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Central: Flying under the radar is working for the Predators

by Larry Wigge

J.P. Dumont is right at the forefront, leading and picking up the scoring slack for the new-look Nashville Predators.
There are certain words you never expect to hear in a sports locker room. One of them is stealth, aka flying under the radar, a surprise weapon.

Now that I look back at it, maybe it wasn’t so surprising hearing that word in the Nashville Predators’ dressing room this season, but not last spring in the first round of the playoffs.

After all, this season’s Predators are built on character, discipline and second chances. And without stars like Paul Kariya, Peter Forsberg, Tomas Vokoun, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell.

All that high-scoring, speed-up-front attack that amassed a 51-23-8 record, good for a third-place tie in the NHL with 110 points, had to be forgotten, erased. Back to the future in Music City would be determined when the Predators’ players embraced the fact that they needed to be all about stealth.

Prior to seeing their roster in such flux after the announcement that the Preds were in limbo regarding the ownership of the team, injured winger Steve Sullivan told me this about regular linemate J.P. Dumont after he scored four times in five games of the playoffs in April: "J.P. is not the fastest skater in the game, nor does he have the hardest shot. But he’s so stealth out there. Being in the right place at the right time. It’s an instinct, a knack. It’s kind of like a magical, now-you-see-him-now-you-don’t ability that certain players just have.

"I know one thing: He’s a dangerous, dangerous player for us."

The Montreal native says he knew he would fit perfectly in Nashville when he left Buffalo following the 2005-06 season, after helping the Sabres make it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final with a fast, quick-striking offense. That is exactly what the Predators were building as well ... until the losses of Kariya, Forsberg, Vokoun, Timonen and Hartnell.

This season, however, after a rough six-game losing streak in which the entire team stumbled to find its work ethic, character and identity, Dumont is right at the forefront, leading and picking up the scoring slack for the new-look Predators.

It’s funny, but this under-the-radar theme that seems so prevalent in Nashville today first popped up regarding J.P. Dumont for me at the 1996 NHL Entry Draft, when the New York Islanders chose him third overall behind Chris Phillips and Andre Zyuzin. Former Islanders dynasty-builder Bill Torrey smiled at the choice of his former team and said that Dumont had the same elusive offensive knack of another Isles great, Mike Bossy.

But like in so many other draft-day comparisons, the prospect just can’t meet the lofty expectations and winds up moving from city to city before he finds the role that fits him best. For Dumont, that meant a trade from the Islanders to Chicago before he ever had a chance to play on Long Island. Then another deal to Buffalo, before he got to hand-pick his destination of Nashville in the summer of 2006.

It became clear early that the 29-year-old Dumont would never match the 59 goals in 55 games he had in his last junior season at Val-D’Or in the Quebec League. Or, for that matter, the 32 goals in 50 games he had for the Islanders’ American Hockey League affiliate in 1998-99.

"I remember going down to Portland that year and not scoring a goal in 10 or 11 games. I was confused, frustrated," Dumont remembers today. "I found out that in professional hockey you’re not going to fake your way through two or three defenders and then go to the net. I didn’t have that kind of speed ... and the opposition was a lot bigger and stronger and faster than in junior hockey."

But the welcome to the NHL realization didn’t click in for the teen-aged Dumont until ...

"Mark Kumpel (Portland coach) told me to sit in the press box for a few games," Dumont recalled. "I remember him telling me, ‘You’re a smart player, you’ll figure out what’s missing.’ What was missing was a hunger to win the little battles, putting myself in a position to create offense. Simple as that."

The role that Dumont comfortably has fit into over the last six NHL seasons is as a second-line winger who gets his 20-plus goals (in five of the last six seasons) and winds up in position to score at the most opportune times. Dumont had seven goals and seven assists in 18 games playoff games for the Sabres in their drive to the Eastern Conference final in 2005-06, and he had four goals in just five games in the playoffs for the Predators last season.

It's a God-given ability Dumont’s got. Pure goal scorer who can get open, is capable of beating guys one-on-one in the tough areas and he can shoot the puck. He reads plays well and reacts to situations.

Dumont, who was 4 years old when he started skating, has six goals and six assists this season and could surpass his career-high of 23 goals that he had in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons.

