POSTED ON Monday, 10.17.2011 / 9:57 AM
By Jay Levin - Nashville Predators / Preds Guest Bloggers
Nashville is home to some of the most active and read hockey blogs in the NHL, so NashvillePredators.com is introducing a new guest blogger program, showcasing the work from members of our bloggers row -- a group of dedicated independent bloggers who follow the team year-round. Nashville’s hockey bloggers cover the team regularly and provide coverage from different perspectives, in our guest blog we will share these various perspectives with visitors to the site by showcasing one blogger each week (and increasing the contributions during busier times of the season).

These committed bloggers have shown a strong dedication to growing the sport of hockey in the area and spreading the word about Smashville and the Nashville Predators.

Enjoy!
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POSTED ON Monday, 10.17.2011 / 9:36 AM
By Amanda DiPaolo (InsideSmashville.com)

The Predators organization drafted 17 players on their current 23-man roster. Through free agent signings and trades, however, the roster also includes several combinations of players who were teammates on different teams before making the Predators squad.
Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk played together in Junior for the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League and were even linemates.

“It’s fun”, Halischuk said about reuniting with Spaling in Nashville.

Halischuk was a 4th round draft pick of the New Jersey Devils in 2007 but was sent to Nashville in the trade that saw Jason Arnott go back to the Devils in June 2010. “Obviously, it is cool to meet up with guys down in your career. We both went our own ways after Junior. It’s exciting to play with him again.”

Spaling was drafted by Nashville in the 2007 draft, 58th overall in the second round.

In the OHL, Spaling and Halischuk were part of an electric line that also featured Justin Azevedo, a Los Angeles Kings prospect. During their final year of Junior together, Spaling put up 72 points, including 38 goals. Halischuk added another 59 points.
“As a player, he has continued to grow and mature,” Spaling said about the Toronto, Ontario native. “Every year he becomes more confident and is looking better out there. He’s grown into a full-time NHL player, obviously. It is fun to play with him,” Spaling said.
While the two forwards are not regular linemates at the NHL level, Spaling and Halischuk were reunited on the ice during the overtime period against the New Jersey Devils during Saturday night’s 3-2 shootout loss when teams need to play 4-on-4 hockey for five minutes.

Halischuk and Spaling are not the only players to have played together in Junior. Brian McGrattan and Mike Fisher played for the Sudbury Wolves during the 1998-99 OHL season.

This is the second time McGrattan and Fisher would meet up in their NHL careers. A draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings, McGrattan never played with the team and signed with the Ottawa Senators as free agent in 2003. Fisher was drafted 44th overall in 1998 by Ottawa.

“We’ve known each other for a long time. In Ottawa, he was great. He had already been there for a while when I joined the team. He was one of the leaders. He was a core part of that team that took us to the Cup final,” McGrattan recalled. In 2007, the Senators lost the Stanley Cup to the Anaheim Ducks in five games.

In June 2008, McGrattan was traded to Phoenix in exchange for a fifth round draft pick, but only suited up in five games with the Coyotes. Since his time in Phoenix, McGrattan has signed contracts with Boston and Anaheim but never played an NHL game for either team. Now in Nashville, McGrattan again finds himself on the same team as Fisher.

“He has been the same -- same guy, same player,” McGrattan says about Fisher, adding, “He’s always been one of the best shape guys on the team and a hard worker. He’s always been a high-end skill guy too. He’s one of the more complete players in the League.”

“It’s funny how it works in hockey. I end up playing with guys many years down the road that I had played with before,” McGrattan said.
Nashville also features two former Montreal Canadiens who have reconnected as Predators. Francis Bouillon and Sergei Kostitsyn were both a part of the Habs organization between 2007-2010.

By time Kostitsyn played his first NHL game during the 2007-08 season, Bouillon was already a seasoned veteran with parts of 7 NHL seasons under his belt.

“Back then Sergei was young,” Bouillon recalls about his teammate. “It was his first and second year when he was in Montreal. Since coming here to Nashville, you can see a lot of maturity in him. He has a great attitude. He works hard on the ice. Everyone likes him. He proved last year that he can play in the League. It was a great pick up for the Nashville organization,” Bouillon said of Kostitsyn.
The Predators got Kostitsyn in a trade for the rights to Dan Ellis and Dustin Boyd at the end of June in 2010. Last season, Kostitsyn led the team in goals with 23 and tied for the points lead with Martin Erat at 50 points on the season.

Currently, Kostitsyn finds himself playing top-line minutes with David Legwand and Colin Wilson. The left-wing has recorded an assist in Nashville’s first four games of the season.

