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With a generally myopic look at the Nashville Predators, fans forget there are 29 other teams that compete in this league. Today, I’m in the mood to take on each one of them, as they may relate to the Preds in some fashion. Enjoy.
ANAHEIM: The Predators won 2 of 3 games already played against the Ducks, who continue to play under the Mendoza line, and not qualify for a post season spot, despite having been picked by many to win this year’s Stanley Cup. Former Predator, Mike Santorelli has 3 goals and an assist this season… with Nashville, having been acquired at the trade deadline with Cody Franson, he netted just one goal and three assists in 22 games, and sealed the team’s fate heading into the post-season with his suckitude.
ARIZONA: The Coyotes are surprisingly better this season, due in part to rookies Anthony Duclair and Max Domi. Domi, son of former NHL pugilist Tie Domi, has 8 goals and 8 assists in his first 18 games. Duclair, his linemate, has 7G and 4A, with 3 PPG. Former Predator Anders Lindback has won 2 and lost 3, with reasonable GAA (2.41) and SV% (.915) — both a bit better than starter Mike Smith, who is 7-5-1 and considered to be having a “comeback season.”
BOSTON: Beginning the season 8-8-1 is considered a disappointment in Beantown, and while top stars David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron play at a point a game pace or better, All-Star goaltender Tuukka Rask is just 5-7-1 with a GAA of 3.18 and a SV% at a dismal .890. No former Preds to discuss, but a look of disgust is on the faces of the Bruin fan base who pay big money to see mediocrity.
BUFFALO: The Sabres organization is raving about the play of #2 pick Jack Eichel, who has 6G, 3A in his first 18 NHL games. They also see off-season acquisition Ryan O’Reilly step up and lead the team in scoring, averaging over 21:30 of ice time per game. A couple of former Preds to mention: Franson has been excellent for the team, with 2G, 7A (and 5 PPA) and David Legwand continues his slide into futility, looking for his first goal, netting just four assists and averaging less than 10 minutes on ice per game.
CALGARY: For most of last season, Rookie Of The Year talk surrounded the Preds Filip Forsberg and the Flames Johnny Gaudreau. When the season drew to a close, neither Forsberg, nor Gaudreau grabbed the hardware, with Forsberg missing being named one of the three finalists all together, as Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad, and Ottawa forward Mark Stone crept into the picture. Flash forward to this year and it’s Johnny Hockey’s world in Calgary and Albertans are just living in it. Gaudreau leads the Flames with 18 points (4G, 14A) and shows no signs of slowing down. The Flames however, could use a more robust pilot light, as they find themselves among the “have-nots” in the West.
CAROLINA: When your team is from a fictional place… expect problems. With less wins than the Columbus Blue Jackets, who began the year 0-8, expect changes… an over paid center, Eric Staal and an underrated defenseman, Justin Faulk lead the team in scoring with 12 points apiece. When your next players on the score sheet are Victor Rask and Kris Versteeg, and a guy like Jeff Skinner has just 3G and 1A after the team’s first 18 games … expect futility. Neither Cam Ward nor off-season acquisition Eddie Lack are making timely saves, and the biggest save of all may be Coach Bill Peters’ job.
CHICAGO: Ahhh, the Blackhawks… I bet you thought they’d be dead right about now… Last year’s Cup winners dealt with negative Patrick Kane press, lost some key cogs to their great playoff run (See: Saad, Oduya, Sharp, Richards) and have had all-world defenseman Duncan Keith miss 10 of the team’s first 18 games. Well… Kane… on the “DID NOT RAPE” list, has amassed 13G and 15A, is a +14, has 6 PPG, and is on the ice 21 minutes a night. Well done, Patrick. And, who had Artemi Panarin on their Calder Trophy list? 6G and 12A makes this kid the NHL’s leading rookie scorer. Former Preds farmhand Scott Darling is 2-2 on the young season, backing up handy, capable Corey Crawford, whose 2.40 GAA is competitive, and unaffected by the beatdown the Preds look to bestow on him when the two teams meet for the first time this season on December 8th in Chi-town.
COLORADO: Holding the bottom slot in the Central Division, the Avalanche make their first Bridgestone appearance on December 12th. At that time, we will be treated to 20 year-old Nathan MacKinnon, whose 8G, 12A leads their team in scoring. Also in the 8G category is center Matt Duchene, who has been subject of trade rumors since time began. Any chance a skilled #1 C like Duchesne could find his way into the home team locker room by 12/12 appears slim, but you’d sure love to have him. The Avs are a general mess, and the corporal punishment being laid out by Coach Patrick Roy indicates change up ahead.
