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Preds System Coming Together

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
Over the past month and a half the Preds have been the hottest team in the NHL, ripping off a 13-4-1 mark since late October – ironically starting with a 4-3 win over tonight’s opponent, the Minnesota Wild.

Broadcasters Take
The Preds broadcasting trio of Tom Callahan, Terry Crisp, and Pete Weber gave their views on the first quarter of the 2009-10 NHL season. (click here)
During preseason Preds Head Coach Barry Trotz said for this year’s team to be successful his best players needed to play like the team’s best players – a sentiment he’s repeated frequently throughout the early parts of this season. For a variety of reasons during the early weeks of October, those key players weren’t necessarily Nashville’s best, and the result was a 3-6-1 mark through the first 10 games of the season. The team was among the league leaders in man-games lost to injury: Jason Arnott and JP Dumont traded injuries and had only played a handful of games together; Jordin Tootoo and Joel Ward both missed time; Dan Hamhuis – who played at least 80 games in each of his first five NHL seasons – missed four straight games with an injury; Martin Erat and David Legwand struggled out of the gate.

The coaches juggled the roster to try to find the right combinations – shuffled defensive pairings, forward line combinations, shuttled players in from Milwaukee.

“Sometimes what you think would be a good pairing or a good line on paper it should be automatic and in reality it’s just not,” Coach Trotz said. “Can’t really explain it, it’s life, it’s chemistry, it’s your style of game.”

“We’ve lost the Nichols, the Ortmeyers, the Fiddlers, the Bonks, those type of veteran guys. We now have a little more depth, but a couple guys we aren’t as familiar with – Goc, Guite, Olvecky, Scatchard – people like that. We had to find out who fits the right way into our team, our style. We had to rely on what we saw in training camp, see on a daily basis in practice, but sometimes when you play the games it turns out the other way, guys aren’t producing or the fit isn’t quite right, so we’ve had to experiment a little more at the start this year to get it right. But having that depth has given us the flexibility to experiment, too.”

Self Evaluation
At the start of training camp listed out three keys to 2009-10; a third of the way through the season it’s time to check in and see how the Preds have faired.

1)Health – in many ways the Preds season has mirrored it’s injury report; the team was injury riddled at the very start (and struggled to play “Preds hockey”) but has seen the injury report reduced in recent weeks (and has been one of the hottest teams in the league). Still, 54 man-games lost to injury (the team’s total through 28 games played) is a pretty significant number – probably a good sign that the team’s had as much success considering the injuries.

2)Goaltending – the Preds rank 10th in the NHL in goals against, allowing 2.64 goals per game. Dan Ellis was the star in last night’s win at Chicago; Pekka Rinne was the key to the team’s seven-game winning streak in late November.

3)Youth – the Preds have already used 28 different skaters this season (they used 28 all of last season and 26 the season before), the depth created by the young guys has allowed the Coaches the flexibility to mix-and-match and has allowed the team to overcome injuries to key players. Cal O’Reilly (23 years old) assisted on the team’s first goal last night. Mike Santorelli (23) has been a contributor both during regulation and as a shootout stud. Patric Hornqvist (22) was the team’s offensive star in October. Ryan Jones (25) Peter Olvecky (24), Andreas Thuresson (22), Colin Wilson (20) have all chipped in up front. Kevin Klein (24) has shouldered more responsibility – skating almost eight minutes a game more than he did last season – and Cody Franson (22) has grabbed a regular spot in the top-six defensive grouping. Teemu Laakso (22) did an admirable job opening the season with the big club, and Alexander Sulzer (25) has been rounding into shape after missing the last half of ’08-09 to injury.
Then things started to change – the team got healthy, Arnott-Dumont- Sullivan started taking over, the goaltending took off. In short, the team’s best players stepped up. “We’re getting Erat on the scoreboard, Legwand, Sullivan, Arnott,” Coach Trotz said. “Those guys are big contributors, and it shows up more on special teams because that’s where they get the big minutes. As you’ve seen our success has increased as the special teams have improved.”

But it’s not just scoring where the best players have stepped it, it’s been their all-around play. “There is more to being the best player than just getting on the score sheet,” said Trotz. “Good players have to fight for ice to be good players –good players have to play on both ends of the ice. If you’re just maybe a pure offensive player, then you’re just trading chances. To me, be it a player or a good line, you’re good when you can play on both ends of the ice and produce. Production’s more than just the points. I could take a guy like Jerred Smithson, he doesn’t have a lot on the stats sheets, but he’s a good player. In his role, he’s a very good player. He commits himself in penalty killing, commits himself physically and in details. Same thing with Joel Ward. Ward doesn’t have to score a lot of points to be successful for us.”

The line of Legwand, Smithson, and Ward has been a huge part of the Preds recent success, contributing key two-way performances throughout the team’s recent string. They’ve been asked to match up against the opponent’s top offensive threat – drawing defensive responsibilities against the likes of Ryan Getzlaf, Anze Kopitar, Joe Thornton and Dany Heatley, Zach Parise, Rick Nash, Pavel Datsyuk, Jarome Iginla – but since late October have still made major offensive contributions and contributed “plus” plus-minus ratings. Legwand has 10 points over the last 10 games; Smithson has already matched his goals total from last season; Ward has 11 points in the last 18 games (after registering one in the team’s first 10 games of the season).

“It’s immense how they’ve contributed, especially since Wardo’s come back and gotten his legs back,” Trotz stated. “They play against the top lines every night. They produce timely goals, they kill penalties, they eat huge minutes against top competition. There are other guys on our team who can’t do that. They contribute in a real big way. That’s another example of if you’re not contributing on the score sheet, you can find other ways to contribute and they contribute in a winning way for us.”

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