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!

Preds\Yotes Game Day Preview!

Greetings, Pred-ucated ones!

Tonight, the Nashville Predators head west into the desert to face the howlin' desert dogs in what could be a preview of a first-round playoff matchup.  The  Coyotes come into the tilt in 4th place, while the Preds currently sit in fifth.  This game has major standings implications, as it represents Nashville's last chance to make a run at home-ice advantage in the first round.  The Preds would need to defeat the Coyotes by three or more goals, win their season finale against St Louis on Saturday, while the Coyotes would need to lose their last two in such a fashion that the Preds would maintain a higher GF total.  Confused yet?  Well, don't be...there's a pretty unlikely course of events that would have to transpire for that particular scenario to unfold, but that's why the games are played.

The Preds and Coyotes have met up 3 times this season.  The Coyotes overcame a third period deficit to take the first game of the season series back on January 21 on the strength of a Scottie Upshall hat trick.  The second game saw the Predators set a franchise record(broken shortly thereafter vs Detroit) for the longest shootout, a ten-round thriller that the Coyotes emerge victorious after a scoreless goaltenders' duel.  The third and most recent match also went to a shootout, this time the Predators game out with the win, with David Legwand netting the game-winner in the SO.


*Get it done in regulation

The Coyotes lead the league in success in the extra frame, with a record of 18-6.  The Predators managed to defy the odds with their last shootout win the last time out--best not to tempt fate.


The Coyotes do a good job of  boxing out their opponents in the offensive zone, and will attempt to keep chances to the perimeter.  To beat that system, it's important to take the shot, rather than looking for the perfect setup, as the Predators are often guilty of doing.  Traffic in front of the net becomes paramount here as well, as Bryzgalov will likely stop it if he sees it.  Also, watch for the pokecheck from Bryz, something he's trademarked.

*Watch for the activated D in the high slot

Phoenix is not bashful about sending in their defensemen to set up for a shot from the top of the circles.  Yandle and Jovonovski are particularly dangerous from this area.  Our centers will need to make sure that the center of the ice is covered in the defensive zone to mitigate those chances.


Forward Lee Stempniak has 13 goals in 15 games since coming to the 'Yotes at the trade deadline.


Shane Doan is on pace to finish with under 20 goals for the first time since the 98-99 season, and hasn't potted one since January 31


Nashville Predators(46-28-6, 98 pts, 5th place) at Phoenix Coyotes(48-25-6, 102 pts, 4th place)
April 7, 2010 9 pm CST, Arena
TV- Fox Sports TN, NHL Network, Radio- 104.5 the Zone

Goals:  Nashville- Hornqvist(30), Phoenix- Vrbata\Stempniak(24)
Assists: Nashville- Sullivan(34), Phoenix- Wolski(39)
Points: Nashville- Hornqvist(51), Phoenix- Wolski(61)
PIMS: Nashville- Belak(58), Phoenix- Bissonette(102)
Wins: Nashville- Rinne(31), Phoenix- Bryzgalov(41)

Phoenix- Kurt Sauer(D) and Scottie Upshall(F) are out.  Robert Lang is questionable
Nashville- Denis Grebeshkov(D) is out.  Jason Arnott(F) is probable

Lines(Preducated guess at this point!)  if anyone has Phoenix's lines or a good guess at it, drop me a line.

Erat Arnott Hornqvist
Sullivan Goc Dumont
Wilson Legwand Ward
Smithson Boyd Tootoo

Suter Weber
Klein Bouillon
Hamhuis Franson


Tennessean Preview
AZ Central Preview

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Games to watch for 04/06/10

Chicago at Dallas-
Preds fans should root for: Dallas

Pick your poison between the Sharks and Blackhawks, but we have a better chance of finish 7th than 8th, and if you ask me, I've seen enough Preds\Sharks matchups.  I'm hoping the 'Hawks stay in second.

San Jose at Calgary-
Preds fans should root for: San Jose

See above. I'd like to see SJ stay in first, and I'd also like to see the Flames miss the playoffs.  Partly because I hate them, but also because if I had my choice of who to play in later rounds, should things shake out that way, I'd take the stumbling Avs over the underachieving Flames any day.  Way more weapons on the Flames.

Colorado at Vancouver-
Preds fans should root for: Colorado

Bigtime must-win with playoff implications for the Avs.  As I mentioned, I'd like to see them in rather than the Flames.  Not a game of huge importance to the 'Nucks, other than to maybe tune up whatever issues Luongo is having.  He's really fighting the puck at the moment.

Los Angeles at Anaheim-
Preds fans should root for: Anaheim

GO DUCKS!  If the Kings lose this game, our chances of keeping fifth place increase dramatically.  These two teams met over the weekend in a game that saw the Kings fall in the shootout.  It'd be nice if the Ducks could play spoiler and shut LA down in regulation.

