I’ve sat at the computer a few times over the past couple of days hoping to put into words my feelings about the recent rough patch the team has gone through over the past couple of weeks, but I really want to address the rough patch the fans are going through as well. I think it’s a bit disturbing being subjected to some of the crap people spew on the internet regarding the team, their personnel, and the options moving forward.
Now, understand, I may be part of the problem rather than part of the solution, but at least I know how to spell and can generally put a cohesive thought down on the screen, and force conversation that might include some objective viewpoints.
Let’s start with when the wheels started to come off the bus. That would be when the season started, despite a strong record, the forward crew, specifically the “top 6” just could not seem to get untracked with any level of consistency. If I were handing out quarter-mark grades, based on RESULTS, you would see failing marks for Ribeiro, Smith, Wilson and barely passing marks for Forsberg and Fisher, with Neal getting a decent grade, and honestly, I don’t generally care for his play most of the time. Careless, needless penalties, and shockingly invisible at crucial times in any given game, Neal continues to figure out ways to put up numbers, but still feel as unsatisfying as a meal at Panda Express. You know it’s not good, you eat it anyway, and two hours later, you’re desperate for some real food. As for Forsberg, there’s no doubt the kid is an exceptional talent, but we are now looking at 29 other NHL teams, and their young stars, and realizing that perhaps this one isn’t going to stand out among the others. On the Predators he’s perhaps the most gifted we’ve got, but on teams with more still, he’s just another very good player (which is never a bad thing.) He’d benefit from some more creative types, or a return to form by Preds alleged “number one center,” Ribeiro, who has taken such a decided downturn this season you have to wonder if the bridge contract he signed that kept him in the league last year was more the motivating factor, or perhaps he’s just seeing an erosion of his skill set as he heads towards age 36. Not a lot to be said about Wilson and Smith. Both cashed in with contracts that could have been considered bargains if both had improved on their 2014-15 seasons, and though there are still 60 games to do so, the results over the first 20 have been marginal at best. On the other hand, high marks have to be given to third line center Calle Jarnkrok, who started the campaign on the wing, but flipped with free-agent acquisition Cody Hodgson, and has shown marked improvements in all three zones. With the top 6 faltering, Jarnkrok has slotted in a bit on the PP and has at least looked quick and creative. A final forwards shout-out to some rookies. Austin Watson has been a bit of a revelation at times with his play, and fellow Admirals call ups, Miikka Salomaki, Colton Sissons, and Viktor Arvidsson have all been far more visible than most of the returning cast and crew with varying degrees of success.
While bringing up the name Arvidsson, I would like to go on record by saying that it is ghastly reading tweets, and internet posts vilifying Arvy for his careless (reckless?) actions in the Sabres game the other night. Yes, he dented the trachea of journeyman defenseman Carlo Colaiocovo, and yes, he was penalized for the play, but to think for even a nano-second that the young Swede would have any malice or forethought in his actions is objectionable to the nth degree. Have you watched this kid play? His height and weight coupled with his youthful exuberance equals spirited play that often fails because of his inability to stay on his feet, or stay strong on the puck, but his effort is admirable and his “shoot first” mentality is refreshing, though occasionally comical. Arvidsson got jobbed out of his second goal of the season a few minutes before his penalty allegedly took the team out of the game, but I submit that the gang that couldn’t shoot straight needed to fire a hell of a lot more pucks on net against Chad Johnson, who they had knocked out of the game just a few nights prior in Buffalo. When you give up two power-play goals during a five-minute major, sure, you’ve given the opposition momentum, and in this case, a lead on the scoreboard, but there were 55 other minutes that the Predators could have made a far bolder statement, especially with young Juuse Saros making his first NHL start.
Which bring me to the “Why the hell was Juuse Saros making his first NHL start in that situation to begin with?” portion of the program. I have rarely been critical of decisions made by Coach Laviolette during his brief tenure here in Nashville, but the past six games have been mind-boggling as it relates to goaltending, and who’s manning the crease.
