At 28-16-3, the Nashville Predators have held in the playoff hunt much longer than a lot of analysts or "analysts" predicted at the start of the season. There were even some who predicted the Preds to finish as low as 14th in the Western Conference. I predicted the team to finish 10th. My reasoning was that other teams made additions and got better while the Preds sat back watching division rivals and conference foes make their respective teams better.
The one thing that the Preds would have on their side is coaching. It has to be surprising that Barry Trotz has kept his job for so long and the same could be said for the entire coaching staff. There have been numerous times over the last few years where it looked ideal to fire him. However, has kept this team in the playoff hunt every year since 2004 regardless of which personnel still remain. Some believe that Trotz's style which has evolved from a collapsing trap-style early on in his tenure to a faster-paced style in accordance with the new lockout changes to now, a slower, defense first style of hockey. While some say that this team needs a new style of coaching to get past the first round, others will counter that in saying that the team needs the players that are able to do that and that this team financially cannot afford to get those players. However, most players can adapt to a different style very easy and in many ways are more suited to that (see Peverley, Rich). Regardless, the Preds have a great coaching staff and they were rewarded yesterday with a contract extension.
What else has led to this team's great play so far this season? As far as individual efforts, the first man to look at is Patric Hornqvist. He's my favourite player on this year's team because he does everything well. He's got hands, a decent shot, he goes to the net and isn't afraid of going into the corners. He gets on opposing team's nerves when he does crash the net and draws the scorn of defensemen. Most people on the outside point out Shea Weber as a reason for the Preds doing well but I would argue otherwise. He really does not look like the Shea Weber we are used to. Not surprisingly, he has played with a cracked ankle for the last few months but we are told by Trotz himself that its gotten better. Cody Franson has been a pleasant surprise this year. The Sicamous, B.C. native looked shaky early on and especially shaky in his first game in Vancouver since the 2007 Memorial Cup but otherwise, he has shown tremendous poise and makes very mature decisions out there. It wouldn't surprise me if he has been taking tips from Francis Bouillon, who in his own right has also been solid for the Preds.
Back to my original question, is this team for real? Normally, that question gets answered after the 25-30 game mark when the novelty act of the start of the season wears off and teams start to play like how they should be. The Preds started slow and built up, earning winning streaks of 7, 4 and 4 games respectively. The alternate goaltenders idea has worked somewhat but it must be frustrating for the goalies themselves to not be able to build up any rhythm. This results in poor starts and them getting pulled early, something that we have been used to over the last year and a half. The S-A-D line is no more and was not as effective as they were as a 2nd-3rd line in 06/07. Legwand and Erat aren't always playing together and one of the better line combinations IMO was indeed Erat-Goc-Tootoo until Toots got hurt. I'd love to know the record splits on Toots being in the lineup versus being out of the lineup. He certainly has been noticeable this year and the 9 points in 19 games was pretty solid for him.
My thoughts on the Burrows-Auger controversy...From a neutral perspective, I thought that the game itself was consistent in the fact that the refs kept making penalty calls, good and bad. They made it clear that they were not going to put away the whistle for the duration of the game. While the interference call on Burrows was weak and maybe the dive too, the Preds also had some weak calls like the Bouillon and Ellis penalties. To those who are upset that Auger did not receive punishment, don't be. You need EVIDENCE to prove him guilty. The video doesn't cut it. It doesn't make sense for Auger to come out to Burrows BEFORE the game and tell him what he allegedly did. and why doesn't Burrows tell the coaching staff this right away? why does he go to the media before going to his own GM/boss? On the flip side, it wouldn't make sense for Burrows to make this up but I wonder if he would have said anything had the Canucks won that night... Personally, I think this was just karma coming back to bite Burrows in the arse. Hopefully, he thinks twice about embellishing a hit again. At the same time, I do hope the NHL cleans up the acts of its referees, whether or not they are allegedly fixing games.
The Preds have been in Calgary for the last few days of which included a trip to a curling rink for a team building exercise. However, the last time the Preds spent 3+ days in a city and scouted a game by the opposition before their own was when they got spanked 4-1 in Vancouver last month. I expect Calgary to come out firing on all cylinders. The one thing that the Preds have to match of Calgary is speed. They have to skate and keep their feet moving at all times because this Calgary team can dart past you like they did to the Preds in the two games at Sommet this season. There could be two sides to Mikka Kipprusoff: the one that has been strong all year and the one that gives up bad goals (see Blackhawks comeback from being down 5-0). This one should be good.
Final question for you: Does Poile make ANY moves prior to the trade deadline?
and feel free to comment on the blog itself.