So the golden gang plays two games in two nights, and do us proud. Not only do they re-assert their dominance over the Blue Jackets, but they neutralized a very potent St. Louis group of forwards and take advantage of their iffy defending. There’s a very hot line forming with David Legwand, Colin Wilson, and Craig Smith (#TeamAmericaWorldPolice), but the other lines aren’t looking overly wonderful. However, that Pekka Rinne guy is still pretty good. We’ll take the four points, but there is definite room for improvement.
Two games in, and there’s plenty to talk about.
Let’s start off what things that make us feel all nice, warm, fuzzy, and happy.
THINGS THAT ARE GOOD SO FAR
- The aforementioned top line. Much was made about the promotion of Craig Smith to the main roster, likely at the expense of Niclas Bergfors who was scratched on opening night. What is noticeable so far is his hockey instincts and wit. His natural ability to put the puck in the right place is something not normally seen from a young Nashville forward on the offensive end. Colin Wilson and David Legwand did have some success being grouped together on a line with Marek Svatos, but weren’t featured together much after Svatos was injured and then released. But it seems like they have a good chemistry as a unit; they swarm the net and pass very smoothly. The Preds haven’t had a clear cut top line in a few years, and while it’s early in the year these guys have already started building something that could be special.
- With both of the games coming on the road and both opponents possessing some very potent offensive forwards, the second pairing of defensemen needed to be solid. Kevin Klein and Jon Blum definitely answered the bell. The second pair turned in back to back nights of around 17 minutes, and a +/- rating of +1 (each). Not bad facing the likes of Jeff Carter, Rick Nash, David Backes, Andy McDonald, etc. And what? Klein scored the game winner? Even better. We’ve seen Klein take a step forward being paired next to Blum, and playing some offense even. He’s a strong guy, and his form has greatly improved. These two are developing into a solid second pairing, something that both Suter and Weber will greatly appreciate.
- The play in front of the net has been very good. NOTHING was more frustrating that seeing this team not drive the net and not be around for a rebound last year. If the forwards aren’t going to pepper the net with slick wristers in space, they better be prepared to play the net. Nothing wrong with greasy garbage goals, they count the same as Bobby Ryan’s. Matt Halischuk, Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, and the lovable Patric Hornqvist and Jerred Smithson are all playing the net. Jordin Tootoo is back to driving the net like he did in the playoffs. It’s playoff hockey… in October. Kinda.
- Pekka Rinne is still the man. Neither rain, sleet, snow, nor flu could stop the gentle Finnish giant from putting on back to back stellar showings against two division rivals. His performance is that of a team leader.
THINGS THAT COULD STAND TO IMPROVE SOME
(I put that as nice as possible)
- Jack Hillen has not quite jelled with the system yet, and has been called too many times for holding for this fan’s liking. His pairing with Laakso was downright victimized by Columbus opening night. Shane O’Brien wasn’t the Norris finalist or anything close, but Hillen has me longing for the services of the man affectionately called SOB.
- I understand the Mike Fisher is out, and that changes some things… but still, these lines are just straight up jacked. Nick Spaling may be the favorite adopted son of Barry Trotz, but he’s not at the point where he should be centering potent offensive weapons in Kostitsyn and Erat. Perhaps this was just a road combination to balance out the lineup, but having seen the chances created with Spaling grouped with Tootoo and Smithson… it’s a hard sell not to put that line together. Instead we had Cal O’Reilly playing Spaling’s role between Halischuk and Tootoo. Spaling’s line was exposed in Columbus, and the Blues didn’t make O’Reilly’s line look much better. Get well soon, Fisher.
- It can’t be helped at this point, it’s no ones fault. It’s hard to accept Martin Erat getting injured this early (especially after hearing Matt Lombardi scored for Toronto…) in the season. If the Anaheim series proved anything about Marty, he’s much tougher than his persona would ever allow you to believe. We usually think of his character being the typical soft flashy Eastern Euro with a slick wrist shot. Martin Erat showed in game two against the Ducks he’s every bit the warrior deserving of an “A” on the sweater, which he wore opening night in lieu of Mike Fisher’s absence. Speaking of, I’ll be darn happy to see #12 back on the ice, and per Jim Diamond of Examiner.com – Francis Boullion is making strides to returning to the lineup. Both Hillen and Laakso are on two-way contracts, so the Cube could be seen on the third pair.