Finally, the Predators also feature not just teammates, but another set of linemates, at the collegiate level. Blake Geoffrion was a senior at the University of Wisconsin when Craig Smith started out as a freshmen.

As linemates, Smith had 8 goals and 28 assists his rookie year. Geoffrion scored 25 goals and added 22 assists in a season that would win the Brentwood, Tennessee native the Hobey Baker Award.

Smith, now a rookie with the Predators, says he looked up to Geoffrion while playing together for the Wisconsin Badgers.

"I did look up to him. He's a good guy. He was a senior. He had three years of college under his belt and I had a lot of respect for him. He's always had kind of a big name. He took me under his wing. He was never afraid to come up and talk to me about anything, to see how I was doing and make sure I felt comfortable. It felt good. It felt like I was welcome in my freshman year,” Smith raved about his former and current teammate.

Smith also maintains that going from College to the NHL has not had any effect on the character of Geoffrion. “He hasn't changed. That's the thing about Blake. He's always there to help. He wants people around him to do well, not just himself. It's a nice trait to have and I'm happy to have him as a friend and teammate," Smith said.

Amanda DiPaolo was a member of the Preds Bloggers Row in 2010-11 and oversees InsideSmashville.com, one of the newest blogs dedicated to all things Predators hockey.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 10.05.2011 / 11:50 AM
by Dirk Hoag (OnTheForecheck.com)

Perhaps the most exciting story to come out of this year's Nashville Predators training camp has been the rise of Craig Smith, the prospect who turned pro after passing on his final two seasons of college eligibility at the University of Wisconsin. Following in the footsteps of fellow Badgers Blake Geoffrion and Ryan Suter, Smith made headlines with a six-goal effort in two Rookie Camp games in Florida early in September, then continued to draw rave reviews from observers as full training camp opened later in the month. An overtime goal with 11 seconds left clinched a preseason-ending victory over Carolina on Saturday, and was followed by word from head coach Barry Trotz that Smith had earned himself an Opening Night roster spot, bypassing the traditional path taken through Milwaukee.

Can such a meteoric rise by sustained, however? Is this the case of a young player enjoying a month where everything comes together, leaving open the question of how the story might change as the long grind of the NHL season takes its toll?

The encouraging news with Craig Smith is that this is no one-month wonder. There is instead a strong track record going back at least a year, which points to his ability to make significant contributions to this Nashville Predators squad.

One tool that analytical hockey bloggers use to compare prospects is NHL Equivalency, which is designed to take offensive production in various developmental leagues, and estimate how much of that scoring an individual player will be able to maintain in a rookie NHL season. Expressed as a fraction of Points Per Game, it might say that if you have two prospects each scoring a point-per-game who are making the transition to the NHL, one playing in Canadian junior hockey and the other in the Finnish SM-Liiga, the varying strength in those leagues tells you that one of those players (the one coming from Finland, in this case) is likely to score at a quicker pace than the other. These estimates of league strength are built by looking back at the history of similar players making that jump to the NHL, and tracking how much of their scoring they maintained. The age of the prospect is also a factor, because younger players typically have more potential to fulfill than older ones.

In the case of Craig Smith, NHL Equivalency tells us that his 2010-2011 season at Wisconsin was truly a standout effort; Copper & Blue, a blog which covers the Edmonton Oilers, compared all the forwards who were age-eligible for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, and found that Craig Smith’s production with the Badgers (19 goals and 24 assists in 41 games) ranked 12th across all such players, whether they were already in the NHL or not. His production, at better than a point-per-game in college, would lead to an estimated NHL rookie season of 35 points, roughly comparable to the 34 points that Colin Wilson scored last year for Nashville.

There is always the question of how well a prospect can step up his game against higher levels of competition, and on this front, we have further cause for optimism. Following the completion of his college season, Smith went to the World Championships with Team USA, playing with and against pro-quality talent. He ended up leading the American squad with three goals in 7 games, adding three assists as well to place second on the team in scoring. Smith didn’t just ride along with this team and fill a minor role, he starred.

Add that World Championship experience to the performance Smith has delivered in training camp, and there’s every reason to believe that he has the talent and athletic ability to translate his college production to the pro game this season. While Mike Fisher continues his recovery from off-season shoulder surgery, that opens a potential opportunity for Smith to see ice time on a major scoring line for the Preds, as well. Thankfully for the team, all signs seem to point to his being ready to make an impact there.

