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Central: Predators are sneaking up on a team near you

by Phil Coffey /
Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Why? Because the Nashville Predators are living up to their name, preying on the rest of the NHL.

Heading into Tuesday's road game in Vancouver, the Predators sit in second place in the Central Division, just two points back of the Chicago Blackhawks and have won four straight and are 7-1-2 in their last 10.

"Early in the year, we tried to play way too perimeter, a little too cute," coach Barry Trotz said after notching a road win in Calgary Saturday, 5-3. "We got back to very basic hockey. Now it's throw some pucks on the net and go to the hard areas and you get rewarded. That's what most teams do in our league now."

And it's working. Dating to their second period last Saturday against Detroit on Dec. 12, the Predators have scored a goal in 14 consecutive regulation periods, the longest such streak in the NHL this season according to Elias Sports Bureau. The Preds have scored more than one goal in six of those 14 periods, including a 5-goal explosion in the second period against Tampa Bay last Tuesday.

The last team to score at least one goal in 14 consecutive regulation periods was the Buffalo Sabres from Dec. 13-22, 2008 (14 periods). The last team to score at least one goal in more than 14 straight regulation periods was the Detroit Red Wings with a string of 18 from Oct. 18-29, 2008.

Over the 14-period string, 19 Preds have picked up a point, including 12 goal scorers led by Patric Hornqvist, who was named the NHL's Third Star of the Week on Monday, and David Legwand with seven points.

One of the pleasant surprises has been the play of former San Jose Shark Marcel Goc, who picked up 3 points in the win over Calgary. With Jason Arnott sidelined, Goc moved to the Preds' top line and played 19:45. In his last three games, Goc has 2 goals and 4 assists.

"I feel very comfortable playing him in an offensive role or defensive role," Trotz told John Glennon of The Tennessean. "He's come through for us. No. 1, he's had a few years to mature in the League. Second, I think he's getting an opportunity. Third, he's got good skills and hockey sense. We're seeing those things come together.

"Not everyone develops at 21 or 22. He's just gotten a good opportunity with us."

And he has made the most of it. Goc's 6 goals and 6 assists in 34 games already surpassed the totals he posted with the Sharks in 55 games last season.

More on the Preds -- There are plenty of interesting stories around the Predators these days. One is the comeback efforts of veteran Dave Scatchard, whose efforts to return to the NHL are an inspiration.

Also, the Predators have quite the young defense, so while Nashville is scoring consistently, the defensive play of Ryan Suter and Shea Weber has them in the thick of consideration for Olympic berths.

Sticking with it -- Technology can be a cool think. Just ask Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell.

According to Tim Sassone in the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, Campbell just wasn't happy with his sticks. What to do?

As sportscaster Warner Wolf says "Let's go to the video tape!"

Which is just what Campbell did to pinpoint a problem with his sticks that has since been corrected, scoring twice in three games since getting new twigs.

"I did a motion capture with the stick, kind of like a golfer does, to see where the bend was, and it was bending too much," Campbell said.

And now?

"It's a little bit stronger in the hozzle of the stick just to enable me to get the shot up," Campbell told Sassone. "It's not bending as much in that area anymore. The shot feels like it's coming off quicker and harder.

"I'm able to shoot higher on a lot of my shots, which is a benefit a lot of times for a defenseman because, obviously, the goaltender is going down, and even guys going down to block shots are lying down so you have to get it over them. And when there's a screen in front you want to shoot for the higher areas."

Well Said -- "There's nothing we can do about it so let's keep on keeping on. I've never seen anything like this in my life ... but in the meantime we have to grind it out and find a way to win."

-- Red Wings coach Mike Babcock

Airing out the Blues -- Anyone who has met St. Louis Blues General Manager Larry Pleau would describe him as a gentleman.

But after a 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay on Friday night, Pleau had seen enough and reportedly lit into his team.

The dressing room remained closed for 20 minutes after the game, and when the media were allowed in, players were still in their equipment, a sure sign something has happened.

Defenseman Erik Johnson told Josh Cooper in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Pleau's message was "pretty much that everybody needs to be held accountable and everyone needs to play up to par, and there is no excuse for not playing well every night and being consistent."

"We're not shocked by anything that happened, closed-door meetings or anything like that," Barret Jackman said. "It's something that has come to a boiling point, and it's everybody in our room that has to change things right now."

"It had got to the point where something had to be said, and it was said, and now we move on." -- St. Louis Blues forward, Keith Tkachuk

Added forward Keith Tkachuk, "It had got to the point where something had to be said, and it was said, and now we move on."

The Blues moved on with a 3-1 win over the Canucks in Vancouver on Sunday.

"There's obviously a little vendetta," David Backes said. "Maybe we should pretend every team kicked our dog before the game. I'm an animal advocate by the way, but it seems like when teams show us up we come back the next time and play a good hard game and get the best of them."

Honoring Murray and Olczyk -- Former Blackhawk players and current announcers Troy Murray (Jan. 14) and Eddie Olczyk (April 11) have been added to the Hawks' series of Heritage Nights.

"Troy and Eddie are both highly deserving of a night that honors their impact on the organization," club executive Jay Blunk said. "We are proud to recognize their accomplishments in this way."

Other Heritage Nights in the 2009-10 season will honor Tony Esposito (Feb. 9) and Denis Savard (March 10).

In Columbus, win and you're in -- Coach Ken Hitchcock has told his players that Steve Mason is no longer the Blue Jackets' No. 1 goalie.

"Win and you're in," Hitchcock told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch. "That's just where we're at now. If a guy wins, he gets to keep going.

"We can't wait any longer to get going."

So, Mathieu Garon, who is 4-3-2 with a .908 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against average, got the start Monday night in Phoenix.

Mason struggled mightily in a 5-2 loss to Colorado Saturday, allowing 3 goals on five shots and lasting just 4:15. It's the fifth time Mason has been pulled in 28 starts. Mason is 10-12-5 with an .887 save percentage and 3.41 goals-against average, including an .874 save percentage and 4.06 goals-against average on the road.
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