But not without having to prove himself once again. He’s always had to prove himself. He was always told by coaches that was too small, too slow to ever think about a pro hockey career.

"Every step, they all told me they didn't know if I could make it to the next step," said Dumont. "All I did was score goals. And I grew a lot. I just took it step by step."

Dumont has six goals and six assists this season and could surpass his career-high of 23 goals that he had in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons.

In the back of Dumont’s mind, however, there were little voices encouraging him. Voices of his grandfather, Maurice, who was a defenseman of some repute in junior hockey in Quebec and who influenced him to take up the game at age 4. Also his dad, Pierre, who was a tailor in Montreal, and his mom, Johanne, who worked at a post office, were behind him 100 percent.

But this time, the little voice in Dumont’s head knew right away that his latest step to Nashville was perfect for himself, his wife Kristin, and daughters Ella and Ava. It was warm, friendly, and vibrant. Just what the Dumonts from Quebec, via, Long Island, Chicago and Buffalo, wanted to find.

"I remember when I went in there to talk to the Predators, from the guy who served us at the restaurant to the people on the street, it was such a warm feeling," Dumont said. "And (GM) David Poile and (coach) Barry Trotz said they wanted me for my skill ... but they also wanted me for my leadership."

When Dumont said that, it sounded like no one had ever said that about him.

"You go to build a house and you’re looking for everything. But most of all you’re looking for character people, trying to build on a solid foundation." Trotz said. "J.P. gave us the goal-scoring we were looking for last season. And this season, with all of the players we lost, we were looking for more ... "

That stealth mindset.

"J.P. immediately took ownership of his role as a leader along with his accountability on offense," Trotz continued. "It’s funny, but when you’re building a house ... and if a few of those building blocks happen to be missing, it’s sometimes easier to knock down the house."

But the foundation still is there in Nashville. It’s built on hard work, character, leadership and being gritty when you have to be.

"They talk about getting to the right place at the right time individually, but it applies to a team as well," Dumont said, with a hint of that leadership Trotz was talking about. "I think we had a little false security identity after the first two games this season (two wins before the six-game losing streak). Maybe we felt we would still be able to open up the offense and score goals like we did last season. But after losing six straight we tumbled right back to reality.

"We have to play under the radar. Work hard. Be hard to play against."

He winked and said, "You’d be surprised how many times that kind of work ethic puts you in the right place at the right time."

J.P. Dumont would know all about being stealth now, wouldn’t he?


Around the Central Division -- Every coach wants his team to make things happen on the power play. Only Red Wings coach Mike Babcock wanted a little more of the two power-play goals his team scored in Columbus Nov. 18 in a 5-4 shootout win over the Blue Jackets, not the one power-play goal and three short-handed goals against that Chicago put on them at Detroit one night earlier in a 5-3 loss. .... In Detroit’s shootout win, Johan Franzen, who was sidelined for 10 games earlier this season with a sprained kneecap and had no points so far in what was expected to be a promising and productive season for the second-year pro, beat the Blue Jackets with a shootout goal. ... The victory ended a three-game losing streak – all in Central Division games – and enabled the Red Wings to avoid going four straight games without a point since losing five in a row from Dec. 18 to 26, 1998. ... While his consecutive point streak of 24 games over the last two seasons was stopped in St. Louis, Henrik Zetterberg continued to get points at home – stretching his streak to 25 games since midway through last season. ... One big worry, however, is the Wings still are waiting for Dominik Hasek to take charge after he gave up four goals on 12 shots and was removed from a game in St. Louis Nov. 13 and was dented for another four goals on 16 shots against Chicago four nights later. Through his career, “The Dominator” has had microscopic numbers in the month of December. There are fans in Detroit who are wondering if that spike in Hasek’s game will come this season. ... Playing their third game in four nights was reflected in the shot total of 42-17 in favor of Detroit, but this season’s Blackhawks have proven to be an opportunistic, timely-scoring group. They never more opportunistic than at Joe Louis Arena on Nov. 17, when Rene Bourque scored two short-handed goals and Patrick Sharp had one of his three goals while Chicago was down a man. The Blackhawks have scored eight shorthanded goals this season – all three of Bourque’s goals have come shorthanded and three of Sharp’s 10 have come in penalty-killing situations (Ottawa was next in the NHL with five short-handed goals). The four points by Sharp in that game were a


