By Amanda DiPaolo
As the Nashville Predators enter tonight’s contest against the Los Angeles Kings, two veteran are leading the way offensively for the club. In fact, no other Nashville forwards have been more productive since the middle of January than David Legwand and Martin Erat.
The offense provided by Legwand and Erat has been fairly consistent over the past month and a half and has been a big help for Predators goaltender, Pekka Rinne. Nashville is nearly unbeatable when they post three or more goals in a game, with a 33-4-1 record. “That’s great,” Rinne said of the recent play of Erat and Legwand, ”Obviously, this time of year it is so important so it is great to see those couple of big guys playing so well. We need that at the moment. Hopefully they can keep it going.”
Legwand, was the first ever draft pick of the Nashville Predators, chosen second overall in 1998. Erat was the 191st pick of the Predators in the 1999 Entry Draft. The two forwards are the longest tenured members of Predators and are tops in nearly every offensive statistical category for the Predators. Legwand, for instance, holds the record for most points, goals, assists, games played, game-winning-goals, overtime points, multi-point games and multi-goal games.
Legwand and Erat are each making $4.5 million a year. Legwand is signed through the 2013-14 season. Erat is inked until the end of the 2014-15 campaign. With those great price tags come great expectations, and the intangibles that each player brings to the table night in and night out are often overlooked in favor of anticipated points production.
Last season, despite a solid series against Chicago in the playoffs, Legwand only scored 11 goals and added 27 assists for 38 points during the regular season. It wasn’t only the die-hard fan unsatisfied with his offensive production. After the season, General Manager David Poile told The Tennessean that if Legwand didn’t have a 20-goal season during this campaign, he would not be happy.
Currently, Legwand is at 11 goals, and has 21 assists for 32 points, just six points shy of his offensive production a season ago. Fourteen of those points have come in his last 15 games. But Legwand suffered a lower-body injury earlier this year and did not play in 18 games this season from the middle of November through the end of December, whereas a season ago, Legwand appeared in all 82 games for Nashville.
“I just think me, Marty and Wardo are keeping things simple,” Legwand said explaining the offensive burst his line has produced as of late, “That’s just the easiest way to play and go about it. Just keep things simple and work that way and go from there.”
Legwand notes the difficulty of the playoff race the Predators find themselves in, but has a simple formula for success. “You have to keep winning and keep doing the right things, and playing hard and completing and finishing our chances,” Legwand said.
Erat has 21 points in 19 games since the start of February and has 25 points in 25 games, including 8 goals and 17 assists, dating back to January 16th, his second game back after missing nine games with an injury. Currently, Erat is riding four-game multi-points streak, with his goal and assist Saturday night against Colorado. Erat has a five-game point streak on the line going into Tuesday’s game against Los Angeles.
Talking to Erat, he never takes credit when he is successful on the ice, and it isn’t just his linemates who he does give credit. “I think the whole team is playing good. We are getting scoring chances and finally we are putting the puck in the net,” Erat said.
Then there is the linemate that completes the Legwand-Erat experience, Joel Ward. Ward had a slow start to the season, but has 18 points in his last 33 games. Ever since moving away from the checking line and onto a line expected to produce points with Legwand and Erat, Ward has done just that, positing three goals and four assists in the last seven games.
Legwand explains part of Ward’s recent success as positioning on the ice. “He’s going to the net, I think. He’s a big body. He’s going to the net hard. That’s a good thing for him,” Legwand said. Ward agrees and notes that he has learned a lot from his linemates. “They are really creative dynamic players. They can hold on to the puck and make really good plays, especially down low. It’s no secret that my job is to go to the net and look for rebounds and any chances I can and hopefully put them home. That’s what I am trying to focus on right now and slowly get some results.”
While the line has only been together for the last several games, in the last 25 games, Erat, Legwand and Ward have combined for a total of 53 points. In fact, Erat, Legwand or Ward have been in on 24 of Nashville’s last 36 goals, dating back to February 5th when the Predators shutout Detroit 3-0.
Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz says the team will depend on the line to continue to produce as long as the combo remains hot. “We’ll ride it as long as we can, but nothing ever stays the same. The biggest thing is they’re skating. They’re working they’re skating – that’s where it starts. It’s been a good line for us the last couple of games.”
Tonight, the Predators face a team that has played lights-out hockey on the road going 10-1-3 in their last 14 games away from the Staples Center. It will be a challenge to stop the Kings but Nashville will have to in order to jump over Calgary and into a playoff position.
Tickets for the game are still available. Game time is 7 pm at Bridgestone Arena.
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