Having the youngest team in the NHL, and with injuries to both Mike Fisher and now Martin Erat, the Predators will be looking for offensive help from lines either newly formed, or downright experimental. Without a doubt, there’s a lot to like with the #TeamAmericaWorldPolice line; David Legwand, Colin Wilson, and Craig Smith. All three can play center, there’s size and speed, and all do possess a good wrister. Legwand creates chances in transition, Colin Wilson seems more focused this year and seems to be using his playmaking abilities better, and Craig Smith is as advertised. While Fisher is out, this line could be the lead breadwinner for this team. And finally, Predator fans can now have a distinct answer to “Yeah, but just who is going to score the goals?”.
What is very encouraging is that the chemistry that is being shown by these three. They’re swarming the net at the right time, having little trouble finding each other, and while I originally thought it would be Cal O’Reilly getting the most out of Colin Wilson, David Legwand seems to have rediscovered the groove both he and Wilson shared while being on the same line with Marek Svatos (remember him? The proshop actually carried his shirts at one point). But now with Smith and his skill set in the fold, good things could be on the horizon for the two forwards many fans have been waiting to see more from.
Tonight’s goal from Craig Smith shows more than just talent, it’s awareness and positioning. It’s not always the most talented, faster, quicker, and flashier player that scores the most goals and succeeds in the league, it takes some moxy and smarts. Case in point- Patric Hornqvist has scored 50 goals the last two years, and Linus Klasen is back playing in Sweden.
Jaraslav Halak has given Preds fans fits over the past year. Having out-dueled Rinne and Lindback most of the previous season, Halak has shown at times he is among the best netminders in the league. He’s not without flaws though- he has been known to surrender a rebound or two. If he has one Achilles’ heel, that would be it. If you don’t believe me, check out what Blues fans have to say…
…and keep in mind the defense in front of him hasn’t improved that much over the offseason which saw the import of Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott rather than Mike Commodore and Ian White. But nevertheless, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk are a serviceable pairing. From there, it gets rocky. And it’s not like the Preds don’t have anyone who fires a heavy shot from distance, so the rebounds could be generated. But on the power play from last year, no one without the name Hornqvist was willing to swarm the net effectively to create the necessary chances to beat goalies like Halak.
Enter, the #TeamAmericaWorldPolice line.
Nothing overly complicated, it’s just a cycle back to the point and Weber firing a shot fit to maim anything in it’s path (I hope Steve Mason is ok). Halak gets in front of the shot, but it rattles in between his pads. Watch Smith’s reaction compared to the defender and Halak. By the time Barrett Jackman reacts to the shot, Smith is already celebrating. In fact, if you slow it down enough you can see that Smith was already making a line for the puck before even Halak knew where it was. This isn’t skill at work here, this is a trained eye coupled with some desire. Jackman is a tough customer, and so is Scott Nichol who both would’ve decked the rookie to the ice had the play taken more than 0.87 seconds.
To play in front of the net and be effective, a player must possess great anticipation and vision. Those are traits not easily taught. Skating, shooting, passing, movement… all teachable skills. Being able to find a loose puck under one of the top goaltenders in the league before he realizes where the puck is WITHOUT harming the goalie, hacking, missing, getting crushed by a defender, or any of the other hazards that happen around the net in the NHL (deep breath)… that’s awesome. Mind you, he did score the night before in a similar scramble from behind the net, so this isn’t a one time fluke. The kid can play. And he left the fans at the final preseason game elated with a heavy wrister winning the game in overtime. So there’s plenty to watch here, but he already possesses the wit and reflexes to play at this level at an early age. And that my friends, is very encouraging.