Dirk Hoag is the managing editor of OnTheForecheck.com, which provides news, opinion and analysis on the Predators and the NHL at large.
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POSTED ON Friday, 09.23.2011 / 6:41 PM
by Ryan Porth, Smashville247.net

If you’ve been following Jonathon Blum on Twitter recently, you know that he has put together quite the streak in the credit card game. (Credit card game explanation: The table asks for one check, everybody puts their credit card in a hat, and the waiter draws the cards one by one. The last name drawn has to pay for everyone’s dinner.) As of Thursday night, the Predators defenseman is a perfect 9-0 on the season.

“They’re probably a little jealous,” Blum jokingly said of his teammates that partake in this game.

Prospect Michael Latta, who is a frequent participant in the game, added, “He has no stress when he does it. Everyone else is kind of gripping their hands, so maybe that’s got something to do with it. He’s just nice and loose, while everybody else is tense.”

The words “nice and loose” could also be used to describe Blum’s on-ice play.

Following his second career NHL game, Predators head coach Barry Trotz was so impressed that he said, “Jon Blum is one helluva player … He’s definitely in our top three.”

After being an early cut in training camp at this time last season, the Long Beach, Calif., native returned to Milwaukee with a chip on his shoulder. Blum was told by the Predators coaching staff that he didn’t have the sharpness or pace in his game to be an NHL player just yet.

“First of all he’s a great person with a great attitude,” ex-Admirals coach and current Predators assistant coach Lane Lambert said, “so when he did get sent to Milwaukee early, he used that as motivation. He’s a guy that you knew was going to play (in the NHL); it was just a matter of when. As he has gotten stronger and stronger, physically, he’s given himself a better chance to play, and then when he got called up last year, he proved that he was ready to play.”

Given Trotz’s aforementioned remarks, Blum’s first impression in Nashville was a good one. He was put in a tough situation for a rookie defenseman (during the most important time of the year, no less) and raised the eyebrows of the coaching staff in the process.

“We put him in a position and said ‘Let’s see how he handles it,’” associate coach Peter Horachek said. “We felt he was going to struggle somewhere, and he didn’t. It didn’t take long before we said ‘We think he can do it – let’s leave him there.’

“It was a really tough situation for him to step in. He went in and played against the top two lines right away, and handled himself really well.”

In 23 regular season games, Blum tallied eight points and a game-winning goal. His poise and calmness was transparent in the postseason. Blum averaged 18 minutes of ice time per game in 35 total games.

“He got thrown right in the fire,” Ryan Suter said. “That’s probably the easiest – just halfway through the year, come up and have to play key roles and key minutes. It’s different for guys that come out of camp because of all the hype and long season. But for him (Blum), I thought it was good.”

Blum added, “You step right in and there is no time for rookie mistakes, rookie fumbles, those ups and downs. It’s too important of a time to be doing that. That’s going to help me this year, just to come in and eliminate those lows and be a steady player that this team relies on night in and night out.”

Blum’s defense partner down the stretch last spring, Kevin Klein, was as impressed as anyone with the demeanor that the 22-year-old displayed.

“He took it in stride. He got comfortable in the last half of the season, which is good for him. In the playoffs there is a different speed, and he kept up without a problem. He was a good factor for us in winning games in the playoffs. It was nice to see.”

Once Blum settled in, he and Klein turned into an effective pairing. In the final 18 games of the regular season, both blue-liners boasted a +8 plus/minus rating.

In Klein’s opinion, what makes Blum such an effective defense partner?

“He reads the play really well, and he read me very well. I think we did a good job of just working together. Talking a lot is a huge key, especially for a young guy trying to get his bearings in the league. He does all of the little things right.

“He’s a kid that doesn’t get too stressed out about much. He takes things in stride and stays composed. If things go wrong, he does a good job in forgetting about it and moving on.”

When Blum was originally drafted, pundits and experts were concerned about his size. At the time, he was a thin 160 pounds. Going into this season, Blum is 193 pounds, seven more than where he finished last season.

“When players get drafted, they’re young, they’ve got developing and maturing to do, which will happen just with age,” Lambert said. “As an organization, we help that process with development camp and working with our strength and conditioning coach, teaching him how to train properly. We have the luxury of having a good strength coach in Milwaukee, so he continues that progression.”

Blum has gone from proving doubters wrong to feeling like a veteran on defense (compared to some others in camp) with only two months of NHL experience.

“(Last weekend) it felt like I was going first in every drill, telling everyone what to do if they had questions – and I’ve only played 35 games!” Blum said. “It is different, but I think that is just the Predator Way. You look at last year, we had 14 or 15 players that were drafted by the Preds. They like the homegrown talent and you see that this year.”

With his timely emergence, Blum has certainly gained the trust of the coaching staff.

