Defense: C (Up from a C-)
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The Nashville Predators have gotten bitten by the injury bug between the quarterly report card and this midterm report card. On paper, it looks like the forward group has been impacted the most, but when you have fewer defensemen on a roster and in the lineup, their absence can be incredibly noticeable.
At some point, all of the top 6 defensemen have had to miss time due to injury, or in Dante Fabbro’s case, suspension. Missing the combination of your top blueliners in Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis at the same time is not a recipe for success. While Mattias Ekholm bounced back from his injury in big ways, he’s had to do so as the squad’s elder. This has led to opportunities for the young guys, and while they’ve actually improved since the quarterly report card (by .25), they still struggle in areas that aren’t to blame just because of the rookies logging some ice time.
There are many times where the defense can be caught out of position, can make a poor transition, or take some boneheaded penalties that serve no purpose to the team’s cause. At the same time, they’re less prone to flooding and more prone to leaking when it comes to allowing goals.
That Ekholm guy has come back like a man on fire and is generating offense from the blue line in a big way (his time on the IR was apparently because he was having a rocket launcher attached to his stick hand). Seeing young guys like Alexandre Carrier and Jeremy Davies should give fans hope; they’ve shown the potential to be consistent lineup contributors down the road.
Lastly, the heartbeat of this team, not just defensively but emotionally, remains Pekka Rinne – if the team is going to win games, it’s because he’s still leaving every bit of heart, blood, sweat, and tears out on the ice. Juuse Saros has been injured, but this still very much looks like Rinne’s job until Saros can actually take it, and I’m not so sure he can.