By Amanda DiPaolo
First it was Pekka Rinne who had to leave the third period of Nashville’s season opener. Marty Erat was next, out with back spasms and placed on injured reserve. Matthew Lombardi then suffered a concussion against Chicago last Wednesday. And during Saturday’s OT loss to the Washington Capitals, the Predators lost Marcel Goc to a nasty hit from behind by Niklas Backstrom. Goc is expected to miss the next 2-4 weeks.
These are not minor losses for the Predators. Rinne is Nashville’s starting goaltender. Erat and Lombardi are two thirds of the Predators’ top line. And Goc is a defensive forward with an offensive upswing with two goals in four games. While injuries can prove to be devastating for a team, they also provide an opportunity for other, less prominent players to step up their game or, in some cases, to just get in it.
After practice on Monday, Predators head coach Barry Trotz said that injuries are just a part of the game. “It’s part of doing business. Guys are playing hard. They are going to get hurt. Strange things happen. It’s a contact sport. We’ll just deal with it,” he said, adding, “You always talk about guys taking opportunities, playing different roles and higher roles. You saw that with Peks going down early. Lindback stepping in and made a statement. Other guys will have to do the same.”
Trotz mentioned Lindback, who went 2-0-1 last week. Two other players who have been given opportunities to step up are forwards Jordin Tootoo and Nick Spaling.
Tootoo usually plays on the fourth line, but was given an opportunity to play on Nashville’s offensively minded shutdown line with David Legwand and Joel ward. Tootoo had five shots, and he scored his first goal of the season. Tootoo also had one take away, two hits, and was a plus 1 in 14:31 minutes of total ice time, including 53 seconds on the man advantage. These are pretty solid stats. He also boasted having no missed shots and had no giveaways.
Trotz said that Tootoo was awarded for his solid play early in the season with the opportunity but that it was up to Tootoo himself to prove he belongs there.
“He produced. He had a good game,” Trotz said when asked about whether or not Tootoo would stick on the Legwand, Ward line. “Now do I keep him there permanently? No, not a chance. He’s the only one who can answer that and that’s by his play. If he plays well then every chance in the world he is going to get is going to be playing on that line or a combination of it. If you fall off there are other guys who want that spot. He just needs to maintain a high level of play. If he does that, I’d love to keep him there.”
While Tootoo has an opportunity to move up in the lineup, another player is trying to crack the roster. With Goc suffering a separated shoulder, the Predators made their second call-up of the season from Milwaukee. Nick Spaling will play his first game of the year for Nashville Tuesday night against the Flames. Spaling played 28 games for Nashville last year and is a penalty kill specialist.
Nashville is currently ranked last in the league with a 64.3% kill off rate. Spaling gives the Predators a defensive boost they desperately need. Trotz described Spaling’s play as detailed to his game, adding “He’s one of those players who is low maintenance. He’s one of the best penalty killers we have in our organization. Our penalty kill isn’t hitting high numbers right now so we need to get that going.”
Spaling had a solid training camp but isn’t subject to waivers yet and as a result was a victim of the numbers game. Trotz explains, “I thought Nick had a real good camp. We had to make some decisions based on our roster. We did and he was a guy that we had go down. But we knew he’s a guy that would probably be up here fairly quickly if he continues to play like he has been.”
The depth of this year’s Predators team has been tested early, but so far, the Predators have passed. Tonight’s game against the Calgary Flames will be a test for Tootoo and Spaling. Will they be able to perform up to expectations? Nashville fans sure hope so Tootoo continues to make a statement and that Spaling is able to make one of his own. Lindback has already shown the NHL that he can play with the best it has to offer.
Game time is 7 pm CT at Bridgestone Arena. Tickets are still available.
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