career-high. ... The bad news is that Bourque, who looked like he was just beginning to find his form, broke his right thumb in that record-tying performance and will be out 4-6 weeks. The good news? Martin Havlat, team MVP from last season when he had 25 goals and 32 assists in 56 games, is due back this week from a shoulder ailment that has sidelined him since the first week of the season. ... The 11 wins the Blackhawks had in their first 20 games is the most through the quarter pole since 2001. ... Talk about a turnover in talent – bet you didn’t know that Tuomo Ruutu and Jim Vandermeer are the only players left on the Blackhawks from their pre-lockout 2003-04 season. ... Brad Boyes again. And again. And again. Three straight game-winning goals for the St. Louis Blues Nov. 16, 17 and 19. The third game-winner, Nov. 19 in a 2-1 victory over Nashville at St. Louis, gave Boyes four game-winning goals this season and three game-winners in three games against the Predators. Boyes, who didn’t score his 12th goal last season until Feb. 24, now has 10 of the Blues’ 29 goals in 10 games at home. ... That win gave the Blues a four-game winning streak, each of the decisions by one goal. ... A goal and an assist for Paul Kariya gave him one goal and three assists in three games against his former Nashville teammates, and two goals and seven assists (of his five-goal, 15-assist total this season) against his former teams – Nashville, Colorado and Anaheim – in just five games. ... Radek Bonk, signed by the Nashville Predators as a free-agent checking-line center in the summer, scored his team-leading eighth goal of the season in the loss at St. Louis. Bonk had 13 goals in Montreal last season. ... Before the loss in St. Louis, the Predators had gone eight consecutive games with at least one point (6-0-2). ... Alexander Radulov is beginning to look more comfortable on Nashville’s No. 1 line with David Legwand and Martin Erat, totaling three goals and five assists in a recent six-game stretch. As a rookie last season he had 18 goals while playing just over 11 minutes a game. This season, he’s added four minutes per game on average and already has five goals and 10 assists. ... Defenseman Shea Weber’s return from a dislocated kneecap in the first game of the season should help Nashville’s power play. He had a career-high 17 goals last season. ... The Columbus Blue Jackets still are lamenting the four points they’ve squandered in four shootout losses this season. Things are looking up, however. Before their Nov. 18 shootout against Detroit, the Jackets had gone 0-for-9 in three shootouts. But against the Red Wings, Nikolai Zherdev and Rick Nash each scored on their shootout attempts. ... Zherdev, by the way, is starting to heat up for Columbus after slumping from 27 goals in 2005-06 to just 10 last season. He was electric against Detroit, getting one goal and two assists in addition to his shootout tally to raise his season’s totals to six goals and nine assists. He looked particularly at home on a line with Rick Nash and Sergei Fedorov against the Red Wings. ... Rick Nash had 12 goals in his last 16 games. ... Defenseman Jan Hejda was an under-the-radar free-agent signing from Edmonton. All he’s done with the Blue Jackets is pair with captain Adam Foote as the team’s No. 1 shut-down unit on defense while posting a team-best plus-7 plus-minus number and helped the team to limit opponents to just one power-play goal in Columbus’ first nine home games.

The week ahead -- Red Wings-Blue Jackets Round 3 of 8 Nov. 24 in Columbus. Daniel Cleary, who had seven goals to help the Red Wings win five of eight contests last season, scored twice in a 4-1 triumph Nov. 9, and the Wings made it seven of 10 games over the Jackets with the 5-4 shootout win Nov. 18. ... Columbus travels to Edmonton Nov. 26. This game has a special meaning to first-year Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson, who worked in the Oilers front office the previous 13 seasons. ... Tampa Bay at Chicago Nov. 28 and at Detroit Nov. 29. The interest in these contests will be how Blackhawks young stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane hold up under the microscope of having to go head-to-head against either Vinny Lecavalier or Brad Richards. In Detroit, it will be a marquee matchup of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk against either Lecavalier or Richards.

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