avs received some good news in the imminent return of Matt Duchene, but I'm not sure it's enough.  The Sharks look as deadly as ever, and there's too much on the line for them to fold early this year.

(2) Chicago vs (7) Nashville

See my post tomorrow, this one gets its own entry :)

(3) Vancouver vs (6) LA

My prediction: Vancouver in 6

I grant that the Canucks have a few questions to answer, going into this postseason.  Roberto Luongo has looked decidedly human, if not downright mediocre in the second half of the season. Meanwhile, Jonathan Quick has been part of an exciting young nucleus for the Kings. Like the Avalanche, the Kings have ridden that youth to a level that no one believed possible, returning to the playoffs for the first time in several years.  Like last year's St Louis Blues, I think they're in for a rude awakening when they meet the Canucks in the first round.  I think they'll put up a better fight than the heavily overmatched Blues did, but the end result will be the same.  Henrik Sedin could be the Hart trophy winner this season, and the shallow Kings defense won't be able to contain him.

(4) Phoenix vs (5) Detroit

My prediction: Detroit in 5

The Coyotes have been a great story, one that Preds fans can empathize with.  We know how it feels to have the threat of relocation hanging above our heads.  We're accustomed to low expectations, and the shock that comes when those expectations are exceeded. For all of their hard work and surprising success, their reward is a Detroit Red Wings team that lost 2 games in regulation in their last 23.  The Wings got healthy, and suddenly everyone remembered why they had been to two straight finals and won 8 straight division titles.  Phoenix has a lot to build on, and a lot to be excited about, but this will be a short series.  Bryzgalov has enjoyed a breakout year that should see some Vezina nominations, but he won't be enough to withstand the relentless offensive blitz of the Wings.  On the other side of the puck, Detroit's ability to possess and transition the puck is unsurpassed by any other team in the league.  The young, inexperienced Coyotes forwards will have a difficult time generating meaningful shots, all the while praying that a lose puck doesn't trickle the wrong way.  The Red Wings can take a bad bounce and deposit in the back of your net before you can say "octopus."  As much as I hate to say it, the Wings will make short work of Phoenix.

That wraps up my first-round predictions!  As I mentioned, feel free to tell me how wrong I likely am...that's why I write the blog :).  Tune in tomorrow for my breakdown of the Blackhawks\Preds series that we're all waiting far too long for.

See ya in the funny papers--POMR.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Blues\Preds wrapup; unraveling the web of playoff possibilities

Well, it wasn't pretty, but the Nashville Predators managed to close out the 09/10 regular season with a victory.  No one will hazard to say that it was a preview of what we hope to see when the playoffs commence next week(outside of the outcome), but ultimately, the way the Predators played in this game isn't something that most will be thinking about, by that time.  There may have been a bit of autopilot play involved.  While all teams would like to play at their highest gear at all times, especially going into the playoffs, there may have been a lack of incentive, given that they came into the game locked into the playoffs and taking on a team that was already out of it.  With all of that said, I would have liked to have seen the Preds a little hungrier to wipe out the sour taste left in everyone's mouth by a lackluster performance in Phoenix on Thursday.  Instead, the Blues appeared to be the hungrier team, winning the majority of puck battles, causing numerous ugly turnovers via their tenacity in the offensive zone, and giving the unfortunate number of Blues fans in attendance something to cheer about.  Of course, I don't think I can dwell too much on that particular fact, given that the game was about 450 shy of a sellout as it was.  I was a little disappointed by that, especiallly after early reports were that cheap tickets seemed to be virtually nonexistent, yesterday morning.  Nashville finished the season with 4 sellouts, which if memory serves is our lowest total since 02-03.  It's not all bad news, however-- average attendance is the highest it's been in quite some time, and those interim years saw attendance padded by a sizable amount of comped tickets--rumored at times to be as many as 1500-2000 a game, so a number of "announced" sellouts may have been a bit of an illusion.  Regardless, I hope to see every one of our home playoff games sold out.  Any NHL player will tell you that crowd energy is a huge advantage, and we have a great reputation for giving that sort of "seventh man" advantage.  I still get chills when I watch the YouTube video of David Legwand's breakaway goal vs Detroit in 03/04.  The crowd makes my Dell computer speakers crackle.  That's the sort of atmosphere the Preds will rely on to carry them through the first round, and hopefully beyond.  Jason Arnott went as far as to personally request that we pack it out and rock the building, and who are we to deny the requests of our captain?