John Glennon reports that Alexander Radulov's season in the KHL is on the precipice.  I know that there's a love-hate relationship with Rads among Preds' faithful, but I'd take the little guy back in a heartbeat.  I loved his energy, and I'd love to see what he could do with Wilson and Hornqvist.  I think that a lot of the "animosity" that is reported between some of the old guard and A-Rad is largely exaggerated.

Playoff Preview Part 2: Vancouver Canucks

Greetings, Pred Nation!

As promised, today we will be breaking down the matchup between our next potential playoff opponent and our Predators.  Yesterday we looked at the Phoenix Coyotes in the 4/5 battle, today we'll look at how we stack up to the Vancouver Canucks, if we fall into sixth place.

The Canucks powered through the Blues in the first round of the 08/09 playoffs, breaking out the brooms for a four-game sweep.  They then met a disappointing end, getting  sent home in six games by the Chicago Blackhawks.  Heading back to the drawing board, the Canucks brought in former Red Wing grinder Mikael Samuelsson, who has rewarded Vancouver with a career year of 30 goals, to date.  Perhaps the biggest move they made this offseason was the last minute retention of the Sedin twins.  Plagued by high expectations and intense media scrutiny early in their careers, the Sedins had struggled with consistency for much of their early careers.  However, in the past few seasons, the twins had started to show glimmers of their dangerous potential, and it appeared unlikely that the Canucks would be able to retain their services.  Fortunately for Vancouver, a deal was done after midnight on July 1, and Henrik and Daniel were staying in town on new, long-term deals(much to the chagrin of Brian Burke and the Maple Leafs!).  Henrik has rewarded Canucks fans with a season that sees him as the Art Ross leader to this point, with 29g, 77a for 106 points.  Mattias Ohlund did leave for Tampa Bay, but has been more than replaced by former Sharks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.  The personnel moves(and non-moves) have helped the Canucks to a spot atop the Northwest Division, which they have officially clinched.


While Roberto Luongo is recognized as one of the top netminders in the world, he has struggled with inconsistent play this season, particularly post-Olympics.  Some speculate that this could be due to the workload he's faced, as he was already a workhorse for the Canucks, but added in an Olympic tournament as well.   Whatever the case may be, he's fighting the puck at the moment, and this could be a weak point for Vancouver.  A butterfly goaltender, he's prone to rebounds, which would be something for the Preds to key in on.  Luongo's numbers for the season are actually subordinate to backup Andrew Raycroft's, though over a smaller sample.  In addition, in 9 NHL seasons, Luongo has only won 2 playoff series.


The Canucks play the same sort of puck-possession style that the Sharks used so effectively against us in previous playoff series.  The Sedin\Sedin\Burrows line features three guys that have not only earned "Pred-Killer" labels over the past few seasons, but can also keep the puck off opposing sticks with dynamic ease.  Even if you manage to contain that line, you have to contend with strong secondary scoring from guys like Samuelsson, Kesler, and Demitra.  In addition, the Canucks have some of the best special teams in the league.  In terms of sheer 1 to 1 matchup, the Canucks are behind only the Sharks as the team I would least like to see us play.  The travel between Nashville and Vancouver is another factor to consider.

Keys to defeating the Canucks:

* Keep it 5 on 5.

Special teams have not been the Preds' forte this year, and the Canucks have a notable advantage on both the PK and PP.  If Nashville is to win a series versus Vancouver, it's imperative to limit the time spent shorthanded.

*Contain the Sedin line.

This is our "duh" statement of the day.  Of course, if it were that simple, Henrik wouldn't be leading the league in points, and Alex Burrows (my mother-in-law's most despised player, by the way) wouldn't be approaching 40 goals.  Nonetheless, I would expect Legwand to be reunited with Ward and Smithers to play the shutdown role.

*Get in Luongo's head

The easiest way to do that is to pepper him early, provide the "Hornqvist Special" of heavy screenings, and score early.  He has a reputation for losing his cool if things don't go his way, so exploit that!

Assorted other news...

@BlakeGeoffrion and the Wisconsin Badgers take on the Cinderella RIT Tigers on Thursday afternoon. ESPN breaks down this game for us.

@NHLPredsInsider reports that Captain Arnie is skating with the team, and looks to be on track to get back into the lineup tomorrow against the Coyotes.  It's noteworthy that Arnott's streak of 10 seasons above the 20 goal mark is on the line.  He currently has 18, so let's hope he can pot one in each of the next two contests...or...even better, maybe he nails it down with a hat trick at the Fangtastic Finale? :)

Grebeshkov is ramping up his workouts, but Coach Trotz doesn't expect to see him in the lineup before the playoffs.  In the meantime, young Cody Franson has been filling in admirably.  You can definitely see that he's on track for a full-time role next season.  This is big, since thus far Alex Sulzer hasn't lived up to expectations.

