By Amanda DiPaolo
The Nashville Predators have scored 84 goals this season, 15 of them have come from defensemen. Nashville is among the elite in teams that boast defense corps which aid in registering goals with only Atlanta, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Washington and Buffalo with more blue line tallies. For a team that lacks that Sidney Crosby or even Rick Nash-type star forward, the Predators are a much more dangerous team when the defense jumps into the play.
Last year 32 of Nashville’s 225 goals were scored by defensemen, 14%. Of course, that includes Shea Weber’s 16 tallies. This year, the Predators rank in the top ten for NHL scoring by defensemen, with 15 goals in 33 games, only five have come off the stick of Weber.
Head coach Barry Trotz notes that Nashville’s defensemen can all skate well and that makes it possible for them to jump up into the play to create odd-man situations. As a result, four of the Predators top six defensemen are on pace to break last years totals, and those totals may be smashed, not just broken.
Francis Bouillon already has as many assists this season in 32 games played as he had last year in 81 games, with eight. Bouillon scored three times last year and has one this season. He is two points shy of last year’s points total with 49 games left to play.
Kevin Klein had 11 points last season with one goal and 10 assists in 81 games. So far this season, Klein has scored two goals and added seven assists for nine points, again two shy of last year’s totals in just 32 games played.
Cody Franson registered six goals and 15 assists for 21 points in 61 games last year for Nashville. In 31 games this season, Franson has already scored twice and has added eight assists for 12 points. Seeing regular power play time on the second power play unit, Franson will almost definitely surpass last year’s goal totals, and is likely to pass last year’s point total as well.
Newcomer Shane O’Brien is also pitching in with the offense. O’Brien, Franson’s defensive pairing, who sees short-handed ice time but no regular power play action, has two goals and three assists this year for five points in 33 games. Last season with the Vancouver Canucks, O’Brien had one goal, six assists and a total of eight points in 65 games. O’Brien previously told Predlines that the coaching staff has encouraged a little more offensive play from the defense. Of course, no one can forget O’Brien’s acrobatics against the New York Islanders on December 13, 2010:
O’Brien described jumping over Pap Parenteau. “He came sliding across and I knew I couldn’t shoot it. I was just gonna try to bring it around him. He kept sliding towards me. It was just a reaction. I didn’t think I could jump like that, but I did and got it on net. Hornqvist took care of the rest. It was fun.” Hornqvist scored on the rebound. O’Brien was awarded an assist.
O’Brien joked that his nationality helped with maintaining composure on the ice. “We grew up in Canada on ice, right? So it was pretty easy for us to regain our balance on ice.”
Joking aside, for O’Brien, the Predators defense is a collective that is talented enough to get the job done at both ends of the rink. “I think our defense, top to bottom is probably as deep and as skilled as anyone out there. Trotzy and the coaching staff give us the green light to jump up when the time is right. Obviously, we want to play defense first. Our forwards do a good job of finding us coming in late. Like I said, we have some guys with some skill who can skate and make some plays. Right now we are playing with some confidence,” O’Brien said.
When it cames to the defensive chipping in offensively, only the big guns are under performing, that is under performing by their standards. In 32 games, Shea Weber has five goals and 10 assists for 15 points. Weber recorded 16 goals a season ago and 27 assists in 78 games. Some of Weber’s slow start to the season can be attributed to Ryan Suter being out of the lineup for 11 games. When Suter isn’t playing, Weber has to focus his game more on keeping pucks out of Nashville’s net. Since Suter has returned to the lineup, Weber has come back to form registering one goal and four assists in his last five games.
Suter, currently on a six game point streak with one goal and seven assists, leads the team in assists with 13 and has 14 total points in 22 games. Last year, in 82 games Suter posted four goals and 33 assists.
But not all members of the Predators defensive unit credit the defense with playing a different style from last season. Cody Franson is skeptical, despite being a more offensive-minded defenseman and having already scored what has amounted to highlight reel material this season.
When asked what has changed that has lead to a more active defense, Franson suggested the change is actually better luck. “We are just starting to get some of the bounces we weren’t getting during that skid. We are putting pucks to the net and guys are tipping them in. We just weren’t as solid as we are now,” he said.
But the numbers don’t lie and the Predators defense are on track to contribute to the team’s offense like no other defensive group in the recent past.
Nashville is back on the ice tonight against the Ottawa Senators. Last time out, Ottawa helped the Capitals snap an eight game losing skid. Sitting out of the playoff race, look for the Senators to go into the two-day Christmas break on a winning note by getting a quick start on a tired Predators club, having played Wednesday night in a 4-1 loss to Chicago.
Game time is 7 pm at Bridgestone Arena. Tickets are still available.
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