I won't dwell too much on the particulars of this game, since like most, my mind is already looking forward and focused on today's games(more on that later.)  From my perch in 308A, it was pretty apparent that Pekka Rinne was to thank for the Preds getting A point, let alone two.  He was outstanding throughout the night, notably stoning Paul Kariya(don't get me started on the disgust I would have felt had HE scored) on two separate breakaways.  Another well-deserved first-star performance(officially, since we the fans were the 'announced' first stars).  Coach Trotz threw a bit of a bone to Wade Belak in what was likely his last time to take the ice as a Nashville Predator.  He was taking a regular shift with Dustin Boyd and Jerred Smithson, and we were rewarded with a few scary moments and scoring chances for the Blues.  I'm a big fan of NHL justice, and fighting for a purpose, but I think the time of "staged" battles between heavyweights like Belak are hopefully becoming extinct.  I'm all for carrying someone who can drop the gloves when the situation dictates it, but I'd like for that guy to be able to take a regular shift.  I was a big fan of Darcy Hordichuk for that reason.  No one would mistake him for a scoring threat, but he'd pop in the odd goal, had decent wheels, and wasn't totally inept defensively.  Wade Belak seems like an awesome guy and a real character, but I can't think of a team that could use him in any role that wasn't both a defensive and offensive liability.

I liked the Sullivan Goc Ward line, tonight.  I've been a bit disappointed in Sully this season.  He's allayed many of our fears about his durability, but I've wondered at times if it was because he was playing not to get hurt.  In the past couple of weeks, he's taken it up a notch, and I'm finally starting to see glimmers of the old Sully, which is bad news for whomever our playoff opponent is.  I also liked what I saw from Dumont, who is a bit of a similar situation.  We need those guys to kick it up a gear if we're to succeed.  As the old adage goes, "you need your best players to be your best players."  Conversely, not the best game I've seen from Suter or Weber, who both had a few bad turnovers\failed routine zone-holding attempts.

Congrats to my mom-in-law, who won the jersey off Smithson's back!  Smitty is one of her favorites, so I'm glad she got to experience that!


At the moment, there's a Rubicks Cube of possibilities, and if you're not adept at multi-tiered Calculus, you might have a hard time keeping up.  The break down is as follows:

Detroit(100 points) plays Chicago(111 points)

If Detroit wins, or loses in OT, they will finish in fifth place and play the Coyotes.  We could then finish no higher than sixth.  If Chicago wins, they will lock up 1st overall in the West by virtue of a tiebreaker, and we will move into fifth place, with no possibility of finishing lower than sixth(and thus avoiding the dreaded SJS first round matchup, though it's not like the Canucks are any more favorable, at the moment).

My take:  Let's pull for CHICAGO.  Anything to get us closer to fifth place, which I still believe is our best outcome.

LA(99 points) plays Colorado(94 points)

LA was 6 minutes from being out of our periphery, when Edmonton showed why they're the worst team in the league. Fortunately, they did defeat the Kings in a shootout and limit them to a single point.  The Kings need to win this game to pass us, and keep us from finishing higher than sixth.  A loss of any kind, including in OT, will keep them behind us.  Unfortunately, the Kings still have that seeding to play for, and the Avalanche are unaffected by this game completely, so the motivation may be higher on the part of the Kings.

My take: Let's pull for COLORADO. Duh.

So here are the scenarios:

DET wins, or loses in OT, LA loses in OT or reg:

DET plays PHO
NAS plays VAN
LA plays SJS

DET LOSES in regulation, LA loses in OT or reg:
NAS plays PHO
DET plays VAN
LA plays SJS

DET wins, LA Wins

DET plays PHO
LA plays VAN
NAS plays CHI

DET loses in OT, LA wins
DET plays PHO
LA plays VAN
NAS plays SJS

So clearly, the last scenario would be the least favorable.  Over in the eastern conference, I'll also have my eyes on a HUGE game involving the Flyers and Rangers...winner is in, loser goes home!  Gotta love those games!

