By Amanda DiPaolo
This year marks Jordin Tootoo’s 7th campaign in the National Hockey League. At the start of the season, Tootoo was on the Predators’ fourth line, used as an agitator, the spark of the energy line. Tootoo played 9:18 in the home opener against the Anaheim Ducks, 10:59 against Chicago on the road and then 8:32 against the Blues back home in Nashville.
During the fourth game of the season, Marcel Goc got injured against the Washington Capitals. Goc suffered a separated shoulder on a hit by Niklas Backstrom. With Goc out, the lines had to be reshuffled, especially with other injuries at the position of forward plaguing Nashville. Center Matthew Lombardi has been out since after the Chicago game and Martin Erat was just returning to action after missing a couple games with back spasms.
When the puck dropped on Nashville’s next game against the Calgary Flames, Tootoo found himself with a new role on the team. Ice time grew from a low of 8:32 minutes to averaging over 14:00 a game playing on a line with David Legwand and Joel Ward.
Every game, the Predators look to Legwand and Ward to shut down the opposition’s best line. But Nashville’s shut down line has also accounted for a considerable part of Nashville’s offensive production. Of Nashville’s 23 goals, the Legwand, Tootoo, Ward line have accounted for 22% of them, scoring 5 goals between the three of them.
When asked if he thought he was playing the best hockey of his career, Tootoo, with 1 goal and 3 assists in 9 games, said it was all about gaining confidence. “Obviously when you play a lot you gain confidence. We become more comfortable out there. I think the beginning of the season, when you play more minutes you play with more minutes you tend to have a lot more patience out there. It’s a positive so far.”
Before Tootoo’s charging call against the Blues Carlo Colaiacovo, Tootoo had not received one minor penalty since playing with Legwand and Ward. It would seem that confidence Tootoo speaks of which breads patience results in more disciplined, responsible play.
Responsible defensively, Tootoo has also found his offense. Tootoo already has 4 points in 9 games. Last year in 51 games, Tootoo registered 6 goals and 10 assists for a total of 16 points.
Legwand acknowledges that the Tootoo-Legwand-Ward experiment is the result of moving lines around due to injuries and is not permanent. “For a little bit, yeah,” he said when asked about Tootoo playing a shutdown role on the team, adding, “Obviously, he plays hard. He does things that he needs to do and gets in other people’s faces. That’s a good thing.”
But over the weekend, Tootoo was added to the list of players who are injured for the Predators. Tootoo didn’t play in Saturday night’s 5-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings and is listed as having an upper body injury. Currently listed as day-to-day, it is unclear whether or not he will play on Wednesday night in Phoenix. When Tootoo does return, and now with Marcel Goc set to return to the Predators lineup in the near future, does Tootoo maintain his role on a line with Legwand and Ward?
Since Goc plays center, his return means Nick Spaling could see a ticket to Milwaukee real soon. If Goc plays with Smithson and Kostitsyn, then Tootoo may stick on the third line. But as other players shine show they deserve more minutes, a case will be made for giving maybe a Dumont or Smithson or even Kostitsyn that coveted position. If Trotz decides to mix the lines up again, who knows where he will land when Tootoo returns. But one thing is for certain, Tootoo is playing responsible hockey and he is playing with confidence and that confidence comes from having more minutes of ice time.
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