The team embarked on a five game road trip, and had back-to-back games that started the sojourn. Coming off a hard fought 3-2 win vs. Anaheim on a Tuesday night at Bridgestone Arena, the team had two days off before facing the Blue Jackets in Columbus. Knowing that the following day the team would be facing off against division rival Minnesota, you have two options. One, let Pekka sit, and give Hutton the Jackets, knowing that you want him to get some action, and knowing that the division game means a little more than the Eastern affair vs. a team that, although it has given the Preds a hard time in the pre-season, came out of the gate flat, and only with a recent coaching change has rebounded to play a shade above .500 hockey. Or, you could give Pekka the game, knowing he’s starting the next night in any event. As it turned out they went with the Pekka decision and the team lost BOTH games by identical 4-0 scores. Pekka may not have been at fault for either loss, as when you don’t score ANY goals, even Carey Price, Jonathan Quick or the ghost of George Vezina would not have come up with a win. Personally, I would have gone with Hutton in Columbus. So, after the two losses, the Preds went to Madison Square Garden for a tilt against the Rangers, and it’s a given that Pekka gets the net, because he’s opposing Henrik Lundqvist, and what better stage is there, than New York, and the goaltender that is the only import that can be considered better than our guy on any given night. Well, he was, as again the team continued to flounder offensively, and Rinne was the second best goaltender in the building on that night. Now you go to Buffalo, and at this point you finally give Hutton his game, and lo and behold, the team responds with a win, and Carter is now 4-0-0 against the Sabres. The team concludes the trip with a Friday game vs. Philly, and will return home to face Buffalo again on the following evening. OK, so… it is assumed that despite finishing the game, Hutton gets hurt during the Sabres affair. Saros is NOT recalled for the Philly game, and Rinne plays, and loses in OT after the Preds manage to tie the game with 20 seconds to go in regulation. It’s a carbon copy of last year’s game in Philly, where their backup goalie (last year, 34 year old journeyman Rob Zepp, this year, Michael Neuvirth) bests our best. As the team returns home, with little to no explanation, Saros is recalled and starts against Buffalo. Here’s my problem with this. If Hutton was injured, why not recall Saros and let him get the Flyers game in? He’s going to face a weak team in the other Conference and he’s going to do it coming off a win, and in a far dimmer spotlight. You KNOW you want to see Pekka lead the team onto the ice at Bridgestone, coming off a 1-3-1 road trip that was one of the more dismal road trips in team history. When Preds PA announcer Paul McCann shouts, “and… in goal… NUMBER THIRTY FIVE, PEKKA RIIIIIINNNNNEEEE” the crowd is amped up perhaps more than at any other part of a night in Smashville. It made TOTAL sense to give the first home game to Pekka. Saros performed fine, and that’s again, not the issue with his goaltending, but he was not set up to succeed. The team sucked for long stretches of the game, and inevitably, coupled with the five minute major, he was left hung out to dry. Sorry, Lavy… you and Poile screwed this one up badly. Hutton, Rinne, Rinne, Hutton, Saros, Rinne… not Rinne, Rinne, Rinne, Hutton, Rinne, Saros… Nope, no one can convince me that was wise.
Now, the latest transaction includes putting spare defenseman Victor Bartley on waivers. Everyone up in arms thinking Bartley, a healthy scratch in all but one game this season, is some valued piece in the Preds system. In fact, he’s a spare part that has little to no value in trade. By putting him on waivers, Poile was actually REWARDING Bartley by giving him a shot at another NHL job. GM’s do this often. You like a player personally, and appreciate the job he’s done within the organization, so rather than have him sit in the press box night after night, he throws him the bone that includes the prospect of losing him to another club. Despite his best efforts, Poile sees Bartley clear, and they’ve assigned him to Milwaukee of the AHL.
Recently the team picked up Peter Granberg on waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Already on IR, Granbarg has more than decent size (6’3, 200) and played internationally with current Preds Swedes both here in Nashville (Arvidsson) and Milwaukee (Alm.) With Anthony Bitetto already in street clothes, and Granberg expected to be healthy enough to have a roster decision made on him, Poile did the honorable thing in offering Bartley around the league, and if he had been plucked off the waiver wire by an NHL team, we’d have wished him well, and hope he had an opportunity to play elsewhere, but bottom line, all you would have lost was a depth guy that wasn’t going to crack this year’s top 6. Now, in case of injuries the team still has Bitetto and Granberg to fill in, with Bartley a short plane ride away in Wisconsin.
There’s more. Lot’s more, but I need to put the brakes on. Invite you to follow me on Twitter, and let you digest the bits of Pred truth I’ve served up this afternoon.
Keep striving towards literacy and sanity 🙂