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Predators searching for answers on offense

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE -- When it was pointed out to Nashville Predators general manager David Poile following the team's morning skate Friday that it was averaging fewer than two goals per game, he observed that his questioner did not need to whisper -- everyone around the organization is living with the reality of the offensive woes.

Entering a game Friday against the Edmonton Oilers, the Predators were averaging 1.96 goals per game, not only the lowest in the League but also putting them on pace to become the second team since the NHL began playing 70-game seasons in 1949-50 to average fewer than two goals per game. (The 1953-54 Chicago Blackhawks recorded the lowest output at 1.9 goals per game.)

To that end, Poile began doing what he could to the roster this week with waiver claims for Zach Boychuk (from the Pittsburgh Penguins) and Bobby Butler (from the New Jersey Devils). The Predators also called up 25-year-old defenseman Victor Bartley, who played in the American Hockey League All-Star Game this season. It's possible all three will be in the lineup when Nashville takes on Edmonton on Friday at Bridgestone Arena, although coach Barry Trotz did not tip his hand after the skate.

"As they say: if the people won't change, then we need to change the people. Again, we're just floundering for no particular reason. I believe the answers are within but we're at the midway point of this condensed season and it's pretty worrisome where we are (11th in the Western Conference)."
-- Predators GM David Poile

"I always look at it this way: If you get picked up on a waivers, it's a new opportunity, so it's really on them to show what they can do and you should have high expectations," Trotz said. "And if I don't have high expectations of them being able to do something and then they don't have high expectations, then I shouldn't expect anything…. so I'm expecting good games from them.

"It's where I'm at."

Butler has 17 career goals in 108 games with Ottawa and New Jersey, although he had one goal and one assist in 14 games this season. Boychuk, the 14th pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, has seven goals in 80 career games but had no points in eight games this season with the Penguins.

Both players have strong track records of scoring in the AHL: Butler had 22 goals in 47 games with Binghamton in 2010-11 and Boychuk has 60 goals in 215 career AHL games. Neither player is of the large variety: Butler is listed at 6-foot, 189 pounds and Boychuk at 5-10, 185.

Signs are pointing in the direction of the Predators giving both players a legitimate chance. In recent days at practice, Butler skated with Craig Smith and Martin Erat, traditionally one of Nashville's top points producers who has struggled this season with three goals in 22 games. Boychuk skated with Mike Fisher and Patric Hornqvist, who has led Nashville in goals in two of the past three seasons.

Boychuk, who said he was told by Trotz that he likes his speed, was asked what the biggest difference is between scoring at the AHL and NHL levels.

"I think the biggest thing is just opportunity," he said. "Obviously, it's easy to put lots of points up when you're getting lots of power-play minutes and you're playing 25 minutes a night down in the American League, but when you come to the NHL you've got to work for your ice time and get that trust from the coach that you can be out there in all situations. You've got to keep pushing and bury some goals early. I think that would definitely help."

Butler also voiced comments about opportunity but he hit on something more concrete.

"Yeah, just got to shoot the puck and bring a little energy and just try to make things happen, really," he said.

Getting more shots for Nashville is a key; the Predators also rank last in the League in that category at 23.9 per game, almost three per game fewer than the 29th-place Columbus Blue Jackets. Poile, who said he is not big on stats, pointed that one in particular out. Nashville has gone from first last season on the power play to 26th this season.

Butler could help in the shot department -- he entered this season with 161 in 94 games while averaging 12:55 per game in time on ice.

"Anaheim is leading the League in the power play, they're leading the League in power-play shots," Poile said. "We're almost at the bottom in the power play and we have the fewest shots on the power play. I honestly think it's as simple as that."

Part of what makes the Predators' struggles so puzzling is that with few exceptions -- wing Rich Clune and defenseman Scott Hannan in addition to the three additions this week -- every other player was on the team last season when the Predators ranked eighth in the League in scoring. The one obvious omission from the club of a season ago is defenseman Ryan Suter, who signed as a free agent with the Minnesota Wild.

Poile said the moves were about shaking things up and giving coaches more options.

"The message is pretty clear to everybody that we're not happy with where we are and we're starting to take measures," he said. "As they say: if the people won't change, then we need to change the people. Again, we're just floundering for no particular reason. I believe the answers are within but we're at the midway point of this condensed season and it's pretty worrisome where we are (11th in the Western Conference standings).

"We're not living up to our expectations."

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