I'm off to tackle the yardmonster and then hopefully hit the pool.  Have a great one, Pred Nation!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Blues at Preds: Game Day Preview

The Nashville Predators take the ice for the final time of the regular season tonight, facing off against the rival St Louis Blues.  A quick perusal of Twitter this morning finds that it's abuzz with excited\frustrated\disappointed fans either celebrating or lamenting the fact that tickets to this one are virtually impossible to come by, at least at a reasonable price.  As a season ticket holder, from my perspective, this is fantastic news.  While the game's outcome may have no bearing on whether or not we're in the playoffs, it is nonetheless important for a few reasons.  First, the Predators were reportedly not happy with their showing in Phoenix, last time out.  There's quite a bit to be said for momentum, going into the playoffs, and Nashville will want to make sure that all cylinders are firing heading in.  Secondly,  there is still the all-important question of seeding to be answered.  The Blue Jackets nearly did us a sizable favor last night, but ultimately lost to the Red Wings in the shootout.  Likewise, the Avalanche continued their freefall to the postseason, losing to the Blackhawks.  This was the worst possible scenario for the Predators.  Detroit positioned themselves to only require 1 point from their final game of the season to clinch a spot no lower than sixth, and assure that we can't finish higher than sixth.  Meanwhile, Chicago regained the top spot in the Western Conference, bumping San Jose back down to second, where we have a good chance of meeting them in the playoffs, should things not go our way.  I don't mean to sound pessimistic or otherwise negative when I repeatedly state my misgivings about a first-round meeting with the Sharks--but I'd like to see the Preds in the best possible position to advance, and I don't think San Jose represents that position.  No matter what the Kings or Red Wings do, the Predators have to focus on the task at hand:  beat the Blues, tonight.

Keith Tkachuk has confirmed his retirement, and also that last night's home game was his last.  He will not be in the lineup tonight.  Ty Conklin has also been confirmed as the starter.  I was a big Chis Mason fan when he was here in town, but have come to dread seeing him in net when we face the Blues.  For some reason, he seems to become superhuman, even though we have gotten the best of him recently.  You never see him let in easy wraparounds or "lay eggs"(as my family calls the phenomenon of pucks trickling underneath the goaltender's pads undetected, and on into the net) the way he was prone to doing while here.  So that at least is some good news, going in.

For the Predators, I've not seen a starter confirmed yet, but I do suspect that it will be Peks, who likely wants to atone for a game that he admits wasn't his best, last time out.  Hornqvist and Grebs remain sidelined, and if practice lines are any indicator, Spaling will be re-inserted into the lineup in place of Horns.  The complete lines were as follows, with a hat tip to John Glennon:

  • Wilson-Arnott-Erat
  • Sullivan-Goc-Ward
  • Spaling-Legwand-Smithson
  • Dumont-Boyd-Tootoo (Cal O’Reilly rota­ted at cen­ter here)

*Feed off the crowd

It was against these same St Louis Blues that the first chilling, unprovoked 3 minute TV timeout ovation occurred, helping to carry the Preds to the playoffs back in 07-08.  The Preds can gain a huge advantage from that same sort of energy in the crowd.  Consider this a playoff warmup for both the team and fans!

* Take the shot

The Preds have fallen back into old habits when it comes to trying to be too "cute."  Those tendencies cost the Predators any chance of getting back into the game, last time out.  In addition, Ty Conklin's reputation as a rebound-machine is well-known, so a high amount of shots is key here.

