Beating the Predators at their game of puck pursuit, forechecking, and perimeter shots requires one essential item, with a few bonus pieces. The chief item to beating the Trotz syle of play and the Poile drafted defensemen is play in the slot. Over the past 3 years, the teams that have given the Predators headaches outside of the Central Division have been Los Angeles, Dallas, and Edmonton.
Stars skaters are actually outweighed by the Preds by a slim margin, but their forwards all play a similar game of playing tight around the net. We’ve seen it countless times; dump into the corner, slick pass to a waiting forward inside the dots who wrists it over the shoulder. Dallas knows what they are, and on most nights can execute their game in win unless possession is pried away. Dallas rolls 4 lines of tough forwards who can wrist with anyone, and play a smart game of cycling and picking their spots.
Record against Dallas since the start of the 2009-10 season? 4-6, but outscored 32-21.
Knowing what you are in sports of any kind is key to building successfully, and while we like to think Poile and company do have a great system, and they do, don’t discount the Stars’s system.
The Kings play a similar game, but with better goaltending (consistently at least, Kari can build a mean fire but he’s been known to burn the house down a few times) from the firm of Jonathan and Jonathan. Quick and Bernier are just straight nasty, but thankfully one will likely be shipped out for parts before the deadline, or in the summer. I don’t know how or why the Kings aren’t getting goals with the lineup they have, but they aren’t. Nevertheless, if/when this team gets righted they could be scary if the right trade happens.
Going into the 2009-10 season, the Preds carried a streak against the Kings that was Columbus worthy. Since losing 2-0 to Bernier in Nashville late that season, the Kings have owned the Preds. Last year and this year versus the Kings: 1-4, outscored 20-12. The Kings don’t have a major size advantage, but it’s their skating that was deadly paired with their size. Thankfully, that Ryan Smyth character is with… the Oilers.
Speaking of those darn kids in Edmonton, it’s a mixture of speed, size, and unpredictability. It’s pond hockey it times, and it’s really something to watch. Give them a top flight goalie, and it’ll be a nightmare to play them. The Preds record against the Oil is 5-5-1, but it feels worse than that. The goal difference is 34-28 in favor of Edmonton, but the psychology of losing 4-0 at home (last year) and 6-2 at home (this year) and that TERRIBLE game where the Preds were coached by some high school defensive coordinator and didn’t realize how important it was to shoot the puck in Edmonton (this year), it sticks with you. The problem here is Edmonton’s identity is still being forged, so we can’t fully diagnose on how to beat these guys other than beating their goaltender 4 times.
The pattern with these three teams? Size and Skating, and in the case of Dallas and LA, it’s muscling out the forwards camping near the net. That takes size on the blueline, something that has been missing on the bottom two pairs of Nashville defensemen. (And why many fans miss Shane O’Brien, if not for his boyish charm.)
The offense this year has shown to be a bit more complete, with 8 players tallying at least 8 goals thus far in the year. Just as a comparison, the Kings only have 3 players over 8 goals. One is named Kopitar. The Canucks have 7 players with more than 6 goals. It’s another Trotzian team. The problem won’t be outscoring people this year. (I SAID IT) It will be clearing the garbage out of the slot. Kevin Klein is starting to realize what his frame is for, something Cody Franson never quite got.
I’ve switched camps. Offense is nice, but not at the expense of ruining the depth. Teams that are making deep runs into the western conference have production from their 2nd and 3rd lines, and have a stellar second defensemen pairing. Why else is Anaheim in the shape they are? The Preds, providing a good win over a hot Colorado team, could be up to 4th or 5th in the west in goals scored. Really! It’s that darn power play we’ve been talking about. It’s defense that’s the need for this year. Next year in the summer is the time to snag the forward. (Unless something magical happens… more on that in the next piece)