Thanks to Buddy Oakes of Preds on the Glass for the shoutout in his latest blog\podcast.  Be sure to check that out, he and his son Jackson are always a good read\listen.  We hope to hook up to chat Preds hockey for a future podcast, so watch out for that.

One last note...check out our poll!  Going back to the Coyotes and the will they\won't they relocation saga, something that strikes close to home, I wondered if you guys would continue to support the Preds if they were to move to another city, or would you find a new team to cheer for?  I personally would still have to support our guys, but I don't think I could follow the Hamilton Predators with the same zeal.  It would be too painful to see Shea Weber playing for another city, I think...even if the fangs are still on the front of his jersey.  What do you guys think?

Check back tomorrow as we preview the San Jose Sharks\Nashville Predators matchup in part 3 of our playoff preview, and also a gameday preview for the Preds at Coyotes!

Monday, April 5, 2010

LAUNCH! And a look at the Preds' potential first round opponents: Phoenix Coyotes


First off...welcome to the inaugural post of our brand new site!  I won't bore you with too many details about who I am or what I do--most of that is covered in my "about me" section.  I'm a lifelong hockey fan\player and a day one Preds diehard!  I've been with the team through the highs and lows:  from the collection of no-names and castoffs that made up for what they lacked in skill with heart and entertainment, to the elation that came when we clinched our first playoff berth (I have never been a bigger Canucks fan than the night they knocked off Edmonton back in 2004, guaranteeing our spot as the eighth seed that year).  I was there when ESPN called our roster "scary," just after the acquisition of Peter Forsberg, and I was there when the disappointment of a first round exit to the Sharks gave way to trials of the Jim Balsillie fiasco.  I campaigned for the team that summer, urging anyone that would listen to purchase tickets, even\especially if they had never seen a hockey game.  I emphasized the value of the team to the city of Nashville, and its reputation as a legitimate sports market.  I kept up my season tickets, even though I probably shouldn't have, from a financial standpoint.  I've seen the names on the back of our sweater change from Brunette, to Krivokrasov, to Kjellberg, to Delmore, to Kariya, and on up to Weber.  I've seen those sweaters themselves change from the busy, expansion-era silks, to the much-maligned mustard-only-a-Predhead-could-love, to the streamlined "Reebok" era, to the Taylor Swift endorsed new thirds.  Much has changed both on and off the ice for the Predators in these 12 years.  Much has changed in my own life, as well.  The one constant, however, the one thing that could be counted on was that the Preds would do more with less than any other team in the league.  It's that lunch-pail, yeoman effort that makes this team so easy to love, so much an addiction for all of us.  It's why "Fang Fever" is so contagious.

But enough of my melodramatic musings...I'm reasonably certain that you're not here for that :).

In this first blog, I'm going to take a look at the four teams that the Preds could realistically see in the first round of the playoffs, and breakdown the particulars of facing each.

09-10 Prospective Playoff Opponents: Phoenix Coyotes

This first blog will also be the first in a four-part series detailing the Predators and how they match up against prospective playoff opponents.  I hope to roll this out over the next three days, with an entry for the top four teams each day.

As it stands today, the Preds are 2 points up on the hated Detroit Red Wings for the 5th seed.  The Red Wings do have a game in hand, but fortunately squandered the chance to draw even with us by losing their second game in hand to the Flyers.  Maybe Timonen, Hartnell, and Parent have that Red Wing hatred ingrained in them from their days here?  Whatever the case may be, they did us a big favor.  If the seedings remain as they are today, we would face the surprising Phoenix Coyotes in the 4/5 matchup, so that's where we'll start.

The Phoenix Coyotes are a team that most believe shouldn't be where they are.  That statement rings on many levels, in the minds of many hockey fans.  Prior to this season, they were introduced someone who needed no introduction to Predators fans: Jim Balsillie.  While Balsillie may have put on the pretenses of "making it work" in Nashville, no matter how disingenuous those claims were later revealed to be, he made no such airs when it came to his intentions with the Coyotes.  Beginning in the early summer, the RIM Executive began turning the wheels on a plan that would see the Coyotes relocated to the "Golden Horseshoe" area of southern Ontario.  The protracted legal proceedings continue to this day, though Balsillie and his henchman lawyer Richard Rodier have thankfully faded into the background.  The collateral damage of this highly-publicized battle was high, and ticket sales and corporate sponsorship understandably dipped.  With the league owning the team, many were unsure what sort of operating budget GM Don Maloney would be working with, and how he would sell his franchise as an attractive destination for free agents. 