Finally, congratulations to Brentwood's Blake Geoffrion for winning the Hobey Baker.  Colin Wilson finished second to teammate Matt Gilroy last season. Geoffrion becomes the third person to have played in the Preds organization to win the award, preceded by Tony "The Circus" Hrkac and Paul Kariya. Interestingly enough, Tennessee has now produced a Hobey Baker Trophy winner, but has NEVER produced a Heisman winner(thanks to cellblock303 for that greatinfo)  Geoffrion looks to complete his NCAA career tonight with a national championship against the Boston College Eagles.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Who's your "fallback team?" and assorted news\notes

As a Predators fan, and lifelong New York Rangers fan prior to that, contingency plans for Stanley Cup Playoff enjoyment have been an unfortunate fact of life.  At the playoffs came to an untimely conclusion for my primary team of interest, I was faced with a difficult decision:  whose bandwagon do I pledge allegiance to, for the duration of the playoffs?  I would typically take into consideration several factors when attempting to choose a "surrogate" team:  underdog status, non-traditional markets, ex-Predators toward whom I hold no ill will, arrogance\obnoxious-factor of fanbase, to name a few. I also tend to steer toward the Eastern Conference, given that the past 12 years have given me enough time to feel biased, prejudiced, or downright hateful toward most of the teams in the West.

 Sometimes my surrogate teams have rewarded me with an exciting playoff run.  To this day, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Carolina Hurricanes, thanks in large part to first their unlikely 2002 cup run that ultimately fell just short, and then again in 2006, when they did attain the Cup.  My decision to follow the Canes that year was made with all of those prerequisites satisfied.  They were a team built similarly to our own Predators, playing an exciting style with no true superstars(eventually Eric Staal would grow into that distinction, but hadn't to that point).  They were comprised of likable "good guys," such as Rod Brind'Amour, Glen Wesley, and Bret Hedican.  Best of all, they were matched up against Canadian sweethearts, the Edmonton Oilers.  The Hurricanes' victory that year sounded on so many levels for me.  On the surface, I enjoyed following a team that played hockey the right way, with grit and skill in equal measure.  On a more cerebral level, the Canes' triumph represented a victory for hockey in an unconventional market.  The Stanley Cup's deliverance to Raleigh was a metaphorical middle finger to the NHL's faction of good-old-boy, hockey-should-be-played-where-ice-is-naturally-occurring, traditional-market critics.  The fact that Carolina, a place that in their mind was more appropriate for barefoot kids with straw in their mouths and tobacco-chewing banjo-pickers named Cletus than NHL hockey, was in possession of hockey's greatest prize was an affront to their sensibilities.  And "niche" fans such as myself couldn't have enjoyed their outrage more.

Similarly, the past few seasons, I've thrown my support to the Washington Capitals.  While their story isn't as warm and fuzzy to me as that of the Hurricanes, I enjoyed the unapologetic, in-your-face, who-cares-if-we-don't-play-defense attitude of the Capitals.  The centerpiece, the embodiment of that culture is undoubtedly Alexander Ovechkin.  He makes no attempt to disguse the fact that he's hot stuff, and ragingly conscious of it. Consider also that the Capitals toiled in mediocrity for so many years, save a lone finals appearance in the late 90s, and they were an easy sell for me.  However, this season feels a little different to me, and I don't find the Capitals to be as easy to root for as I once did.  The Capitals, who once went down as smooth and cool as a vanilla milkshake, suddenly give me heartburn.  There's a few contributing components that are immediately apparent to me. 

First, like a spoiled child, the Capitals no longer seem appreciative of what they've been given or what they have.  Rather, there's an expectation that being the best isn't something you achieve, it's just something that you are.  That sort of entitlement has been the Achilles Heel of the San Jose Sharks for several seasons now, and ultimately I think the Capitals are doomed to succumb to the same fatal hubris.  No longer a polished late-model Honda Accord that anyone could relate to or get behind the wheel of, the Capitals are now a boisterous Italian sportscar, a Maserati, and it's hard not to smile a bit when it eventually takes the curve too fast and goes right off a cliff.

Secondly, and this may even be more of a gripe to me than that first factor, the Capitals' fanbase has become just as loud and obtrusive as the red on their sweaters.  The maelstrom of outrage that spewed forth from Caps fans when Columbus BlueJackets forward RJ Umberger spoke his opinion was swift and prolific.  Similarly, the fury they bring to any Norris Trophy discussion that doesn't immediately favor "Jersey Shore" reject Mike Green would melt the gel from his hair and the spray-tan from his tribal-tattooed bicep.  Disregard that he's practically a fourth forward that's less acquainted with the defensive zone than Marek Zidlicky-- he's the only candidate that deserves consideration, as they'll brusquely declare.  The Washington Capitals are sort of like New York City -- they'd be great, if not for the people.

