Thursday, October 23, 2008

Predators and Flames Hook-Up in Battle of Young Defensemen

The Calgary Flames visit the Sommet Center to match up against the Predators tonight for their first meeting of the year. The game features a roll call of young defensemen from the 2003 Draft that was held in this same building. The Predator’s Ryan Suter (7th pick overall), Shea Weber (47th), and Kevin Klein (37th) will square off against Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf (9th overall).

Dion Phaneuf has long been considered one of the leagues best while Weber, Suter and Klein have yet to meet the high expectations that were set for them early on. Shea Weber has taken a few giant steps this year in giving the Preds what has been expected of them. He currently is tied for the team lead in points and goals, highlighted by last Saturday’s four point – plus 5 performances.

The Predators will also welcome newcomer Nick Tarnasky to the lineup for his first game as a Predator. With his thumb out of a splint, expect to see some early fisticuffs to set the stage for the evening. Captain Jason Arnott is also expected to return after missing three games with a broken finger.

This raises the specter of who will sit out tonight’s game. I would expect that Kevin Klein will get the nod over Ville Koistenen due to the size of Calgary’s team. With early season surprise Joel Ward practicing with the first line yesterday I would also expect that Patric Hornqvist may buy some pine time tonight. Wards presence with Arnott and Dumont would add a different dimension to the first line pair that are in their third year together.

The other person sitting is anyone’s guess possibly Radek Bonk, Jerred Smithson or someone who get’s in Barry Trotz’s doghouse during the pre-game skate. With as many players with similar talent this year when there are no injuries there will be a lot of close calls on who plays and who sits.

The final key to tonight’s game will be to watch how much jump the Predators have from the opening puck drop. With longer layoffs the Preds have returned to the ice fairly sluggishly at times in the last couple of years. Also, with the tendency for first period defensive lapses in a few games this year it will be important for the Predators to be on top of their game right at the start. So let’s drop the puck and go get ‘em Preds!

Team Notes: Joel Ward has been advised leave his hotel room and to get an apartment which is a good sign that he will be here for the duration. So far he has surpassed all expectations… If Hornqvist sits tonight it will not be as much for poor play as it will be to give him a break from the high expectations that were set for him prior to training camp. He has played well so far and will only get better…. Look for Ryan Jones to be a key in tonight’s game. His minutes have increased nightly along with his confidence. Trotz was vey high on his improvement on an NHL Home Ice interview yesterday…. Trotz also seemed more confident than ever that Steve Sullivan will play again this year. I stick by my assessment to not believe it until you see him on the ice.

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass


The following Article is by Buddy Oakes and is a a Reprint from on 10-20-08

Predators Have Been Better on the Ice than They Look on Paper

The Nashville Predators have completed a blistering early season run playing six games in nine nights and currently sit tied for sixth in the Western Conference. The Preds are off until a couple of home games Thursday and Saturday against the Flames and Kings.

If you simply look at what the Predators have done on the stat sheet even the most Pollyanna of the Pred Nation would be screaming that the sky was falling. Through Sunday, the Preds have given up 22 goals, second only to the Dallas Stars. Their penalty kill which was their bread and butter last year (finishing 3rd) was 25th in the league at 73.3%. The power play which was thought to be much improved was 20th in the league at 13.8%. The very inexperienced goalie corp was 25th in the league with a 3.67 GAA and a team save percentage hovering around 86%. The seemingly strong defense has taken a powder a few times in each of their three losses leaving the goalie outmanned and open to several back door goals.

None of the information out lined above looks like it would belong to a team headed for the playoffs even this early in the season. On the bright side the Predators are second in the league in goals scored, not bad for a team considered to be scoring challenged. Eighteen of the twenty players that have dressed have contributed a point including 14 with at least one goal. They have also been playing without the one player they probably can least afford to lose, Captain Jason Arnott who has a broken finger.

The Preds have also been playing without a true enforcer with the newly acquired Nick Tarnasky still out with a broken thumb. That has lead to some very embarrassing moments in the area of pugilism, the worst of which was probably Jerrod Smithson getting owned by Andre Picard last Friday night. Both Arnott and Tarnasky are expected to return on Thursday.

The highlight of the season so far had been the reemergence of Shea Weber as the dominant defenseman that has been expected of him for two years. Slowed by injuries last year he has returned with a vengeance leading the team with seven points, a plus 4 rating and second in ice time with over 24 minutes per game. His coming out party was Saturday night against Columbus where he was a true dominant force scoring a goal, adding 3 assists and ending up with a plus 5 rating.

The biggest question at the start of training camp was who would file the three or four open roster spots from a group of prospects and rookies. The answer was Patric Hornqvuist, Ryan Jones and Joel Ward.

Patric Hornqvist has looked like a solid player since the start of camp and has been spending time on the first line and even taking shifts on the power play unit. Jones was shaky in his first game of the year and bought a night of pine duty in the process. Since then his confidence, production and ice time has grown nightly. One of his assist against Columbus started one of the most amazing plays I’ve ever seen. After a drop pass to Mary Erat, Jones skated straight at goalie Norrena completely screening him from Erat’s shot which went through Jones’ skates and Norrena’s five hole. The camp’s biggest surprise has been Joel Ward, a completely unheralded minor league free agent who played in Houston last year. His grit, determination and defense has made him an instant Barry Trotz and fan favorite. He has picked up two goals and an assist while becoming a staple on an already excellent penalty kill unit.

The Predators schedule is not particularly friendly until American Thanksgiving week. 13 of their first 20 contests are on the road. They have already played three home openers on the road. If the Predators can continue to come together as a unit, stay injury free, and play a few games over .500 in their first quarter of the season, they should be in good shape to make another run at the playoffs.

Pred Notes: Don’t believe a word of the Steve Sullivan returns rumors being repeated on NHL Home Ice 204. Sully has played his last NHL game and will never return… Jed Ortmeyer’s return is somewhat more optimistic probably within a month or so. His biggest issue will be finding a spot on an improved roster… It is still surprising that Martin Gelinas has not found a home this far into the season. I hear he is game ready and working out daily with a Canadian college team.

1 comment:

missing301 said...

I will get to see the Flames on Saturday night in Phoenix. I think that they have some amazing talent at every position.