COLUMBUS: After losing their first seven games, the ownership jettisoned Coach Todd Richards, and brought in cancerous cells named John Tortorella to right the ship. The Jackets bumbled their way through loss eight, before winning two, losing two, winning two, losing two, and now, heading into a back-to-back Thursday in Ottawa, and Friday home to face Nashville, have won three in a row behind goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Columbus is led on the scoresheet by former Predator Scott Hartnell (8G, 6A.) Boone Jenner and Brandon Saad both have 9G, 4A and of course Ryan Johansen, with 2G, 11A is the guy who always goes too high in your fantasy pool.
DALLAS: Surprise! The Stars have 30 points, and the Preds have 25… and Surprise! The Stars don’t miss James Neal one bit… (nor do the Penguins, but that’s another story for another time.) Right now, a look at the team we don’t get to see play until New Year’s Eve, in Dallas and February 15th in Nashville. Former Pred Vern Fiddler has 3G, 6A and is part of a solid shut-down line that also kills penalties and wreaks havoc. The other Former Pred is Patrick Eaves, who has made the same impression on this season’s Stars fans (4 pointless games) as he did on Preds fans (5 pointless games) back in the 13-14 campaign. The Stars are the #1 scoring team in the league, and feature Tyler Seguin (10G, 17A) and Jamie Benn (12G, 14A.) Second year defenseman John Klingberg is no flash-in-the-pan, as he has 4G, 16A (with half of those coming on the PP) — the aforementioned Patrick Sharp, Jason Spezza, and Ales Hemsky make it look easy around the opposition’s goal.
DETROIT: Two December meetings is all Preds fans get against former arch-rivals, the Red Wings. Sure they’re in the East, and sure you remember when Bridgestone would be a sea of red with gold flecks, but it’s 2015, and you have to save up your hatred for Chicago. Besides, if Detroit is any good, and have a shot at the Cup, you want to see them in JUNE… WHEN IT REALLY COUNTS! The team that handed us Calle Jarnkrok in exchange for the invisible David Legwand has moved on… Oh sure Zetterberg and Datsyuk are still there, but youngsters… er, young stars named Tatar, Nyquist and Larkin do most of the heavy lifting these days. Get to know and hate them in December, because that’s probably all you get.
EDMONTON: Oh boy, Connor McDavid! Step right up and see the great Gretzky incarnate… A 2-0 loss to the Preds during the second game of the season didn’t give us much of a glimpse at the great McDavid, but a broken collar bone vs. Philly on November 3rd has spelled 1-5 in the win/loss column since he went down. On the upside, however, last year’s version of McDavid, now 20 year old Leon Draisaitl scored just 2G, 7A in 37 games for the Oilers as a rookie and began the season in Stockton. With the injury bug biting Edmonton, Draisaitl was recalled and has been a revelation, netting 6G and 8A in just 9 games, and if you were to combine his stats with that of McDavid, you’d have a #1 center with 11G and 15A in just 24 G… not bad for a couple of teenagers 🙂 Former Predator Matt Hendricks is a part time guy with a goal and an assist.
FLORIDA: The Panthers will arrive in Nashville on December 3rd. They will be led by 43 year-old Jaromir Jagr, who scored his first NHL goal in 1990. Yes, you read that right. This man also took 3 years off from the NHL to play in the KHL. He is on pace to have a 35 goal season. The Predators will more than likely not have a 35 goal scorer this season. Jaromir Jagr defies description. Second year D Aaron Ekblad defends his Calder trophy with solid play so far this season. Guys like Trocheck, Bjugstad, former Bruin Reilly Smith and Jonathan Huberdeau are solid NHL forwards. Still, the Panthers tease, surge, tease and eventually get put to sleep prior to the post-season.
LOS ANGELES: Halloween night provided the Kings a 4-3 OT win vs. the Preds, and despite the loss, it was a very well played game by Nashville, and one 3 on 3 sequence aside, the two teams might still be playing. When LA started 0-3 most people flinched and decided that the anomaly of missing the playoffs last season after having won the cup the year before might have been the norm instead. Since then, the team has gone 12-3, and no one is expecting them on the golf course in early April. No former Preds on this roster, but you’d sure wish GM David Poile had slid an offer sheet under the pillow of Tyler Toffoli. The young winger has 10G, 7A and a natural ability to find the net. I hope someone creates an All-Star format that allows Toffoli and Forsberg some alone time on the ice in late January. Dynamite to ensue.
