Seven games into the season, the Predators stand at 2-4-1, and a picture of this team, and potentially their season, is starting to emerge. While there remains a lot of hockey to play, the Predators are showing some traits that are promising and some tendencies that are troubling. Looking at these gives us an idea where this team is headed this season.
When the Predators play their style of hockey, they have the ability to win. That style is solid defense, an aggressive forecheck, sound goaltending, and throwing the puck at the net. This formula worked against Colorado and Dallas in their two victories and their shoot out loss to Washington. What this team lacks in explosive offense, they compensate with shots on goal and second, or third chances, for scoring opportunities. When they are aggressive on the forecheck, they create offensive opportunities. The defense corps can be good when they play fundamental hockey. And Dan Ellis and Pekka Rinne have the capability to be first class goalies.
These are the traits that the Predators have to bring to the ice every night. Victories will not be pretty with this team, and fans of the team will rarely see an offensive explosion. So be it. This team has won in the past with this formula, and has shown the ability to win this season playing this type of hockey.
There are, however, some troubling tendencies that have been displayed early in this season that are a cause for concern. While the first D pairing of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter have been very good, the remaining defensive corp has been shaky at times, often leaving opposing players uncovered around the net. The second D pairing of Kevin Klein and Dan Hamhuis (who is out of the line up with an injury), were both -7 through six games. The third pairing of Francis Buillon (-3 throughsix games) and Teemu Laakso (-4 through six games) have struggled with consistency. With the D struggling, the Predators have given up numerous quality scoring opportunities to the opposition. Young players have been thrust into some prominent roles for this team and have not been consistent. For this team to have success, the defense will have to improve their effort and play sound hockey in their zone.
Perhaps more troubling for the Predators has been the lack of scoring outside of the top line. Jason Arnott, Patric Hornqvist, and Steve Sullivan, who comprise the top offensive line, were the only scorers for the Predators through the first five games. Second line winger Marty Erat got his only goal and point in game six, a 3-1 loss to Chicago. Second line center David Legwand, Mike Santorelli and Cal O'Reilly, who have split time at the other wing, are all without a point on the season. Prior to the start of the season, Head Coach Barry Trotz specifically cited Legwand and Erat, saying these two players had to step up their production for the Predators to be successful. So far, this production has been lacking, and it is reflected in the win/loss column.
This team is thin on quality, veteran talent, so injuries are definitely a concern. Top line forward J.P. Dumont missed four games with concussion like symptoms after being checked headfirst into the the boards in the first game against Dallas. Captain Jason Arnott has been placed on IR and is called out for approximately two weeks after suffering a shoulder injury in the last game against Washington. And the most experienced defense man, Dan Hamhuis, is out indefinitely with an upper body injury suffered in the sixth game against Chicago. Injuries are a fact of life in hockey, but with a dirth of proven talent, they have hit the Predators especially hard. It will be imperative for younger players to step in and produce and play Predator hockey for this team to be successful
Head Coach Barry Trotz talks about resiliency and dealing with adversity. The resiliency of this team is being tested early. Trotz has a reputation for getting the most out of the talent that he puts on the ice. He, like his team, will need their best effort to put more wins on the board.
In this young season, the Predators have shown the ability to have success on the ice. They have also shown the tendency to totally break down and get embarrassed. Wins will come by playing Predator hockey, learning from the painful early season lessons, and displaying the resiliency that the coaches preach.
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