Fast forward 10 months, and the Coyotes are only a few points shy of the first seed in the Western Conference.  With a rowdy, defiant, "we'll show you all" banner, the Coyotes have banded together to prove the naysayers wrong.  Under the veteran tutelage of former Stars coach Dave Tippett, they've found ways to win with the Vezina-worthy goaltending of Ilya Bryzgalov(whom they stole off waivers from the Ducks, just a few seasons ago), an emerging defense-core led by a rejuvenated Ed Jovonovski and dynamic Keith Yandle.  Shane Doan, who surpassed the 1000-game mark with the Jets\Coyotes franchise this year, has provided the same lead-by-example grit as captain that he always has--but the extra incentive to prove everyone wrong may have been just the ingredient the Coyotes needed to get over the hump.


What the Coyotes have in youthful exuberance and us-vs-the-world attitude, they lack in that intangible component that the Preds themselves lacked in the past: playoff experience.  It's been 8 seasons since the Coyotes played a post-season game.  Teppo Numminen and and Sean Burke aren't walking through that door.  In fact, only Shane Doan remains from that last playoff team.  The core of the Coyotes is largely unproven in the postseason, and as Preds fans well know--there's no substitute for getting there and doing it.

From a matchup standpoint, the Coyotes are a team built similarly to the Preds.  They play a strong, fast, counter-attack based game that emphasizes creating turnovers in the neutral zone and relying on a mobile defense and strong goaltender to wash out the mistakes.  If the Predators can capitalize on the inevitable turnovers and youth of their defense core, the opportunity to win the series is good.  Something else to be considered:  the Coyotes, amazingly, have not defeated a Western Conference playoff team in regulation since the second week of the season.  They have an uncanny ability to win shootouts...but as you know, there are no shootouts in the playoffs.  If the Preds can get it done at home, and steal a game or two on the road, the series looks good.  The Coyotes have a few guys that can put the puck in the net, highlighted by the white-hot steal of the deadline, Lee Stempniak.  Radim Vrbata and Wojtek Wolski are also players to watch.  However, Phoenix's scoring isn't quite as balanced as that of the Predators;  if you can shut down their top two lines, you might be able to stifle their ability to score goals outright.


In a word:  Bryzgalov. No one knows better what hot goaltending can do for a team that might not look that great on paper.  He witnessed it firsthand in the 2003 playoffs, when the-then Mighty Ducks rode JS Giguere all the way to the conference finals.  When Bryz is on, he looks borderline unbeatable.

 As mentioned previously, the Coyotes have been driven by lack of any hope that anyone has given them, either to stay in Glendale or to succeed on the ice.  That sort of motivation can be a dangerous thing to a young, hungry team. 

While I mentioned before that the Coyotes have had their struggles on the road in games not decided via shootout against playoff opponents, they're strong at home: 28-10-2, which puts them near the top of the league.  Crowd support has grown steadily as the team kept on winning, and you can expect Arena to be packed for their unlikely playoff series.

To summarize, to borrow a segment from Pete and Crispy, here's three keys to beating the Coyotes:

* Lots of shots on Bryzgalov
Keep them high...he loves to poke-check, and will sometimes go down too early.  If you can draw him down, the top half of the net will be open.  If he sees your low shot, he's going to stop it.

*Get up on them early!
They've ridden their unlikely momentum throughout the season, and have cultivated a lot of confidence from it.  Put some doubt in their one of the two opening games in Glendale to take the fans out of it a bit, and make them question whether or not they can do it.

*Smart play through the neutral zone
The Coyotes are quick, and play the active stick between the blue lines.  If you make a sloppy pass or try to get too cute, the puck is liable to end up in the back of our net.  Keep it simple, and make quick, short, smart passes.


George Richards of the Miami Herald reports that Tomas Vokoun could be in his final weeks as a Panther.  Florida was officially eliminated from playoff contention with their recent loss to the Rangers, and there was some speculation that he was close to being traded at the deadline this year, though no deal could be made.  Vokoun has 1 year remaining on his contract, and does have a NTC, though he's said to be willing to waive it, should a suitable team make an offer.

ESPN reports that rumors of a group headed by Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, and Mike Modano that is reportedly interested in purchasing the Dallas Stars from current owner Tom Hicks is untrue--at least for now.  Modano is reportedly open to future ownership, though not specifically as it pertains to this case.  Gretzky's camp vehemently denies any involvement, and Brett Hull was too busy boasting and making smartass remarks to be reached for comment.

That wraps up the first edition of The Odd Man Rush.  Tune in tomorrow, as we look at the Preds' matchup with the Vancouver Canucks.  In the us get the word out!  If you don't follow us on Twitter already, you can do so by following PredsOddManRush !  Tell your friends, let us know what you think, and we look forward to seeing you in the future! 

Also, if you have a blog that you like us to link, just drop me a line and I'd be happy to show my support.