MINNESOTA: That 3-2 win vs. the Wild on November 5th? Horrible… The Wild were by far the better team… but you know the drill… some days you’re the windshield, some days you’re the bug. The two teams meet again in Minnesota this coming Saturday. Let’s talk about Devan Dubnyk. 37-13-4 since arriving in Minnesnowta last year. The Wild were dead last and Double D brought them into the second round of the playoffs. This is the same guy that had a body of work as a Pred that made Carter Hutton look like Georges Vezina reincarnate!! Another former Nashville player is Ryan Suter. I’m not going to debate the Suter vs. Weber thing on this page, but I will say, Suter has a far weaker supporting cast than Weber, but manages to lead the team in assists, time on ice, and power play points. Not terrible 😉
MONTREAL: Reeling off nine straight victories to start the season was impressive. Going 5-3-2 in the next ten, most of which were without Carey Price… not so shabby. Four guys lead the team in scoring with 17 points; Plekanec, Pacioretty, Subban and Gallagher, and familiar names like Desharnais, Markov and Fleischmann slot in close behind, but who expected Dale Weise to have 8G, 3A to this point in the season? The 27 year old has played for the Rangers, Vancouver, and now Montreal and he hit the 10G plateau playing in 79 games last year. A fourth round draft choice in 2008, Weise is the big surprise on Montreal’s roster.
NEW JERSEY: Having been fined 2200 dollars earlier in the season, and having 2G and 2A to date should come as no surprise to Preds fans, who still rave about Jordin Tootoo and his time in Preds colors. All four of his points have come on the power play, and the sporty -13 leads the team, and I don’t mean in a good way nonetheless. Mike Cammalleri leads the skaters, and Cory Schneider is the dependable starter in nets. Nashville beat the Devils 3-1 back on October 13th in Newark, and don’t make an appearance until March 3rd. It may be too too late for the Devils at that point.
NY ISLANDERS: John Tavares leads the charge at the Barclay Center in Brooklyn, but it’s former Preds Marek Zidlicky, and Taylor Beck that we’re going to focus on at this juncture. Zidlicky remains a capable defenseman, averaging a shade under 16 minutes a game. Beck, having played a majority for the team’s AHL affiliate in Bridgeport has just one game of service with NY, who acquired him at the start of the season from Toronto. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak has a sub-2 GAA (1.90) and his backup, Thomas Greiss is 5-1-2. Thursday, March 17th is the date on the Preds calendar for that Beck tribute, and the revenge for the 4-3 Islanders win vs. Nashville in Brooklyn back in mid-October.
NY RANGERS: Having the stingiest defense in the league means something if your top 6 D are NOT named Weber, Josi, Ellis, Ekholm, Jones and Jackman… and your goaltender is NOT Pekka Rinne. No, it’s having King Henrik (Lundqvist) between the pipes, along with former Preds blueliner Kevin Klein, who is second on the Rangers in ice time and has contributed 3G 2A and is a +12. The other former Preds player is Viktor Stalberg, who continues to prove his uselessness by chipping in a goal and four assists in sixteen games. The Rangers host Nashville, in a tearful Stalberg reunion this coming Monday. Pekka and Henrik. Could be epic.
OTTAWA: Our season series is over between these two clubs. Shame. We won ’em both and scored early and often. Now all that remains is watching Erik Karlsson attempt to extract another Norris Trophy from the cold dead hands of Duncan Keith, and if the sophomore slump that has slightly affected Filip Forsberg will also affect Mark Stone, who has 3G, 13A in 16 games (compared to FF’s 2G, 9A in 17 games)
PHILADELPHIA: Last year I made the trek to Philly to catch the Preds in their first post-trade deadline game with Franson and Santorelli against the Flyers. The team had gotten pasted by the Islanders the game before, and the new acquisitions put Bitetto and Taylor Beck in street clothes. The deck seemed stacked in favor of Nashville, as Philly was throwing 33 year old career minor leaguer Rob Zepp into the nets against Pekka. Well, Zepp out played Peks on the score sheet, and in the shootout, and I left the arena to a giant snowstorm and a train back to NYC wondering if the two losses were just a blip on the Preds radar. UGH. Memories. This year I’m staying away from Philly the day after Thanksgiving, and let’s hope for a far better outcome. Former Predators defenseman Michael Del Zotto leads the team in ice time at a shade over 23 minutes. He’s a minus 9 and has yet to score a goal this season. Teammate Jakub Voracek just got his first, and he’s a top line forward. This team is a bit of a mess, and their 6-8-4 record puts them 5 points behind the Devils, who NO ONE predicted would have a snowball’s chance in hell of playing in the post season. Oh yeah, the Rangers, Caps, Isles and Pens are ahead of the Devils too 🙂
PITTSBURGH: Were you amazed at how many Penguin jerseys were careening around the concourse at Bridgestone on October 24th? Were you disgusted 41 seconds into overtime when Phil Kessel beat Pekka on a rebound of his shot for a 2-1 Pens win? I know I was both… Meanwhile, Pittsburgh is the home of former Preds favorite Patric Hornqvist, who has twice as many goals as Sid the Kid, and then there’s Matt Cullen, who toiled diligently for two seasons in Pred gold, and he’s just a single goal behind Crosby to this point. Malkin and Kessel both have six goals to lead the club, and Marc-Andre Fleury is stopping about 93% of all shots he is facing. This team will contend come April. — Good thing we play them again, in Pittsburgh, in March 🙂
SAN JOSE: Remember the night the Preds top 6 took the night off, but the bottom 6 supplied enough offense to snare a victory from the jaws of a deadly shark? That 2-1 win in San Jose was the start of this year’s Calle Jarnkrok love-fest, and one of a number of nights when the guys you expect to score haven’t, only to be picked up by the guys (Eric Nystrom?) who usually have hands of stone. As for the Sharks; Pavelski, Thornton, Burns, JOEL WARD, Marleau… Joel Ward? Sure… the late blooming former Pred already has 8G, 6A in 18 games for the Sharks. He played in Washington longer than he played in Nashville, so it’s less of a wound to see him lighting the lamp as often as he does, but he’s a solid citizen nonetheless.
