After Sunday’s 3-2 shootout loss to Anaheim the Nashville Predators made their way to Phoenix, where they’ll take on the Coyotes late tonight. Preds coach Barry Trotz talked to the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper about the situation the team finds themselves in at the moment, with just one win and now playing indefinitely without the services of its top scorer.
Trotz essentially said that you can take one of two approaches: either the glass is half-full (only one regulation loss, points in four of five games), or it’s half-empty (the frustration of three shootout losses). Either way, you have to keep moving forward. “Tomorrow’s the biggest game of the year,” he concluded. “That’s how we’re going to have to look at it.”
Taken as a statement about every game from here on out rather than just the immediate circumstance of playing the Phoenix Coyotes, Barry Trotz’s statement rings true across each level of the Nashville Predators organization.
Nashville Predators Players
The Preds are very fortunate to still be sitting in third place in the Central Division at the moment. Only the presence of Columbus and an injury-hobbled, Lidstrom-less Detroit team are keeping the Preds and their point-per-game performance from the bottom of the standings. Their offense has been borderline comatose for long stretches of whole periods, barely managing double-digit shot totals with little scoring punch on the lower lines and slow starts from a few key producers, most notably Sergei Kostitsyn and David Legwand.
Even when the Preds have been able to score, they haven’t held a lead. The defense can be blamed for a few bad goals, mostly on mistakes by veteran blueliners; aside from Pekka Rinne’s continued solid play, the saving grace has been that Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, supposed question marks for the team in the preseason, are looking like they’re ready for prime time. Luckily the solution for the players is simple: band together and up their game. Easier said than done, sure, but also necessary. Phoenix will be the biggest game of the year, as will every game after that. It will be a test not only of their resolve and skill, but also of whether the team leaders can inspire the others to come up big in a very tough situation.
Milwaukee Admirals Players
The team’s AHL prospects are going to have to prepare themselves for the possibility of shuffling back and forth between the farm and the show. Patric Hornqvist’s injury leaves an already shallow Nashville forward corps with a gaping hole, presumably for quite some time though we haven’t received confirmation on just how long yet. In the absence of a blockbuster trade that opening will be filled from within, as will the openings created below Hornqvist’s lineup slot. There’s a good chance that management will want to bring several different players up and send them back down until someone sticks. The back-and-forth of playing for two different teams, with completely different sets of linemates, is a challenge to be overcome. The reward is the chance to earn a roster spot in the NHL.
Behind The Bench
Barry Trotz himself is going to have to find a way to turn the resources he has available to him into points in the standings – and they can’t all come one at a time. He’s proven highly adept at this throughout his tenure with the Nashville Predators, but in the early going this year he’s struggled to find many effective line combinations. His move of Colin Wilson to the top line with Mike Fisher and Martin Erat showed some promise last game and, in theory, ought to start producing some results very soon. The task now is going to be finding the extra production from the less glamorous strata of the roster, points that Nashville has historically relied on to win hockey games. With a fourth line composed mostly of waiver castoffs from other franchises, that’s going to be a tall order.
At the end of the day, it’s up to David Poile to find a way to keep this team competitive on the ice. The lack of depth compared with past seasons was already an issue before the team lost its top scorer in the loss to the Ducks. Now it’s become a true liability.
I think the challenge Poile faces right now is considerably greater than at last season’s trade deadline. His charge last spring was simply to stock an already-winning team with the best available players in order to prepare the Nashville Predators for a deep playoff run. For the most part he made the moves any GM in his position would have made: he brought in Hal Gill, Paul Gaustad, Andrei Kostitsyn, and Alexander Radulov not because they’re the best players in the league but because they were the best options he had available for improving specific holes in his roster. (Though Radulov is pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty, pret-ty good.)
Right now he has to decide whether he can rely on bringing up players from the AHL, whether there’s some free agent hiding under a rock in Saskatoon who could pass a physical, or whether to make a deal to acquire new talent from outside the organization. If he opts for the latter, there are extra complications: finding a team whose needs match up with what he has to offer; making decisions in a weeks-old CBA environment that nobody has completely figured out yet; dealing with other GMs who know he’s at something of a disadvantage at the moment after losing his top scorer; and on top of all that, picking the right players to acquire. Making a blockbuster deal in this situation would be a long-shot. The important thing now is making sure the team has the parts it needs to earn points.