Capitals Defenseman\All-around Tool, Mike Green

So the Hurricanes are out of it, the Capitals have disenchanted who does my support go to, in the event that the Predators fall short, this season?  My vote goes to the Ottawa Senators.  This could of course change, once things get going, but for now, that's my pick.  Daniel Alfredsson may be one of the most underrated, classiest guys in the game.  The Senators also extricated themselves of Dany Heatley last summer, sending him to a team that would absolve me of any personal conflict regarding liking the team\hating the player, the San Jose Sharks.  If the Senators happen to fall out of it, I'll re-evaluate at that time, but that's who I'm going with for now.

I should clarify that a "surrogate" team is by no means an adequate substitute for the Predators.  The prospect of another early exit for the Preds is as crushing to me as it is to anyone.  This is simply a means to take some solace and find some enjoyment in the aftermath of that disappointment.  My first choice would naturally be to never have to choose such a team, so consider this whole discussion hypothetical.


Speaking of the 'Canes, captain Eric Staal netted a hat-trick on, of all nights, free hat night in Carolina.  I've always dreamed of such a thing happening at the @BridgestoneArena .  Hey, maybe we'll get to toss our free visors to the ice, tomorrow!  A man can dream.

Congratulations to @BlakeGeoffrion, whose Wisconsin Badgers defeated RIT in the NCAA semifinals yesterday by a score of 8 to 1.  Blake picked up a goal and an assist in the blowout win; Preds' prospect Craig Smith also netted a marker for the Badgers.  Wisconsin will take on the Boston College Eagles in the NCAA Championship on Saturday.

Bryan Mullen reports in The Tennessean that Barry Trotz is confident that Hornqvist will be ready for game one of the playoffs, slated to start mid-next week.  This is great news, but I'm reserving elation until I actually see number 27 on the ice.

The Preds dropped to seventh place last night, as the Kings managed to salvage a point in a shootout loss to the Coyotes.  The Coyotes and Red Wings both have two games remaining; the Preds have one.  If the Predators can wrap up their season tomorrow against St Louis with a victory, they will only need one of the Red Wings or Kings to lose one of their final games to clinch no worse than sixth place.

I'm pretty stoked about the numbers that my now-five-day-old blog is getting, per THANK YOU to everyone who is reading, and an even bigger THANK YOU to those of you that have spread the word\retweeted\linked\shouted out.  I encourage you to use the comments function of the blog...I'm all for dialogue, and welcome feedback of any sort. 

Along those lines, who is YOUR "surrogate team?"

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Preds playoff preview, part 4: San Jose Sharks

Oh, how I wished that this blog would never be written.

A few days ago, with the Preds rolling, the Blackhawks stumbling, and a fifth-seed clinch just out of arm's reach, I couldn't help but look at the world with unabashed optimism.  Spring had sprung, the air was warm, the grass was green, and little cartoon birds fluttered around my head, whistling melodic tunes as we barreled toward a favorable first round matchup with the inexperienced Phoenix Coyotes. 

Fast forward to today, a scant time later.  The weather has darkened, clouds have rolled in, and there's a biting chill in the air.  ACME-branded anvils have crashed down upon the heads of those cartoon birds, silencing them forever.  And worst of all?  The Blackhawks have surged past the Sharks, the Red Wings have drawn even with the Predators, and a Western Conference Quarterfinal tilt between the Nashville Predators and the San Jose Sharks looks devastatingly possible, if not downright probable.  That classic old David\Goliath tale that lacks the happy, slain-giant ending of its Biblical counterpart.  No, the San Jose Goliath just laughs as we sling pebbles at his giant teal, black and orange visage.

But that was then, right? Right? Three years have passed since the Sharks dispatched the Predators in 5 games, despite the home-ice advantage bestowed upon the Preds for finishing in fourth place.  Many faces have changed for both teams, though more notably the Predators.  That playoff series was the advent to the Leipold\Balsillie fiasco, and represented the one time in our history that we truly "went for it," after acquiring Peter Forsberg shortly before the trade deadline.  The end result was short of expectations, and the Preds and their faithful went home disappointed, blissfully unaware of the manner in which their foundations would be upheaved just a few weeks later.  The Sharks have also undergone some turnover, losing such notables as Jonathan Cheechoo and Milan Michalek, though they did replace them with Dany Heatley, Dan Boyle, and a fully-broken-out Joe Pavelski.  The point remains that it was two largely different teams that did battle in those consecutive playoff series, and that brings me to the silver lining I will attempt to unfold for you.