ST. LOUIS: Saturday, November 7th. Blues 4, Preds 0. Bridgestone Arena. Came home to the sky falling on Preds fans throughout Middle Tennessee. I thought the team played great for the first two periods. Yes. Great. 45 shots, and another 30+ were either missed or blocked. “It wasn’t from a lack of trying,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. “Attempts, opportunities, quality scoring chances were all heavily stacked in our favor. The kid (Jake Allen) played a good game in net. We hit the post six times and couldn’t get it to bounce.” In a far different lifetime, Scottie Upshall, now a Blues forward, played for the Predators. His 3G, 0A in 15 games includes one of the four that beat Rinne on 11/7.
TAMPA BAY: About a month ago, the Lightning came to Bridgestone Arena and dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to the Preds, with Filip Forsberg netting the game winner against Ben Bishop. The Bolts represented the East in the Stanley Cup Finals last season. This year, they currently sit below the line of teams punching a playoff ticket. Bishop has a respectable GAA (2.26) and SV% (.916) and Stamkos has 9G in his first 20 games, but “the triplets” have been held in check, and Filppula has one goal and is a minus 9. John Cooper is one of the finest coaches in the league. He will figure it out before long.
TORONTO: The Leafs were 2-8-4 when they visited first place Dallas, and then second place Nashville about 10 days ago. Two surprise wins, a tough 4-3 loss to the Eastern Conference leading Rangers, and then a return home to paste Colorado has the 6-9-4 Leafs getting points in 7 of their last 8 games, and the belief that Mike Babcock is the miracle worker who has Helen Keller and her teammates firing on all cylinders. They may not make the playoffs, but they signed Rich Clune to a new two-way deal that netted him some AHL scratch, and a two game look with the big club that ended with a stupid penalty. Nick Spaling has just two assists in 15 games, but is getting close to 17 and a half minutes a game. Mark Arcobello was pointless in 7 games before he was sent to the AHL, where he is en fuego. You may remember Arcobello played four games with Nashville last year, and actually scored one of his 17 goals, with the remainder coming in Edmonton and Arizona.
VANCOUVER: Preds fans won’t see the Sedin kids until mid March, when the two teams face-off on the 12th in BC, and the 24th in Smashville. Until then, you’ll just have to believe that despite rarely showing up in the box scores, veteran defenseman Dan Hamhuis is playing a regular shift for the Canucks. Veteran goaltender Ryan Miller will not make anyone believe he can play proficiently enough to contend for a Cup, but his 5-7-5 record, along with his 2.51 GAA and .911 SV% will support Daniel and Henrik until tee time.
WASHINGTON: Coach Barry Trotz returns, once again, to the Bridgestone Arena on February 9, 2016. Mark it on your calendar, if only to see if he’s got a visible neck line. Michael Latta may be all that’s left from the Forsberg trade, and he’s played in 8 of the team’s first 17 games, netting a goal and an assist. Not-former Pred Alexander Ovechkin should fly past 500 goals at some point this season, and with new acquisitions Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie making valuable contributions, we should expect a hell of a “twirl around the block” as the Caps make their presence felt into the post-season.
WINNIPEG: Pasted 7-0 at Bridgestone, the Jets, on paper, are a formidable lineup. Youth, speed, creativity, grit… Winnipeg has it all. That being said, Paul Maurice has to do a lot of juggling to do to find a combination that can vault the team into Stars, Blues, Preds, Wild territory. Oh, did I say Chicago? Yes, the Hawks are in that division as well. (Read: it’s going to be an uphill climb into the playoff race this spring.)