Alex and Andrei Sitting Out Game Three (and that may be OK)

April 20, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Nashville Predators right wing Alexander Radulov (47) reacts to a Predators goal against the Detroit Red Wings during the third period in game five of the 2012 Western Conference quarterfinals at Bridgestone Arena. The Predators beat the Red Wings 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Don McPeak-US PRESSWIRE

By now, you’ve heard that Andrei Kostitsyn and Alexander Radulov will not be joining the team’s cause tomorrow night against the Coyotes. The decision to sit the players stems from the two breaking a team rule, and unlike the NHL the Predators got the suspension right. We won’t know the full extent of what they did, but it doesn’t matter. The braintrust of David Poile and Barry Trotz believe in this suspension, and that’s that. And frankly, that’s good enough for me.

Firstly, a big kudos goes to Sergei Kostitsyn. You can say what you want about his game, and it’s as inconsistent as his last name’s pronunciation. He stayed home, and probably was chillin’ with Martin Erat or Mike Fisher- a couple of good family men. Many were worried that the arrival of Andrei could “ruin Sergei” and it’ll become Montreal 2.0. Remind yourself that this is a silly kids’ game that we watch. Did Sergei turn down his bro to go out late? We won’t know for a long long while. Going out and pounding drinks doesn’t make you a bad person (boy I sure hope so), but most everyone would say that Marty and Mike are solid individuals that are admired on and off the ice. If Sergei becomes more like Erat over the years, I’ll praise him highly.

But here’s the reality: this team needs a firm wake up call. The Preds have diverted from their identity that has made them successful for the last 8 years. They’re relying on slick and savvy forward play and not so much on the smothering defense. While most “experts” believe Nashville has the superior defensive corps, Phoenix is very solid 1 through 7 on their blue line. It takes a team game to beat these guys unless your team is the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Goals aren’t the problem against the Coyotes. It’s keeping the other team out of their net and not allowing Phoenix to carve up their third pairing. Alex Radulov has chipped in some timely plays during the postseason, but Andrei Kostitsyn has been pretty solid so far. He’ll be missed. If I could beat Mike Smith like that while hungover, I’d be a happy man.

This presents a unique opportunity to change the mentality of a team mid-stream. A healthy dose of Jordin Tootoo and Matt Halischuk could be just what the doctor ordered. Craig Smith? Possibly. With both Radulov and Andrei out of the fold, the power play might not turn in another dynamic performance… so 5 on 5 goals will be an area the Predators will have to win.

And like others, I agree that this could be the moment that Colin Wilson needs to assert himself. Of anything good that can come from this, this is the individual team member response I would absolutely cherish. Wilson needs to play smart, but playing a sharp motivated and PHYSICAL game that he’s been saving for such an occasion. He’s a legit top six forward when he’s playing well, and took his game to another level this year. To provide a better metaphor, he’s in 3rd gear. He’s barely able to drink legally in this country, so he’s got my patience. But boy… when he get’s to 5th and 6th gear, he’s going to be special. Craig Smith has slowly shown more conviction in his play over the last two months, so putting him on a line that plays offense could be just the shot in the arm his game needs.

Most importantly, this team will now be able to dress two players that were here since last year or earlier. Under Coach Trotz, this team is structured to play solid, smothering, forechecking defense. Matt Halischuk is a smart forechecker. Jordin Tootoo gave the Ducks nightmares with his prowess in the attacking zone. It’s time to get back to what got us to the dance. I like Andrei, and I like Alex. But whether it’s off the ice or on the ice, they need to learn a thing or two about Predators hockey.

Poile said in his media scrum that the decision to play the two for game four was up to Trotz. If they win, I at least expect Radulov to stay sitting.

Topics: Alexander Radulov, Andrei Kostitsyn, Barry Trotz, Colin Wilson, Jordin Tootoo, Nashville Predators, NHL, Phoenix Coyotes, Sergei Kostitsyn

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