It's difficult to even articulate such a thought, honestly.  However, let's approach this positively.  As stated, these are two different teams, with a lot of ground traversed by both since that last postseason meeting.  The Sharks have imposed their typical blitzkrieg march through the regular season, but have been repeatedly eluded by playoff success. The Predators made an unlikely run to the playoffs in 07-08, before falling short against the Red Wings in six games.  Last season, they missed the playoffs for the first time since the 02-03 season.  My primary reasoning for why we'd want to play the Sharks is based mostly in the intangible--call it a hunch.  I feel that this year's Predators are better equipped for playoff success, and we owe the San Jose Sharks a large deal of credit for that preparation.  David Poile made no secret of his disappointment after the last exit to the Sharks, and seems to have moved away from the philosophy that gave us success in the years immediately after the lockout--a small, speedy, attack-on-the-rush team--in favor of a model that stacks up better against the Sharks.  He's placed emphasis on drafting big forwards, and the coaching staff has implemented a system based in quick outlet passes, an aggressive forecheck, and strong puck possession.  Will these adjustments be enough?  Do we have the secondary scoring to overcome the Sharks' defense, and will our own defense be able to contain the numerous weapons the Sharks have in their arsenal?  These are the questions that must be answered, and will ultimately decide the Predators' fate in such a series.

On a secondary note, the Predators seemed to hold their own pretty well against the Sharks this season, at least more so than in the past.  Consider the "meltdown" game was one that the Predators probably would have won, had the goaltending held up, and also the previous game, which Dany Heatley put in the game winner with less than a minute to go.  The regular season is a different animal, of course...but at least it's some cause for optimism. 


I'll keep this blessedly brief.  The Sharks are going to approach this postseason with several demons to exorcise, both on a team and personal level.  They have been unceremoniously upset for the past several playoffs, after asserting their dominance on the NHL through the regular season.  The team's ownership is reportedly displeased that for all the resources they make available, management and personnel simply haven't gotten it done.  There have been numerous whispers that another disappointing season could sound the death knell for many in the organization.  Names that have become synonymous with the Sharks could be jettisoned out.  Joe Thornton in particular has been under the microscope for his playoff disappearances.  The Sharks, from the top-down, realize that there is a good deal of pressure to succeed.  They will not take that lightly, and their potential opponents have good reason to be concerned about their level of motivation.

I mentioned that noted Pred-Killer Milan Michalek has moved on to Ottawa.  Lucky for us, he's been replaced by Dany Heatley, who became quite comfortable with scoring backbreaking goals against the Predators in his first season with the Sharks.  I need only utter the name, "Joe Pavelski" to bring a torrent of unpleasant, five-point memories back for Predators fans.


The Tennessean reports that Joel Ward is the Preds' Masterson Award nominee.  Congrats to Wardo!

@BlakeGeoffrion and his Wisconsin Badgers take on the RIT Tigers in the first half of the NCAA Frozen Four, today at 4 pm CST. 

St Louis Blues forward Keith Tkachuk is calling it quits after 19 seasons in the league.  With his numbers and longevity, he'll likely end up in the Hall of Fame.  That doesn't mean I have to like or respect him. Jerk. :)

Closing thought...the many allegiances of Taylor Swift.  Anything for publicity, I guess!

Predators Shrivel Under the Desert Heat

I had initially sat down to recap this game last night, but decided that maybe sleeping on it would soak up some of the bile.  I've been a hockey fan for most of my life, and I've seen enough ups and downs that I'm able to subdue some of the sky-is-falling inclinations that sometimes befall less battle-scarred fans. 

Unfortunately, this loss doesn't look any better, 8 hours later.

