Hockey is a simple game. Score more than your opponent and you win. Keep the puck out of your net and you win.
Both have been a challenge for the Nashville Predators this season.
Through 10 games, the Predators stand 3-6-1 and have seven points. Offensively, it was known that the Predators would need scoring from the top two lines to be successful. Scoring from the top lines has been spotty at best. The point totals for the top six forwards are:
- J. P. Dumont, 7
- Patric Hornqvist, 7
- Jason Arnott, 5
- Steve Sullivan, 2
- David Legwand, 1
- Martin Erat, 1
Dumont's seven points come by virtue of a five-point effort against Ottawa. Arnott is on IR and has missed the last two games. His replacement, Cal O'Reilly, is without a point.
Notable in this list of forwards is the production, or lack thereof, of Sullivan, Legwand, and Erat. In the offseason, all three were rewarded with new contracts. Erat, Legwand, and Arnott are the highest paid players on the team; Sullivan is the fifth highest paid player.
Production from these forwards has not been commensurate with their compensation, and this is being reflected in the record of the team.
Obviously, you have to shoot the puck to score. This fact seems to be lost on some of the forwards. In the first 10 games, Erat is averaging 2.1 SOG, Sullivan 1.8 SOG, and Legwand a paltry 1.3 SOG. It is a simple game—shoot the puck and you have an opportunity to score. This has to change quickly for the offense to have a chance at being productive.
Third and fourth line scoring has been virtually non-existent. These lines have combined for two (count 'em—two) goals. This simply means that the top two lines face the best defensive pairings of their opponent every night and they are being effectively contained. Secondary scoring has yet to materialize and thus the offense continues to sputter.
One of the supposed strengths of the Predators is their defense. This strength has turned into a disappointing weakness. The first D pairing of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter is even in the plus/minus column.
The second pairing of Dan Hamhuis (currently out due to injury) and Kevin Klein has been atrocious. In seven games, Hamhuis is minus seven and through 10 games Klein is minus eight.
In the third pairing, Teemu Laakso (who was sent to AHL affiliate Milwaukee after seven games) and Francis Bouillon minus two and minus four, respectively. Defensive breakdowns have left players alone in front of the net or in prime scoring positions and have resulted in the puck ending up in the back of the Predators' net.
Through 10 contests, the D corps has yet to look settled and the result is that the Predators are typically out-shot in every contest.
General Manager David Poile staked the season on young players being able to make the jump to the NHL level and be productive. Adding free agents to bolster the offense or to replace free agent losses to the defense was shunned in favor of bringing up young talent from Milwaukee.
So far, this experiment has not yielded the results expected, and this is being reflected in the play on the ice. The youngsters on the roster show promise, but the question is, when will this promise translate into performance?
Ten games do not make the season, but 10 games allow trends to emerge. Those trends—anemic offense and shaky defense—do not bode well for the Predators. How quickly the veterans start to produce and young players make the adjustment to the NHL will determine if this season will be successful.