While there are more than enough facets of this game to pick out and apart, it's tough to get past the most concerning point of all:  the injury to top scorer Patric Hornqvist.  Hornqvist was injured like many before him, cut down by the unfriendly fire of a Shea Weber slapshot.  The damage might have been avoided, if not for two slashes from Phoenix defenseman Ed Jovonovski immediately prior to the shot, which caused Horns to fall directly into the blast.  Trotz was characteristically vague about the injury, using the nebulous "upper body" tag, and went on to say that the extent is unknown at this time, and that Hornqvist will be evaluated today.  An injury to Hornqvist is especially devastating not only because he's the Predators' top scorer, but because of the role he plays and the way he scores those goals.  Hornqvist is the type of player that makes those around him more successful.  Weber's pointshot becomes more dangerous with Hornqvist screening the goaltender.  His linemates are rewarded with assists, due to the garbage he's able to scoop in.  Without Hornqvist in the lineup, we simply don't have anyone that's willing to play in that danger zone in front of the goal, and we become what you saw from the point of his injury on:  a perimeter team.

While the Hornqvist injury was definitely the low point of the night, I'd be remiss not to mention some of the other frustrations experienced by the Preds in the loss.  The Coyotes' first two goals were "gifts," in the words of Coach Trotz.  Unfortunately, for all of our giving spirit, the Coyotes did not return Nashville's generosity. You couldn't help but have a good feeling about the night's prospects when the game began with a goal for Shea Weber just 12 seconds in (second fastest goal in franchise history, by the way), but due to an untimely\sluggish line change, Lauri Korpikoski was handed a wide-open breakaway just two minutes later, which he converted through the five-hole of Pekka Rinne.  The second Coyotes goal came in the second period, when Wojtek Wolski was allowed to slip undetected behind coverage.  Smithson was too far up ice to get back in time, and Hamhuis arrived too late to stop Wolski from making a nice move across the body of Rinne to complete the score.  The backbreaker was, of course, the Pyatt goal that would serve as the eventual game-winner.  Wolski drew coverage down into the left corner, leaving Ward to cover Pyatt between the circles.  Rather than "cover" Pyatt, he made a desperate attempt to disrupt the shot, which served to deflect it past Rinne.

Also filed under "ugly things we'd like to soon forget..."

Which is worse:  a minute of 5 on 3 that looked like a perimeter passing drill and resulted in ZERO shots, or the fact that after Phoenix scored the go-ahead goal with about 9 and a half minutes remaining in the game, the Predators registered only two shots? 

Apparently Jason Arnott returned last night.  I'll have to take their word for it; I didn't see him.

The Predators' loss coupled with Detroit's win pushes the Red Wings into a tie with Nashville at 98 points.  Contrary to what Pete and Terry stated in the postgame, the Red Wings are in fifth place for the time being, as they have a game in hand--the de facto first tiebreaker.  Should the Preds and Wings be tied at the end of the season, we would hold the first tiebreaker, which is wins.  Saturday's finale versus the Blues now becomes that much more pivotal.  With the Blackhawks' win last night, they have reclaimed the top spot in the west, which pushes the Sharks down into second.  With the Red Wings and Kings both nipping at the Predators' heels and with games in hand, a seventh place finish is not out of the realm of possibility.  This would of course play out the worst possible scenario in the minds of most Preds fans, including my own: ANOTHER first round matchup with the San Jose Sharks.

On that subject, I had hoped that we would sufficiently take care of business and that the Blackhawks would find a way to stay behind San Jose, so that writing the dreaded final installment of our prospective playofff opponents would become unnecessary, but it seems that fate has dealt us that unfortunate possibility.  Look for that update later today, after I've had sufficient time to brainstorm the "Reasons Why We Want to Play the Sharks" component. 

My chances of coming up with something of substance should roughly equal those of the Predators in the last half of the third period, last night.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Preds potential first round opponent, part 3: Chicago Blackhawks

When I look at the Chicago Blackhawks,  I can't help but be reminded of the Predators from 2005-2007.  High-flying, free-wheeling, offense-first approach.  Attacks built on a puck-moving defense and strong first-pass. Unfortunately for the Blackhawks, they aren't all good memories, are they?  Those Preds teams experienced overwhelming regular season success, but fizzled out in the first round of the playoffs for two straight years to the San Jose Sharks--in dominant fashion, even.  Even in the regular season, en route to record campaigns, I sometimes found something lacking in the way we'd win games.  Often times, we would win a game based on a timely breakaway and Vokoun bailing us out the rest of the way, and I'd think to myself, "wow, we did not deserve to win that game."  The conclusion I could draw from that is that we were a team built on the flash of guys like Paul Kariya and Marek Zidlicky, but lacked the warrior mettle necessary to take it to the next level.  Fast-forward four years, and I feel good about this current squad and their playoff chances.  While there may not be as much skill in our lineup from top to bottom, I think the balance between talent and grit is finally where it needs to be.  And I think that equilibrium is lacking for the Blackhawks.  While they can put the puck in the net with furious ease, and while they have a defense with an impressive resume, the way it all comes together just doesn't impress me. While it's true that they took the season series from us four games to two, we didn't appear outmatched in any of them.  So with all of that said, let's break it down:


I've established my thoughts on their team makeup, but if you want something more tangible, look no further than their goaltending.  Cristobal Huet has been a financial anchor since the 'Hawks signed him to his ill-advised, huge contract.  These days, he's a roster spot anchor, as well.  The Blackhawks have limped down the stretch, and Huet's inept work in the nets has been a big contributor. Finnish rookie Antti Niemi has fared slightly better, but has zero playoff experience and only a partial season of NHL experience, altogether.  It's confusing to me that the Hawks have placed so much emphasis on signing guys like Marian Hossa, retaining guys like Patrick Sharp, but leaving their goaltending in such a questionable state.

In addition to goaltending, the Blackhawks' defensive corps, long the pride of Hot Dog City, has seen its share of both injuries and personal slumps in the past month.  Brian Campbell is out for the season, Kim Johnsson has no timetable for return after suffering a serious concussion, and Brent Seabrook has been in and out of the lineup since taking a vicious shot from Anaheim's James Wisniewski.  On top of the injuries, Duncan Keith has been uncharacteristically shaky.  Typically near the top of the league's plus\minus leaderboard, he is a -11 since the end of the Olympics.  The Blackhawks are 5-5-2 in their last 12 games.


Last season, a fair amount of teams did what I'm doing here today: underestimated the 'Hawks.  Ask the Flames and Canucks what they got for not taking Chicago seriously.  For whatever deficiencies the 'Hawks may seem to have on paper, they did manage to put it together last season.  While the Bulin Wall has moved on, they've complemented the firepower of Jonathan "Don't call me Toes" Toews and Patrick "Where's my change?!" Kane with mercenary scorer Marian Hossa.  Question the heart, defensive prowess, or goaltending of the Chicago Blackhawks--but believe that they can punish you offensively.


Preds' 2009 first round pick Ryan Ellis and his Windsor Spitfires are up 3 games to none over much-hyped prospect Tyler Seguin and the Plymouth Whalers. It doesn't hurt that some of his teammates include Taylor Hall, Cam Fowler, Adam Henrique, and Greg Nemisz.  It's practically a who's-who of top prospects.  Never hurts to come from an environment where you play with the best, though.

With Colorado's win over Vancouver in the shootout, and Calgary's loss to SJ, the Flames are officially eliminated.  You've gotta think heads are going to roll in Cowtown.  It's a shame, too...I've enjoyed having a GM in the league who resembles "Sloth" from "The Goonies."


Aside from our own, we have:

Columbus at Detroit

We want C-Bus to take this one, obviously.  If the BlueJackets can do the unthinkable and upset Detroit at home, I think that it will come down to the Preds or Kings for fifth, provided we take care of business.

St Louis at Chicago

Let's go BLUES!  Yuck, I don't like the taste of that in my mouth.  At any rate, best to keep Chicago in second place, and San Jose OUT of second, in case we end up in the 7 spot.

Colorado at Edmonton

Not a ton of importance placed on this game, but it would be nice if the Oilers can pull it out, and end any possibility of the Avs surpassing us.

Preds at Coyotes...9 pm tonight!  Hopefully my sleepy morning tomorrow will be one filled with triumph and victory, not rage and regret!