“We know what Blum can do,” Horachek said, “on the biggest stage against a team that was a top team in the league by record in Vancouver, and then Anaheim is a tough team to play against. When he had to play against those tough top lines, he did a good job. We feel like he’s in a good position to be in our top four.”

Despite some bumps along the way, it’s safe to say Blum is growing into one of the bright spots for the franchise’s future.

Ryan Porth is the founder and owner of Smashville 24/7 (smashville247.net), a full-time Predators blog bringing you extensive and in-depth coverage.

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POSTED ON Thursday, 09.01.2011 / 11:16 AM
By Buddy Oakes (predsontheglass.com)

The Nashville Predators made major strides in 2010-11 by winning their first playoff series in franchise history and then gave the eventual Stanley Cup runners up more than they wanted before eventually losing in six games to Vancouver.

In April of 2010, every Predator fan that watched Marion Hossa come out of the penalty box in game five of the Predators' 2010 first round series with Chicago and score the game winning goal remembers the gut wrenching feeling in their stomach that was generated.

It was far more devastating for the players on the ice and the coaches on the bench. To a man, they all described the loss as the worst that they had ever experienced.

After the series, Predators’ General Manager David Poile explained, "The loss to Chicago was more difficult than anything we have been through. This year (2009-10) there was something special about the team and we didn't take advantage of the opportunity. We really thought to a man that we could do it."

Head coach Barry Trotz echoed similar feelings, "We have gone to the playoffs five times and it may seem like the same result but this was different. We will get to the next level. It could have happened this year. We had no one to blame but ourselves."

In training camp last September, players and coaches alike pointed to that game five in Chicago as the motivation to not make an early exit again in 2011. Everyone had moved past losing the series but the feeling was one that they wanted to remember.

Jerred Smithson voiced the last lament of the prior season on the first day of camp. "We thought we had what it took to go deep and it was a major disappointment." The team was ready to move forward.

The 2010-11 season would be different in many ways.

Barry Trotz saw the difference in last year's team on opening night. "To me, a defining moment, just in our evolution as a team was in game one. We didn't flinch when Pekka Rinne went down and we made no excuses and then we went 5-0-3 to start the season. (Laughs) Then we lost five in a row and came back to reality."

The Predators fought through the adversity of losing player after player to injuries during the regular season and were within a tie-breaker of having home ice advantage as they accumulated 99 points in the tough Western Conference and managed to finish in fifth place.

"This team just got stronger and stronger and never flinched," explained Trotz. "As a coach, it was good to see. When some guys go out, others go 'I don't know how we are going to win now,' but that was never the case, or even uttered by the team or the coaching staff."

"It was just, 'This guy's got to fill in and we'll find a way.' That was the DNA of this team." That also defines “Predator Hockey.”

The Preds did move past the first round for the first time in franchise history, as they devastated the star-studded Anaheim Ducks in six games to move to the second round against Vancouver.

In game one against Vancouver, the team, as a whole failed to show up. They rallied in the second game to steal a win on the road and came home tied 1-1. Fans were convinced that surely with home ice advantage, they would win a pair and go back to the west coast with a chance to wrap up the series in game five.

Ryan Kesler had other ideas as he took over the series to have the Canucks take both games in Nashville. The Preds came alive in game five and won another tough road game. Their third home loss in a row sent Vancouver to the conference finals and sent the Preds home for the summer.

The end of the Predator season in 2011 was different than the prior year. There was no collapse or shocking finishes. They simply got beat by a highly skilled team with the hottest player in the playoffs to that point.

David Legwand saw little difference between the two seasons, “We lost in game six in both series and it sucks. You never want to lose the last game of the year.”

When pressed, he did admit to some progress, “We learned how to play in certain situations. The further you go the bigger the games get and that’s something that is good for us.”

Pekka Rinne saw similarities in the end result, “Obviously it is the same disappointment, the empty feeling. It’s like, that’s it for the season. You play a long season and work so hard and then it is done.”

“It’s a little different feeling than last year, Rinne continued. “Last year I thought losing in the first round we kind of did it to ourselves. We made some mistakes and it ended up costing us.”

“This year I thought we did everything we could. We played hard every single night and did our best and it wasn’t enough. Vancouver was just that much better. It’s still hard to accept but it’s way easier when you give everything you have.”

Shea Weber pointed out the missed opportunity of 2010, “Last year we saw that we could have done some damage. We had the Stanley Cup Champions where we wanted them and we knew we were good enough to win. We found out how to do that and this year we got past the first round and it will only get better from there.”

Weber continued, “Against Vancouver, it was a different feeling. Chicago is something we’ll never forget. It was the most devastating loss in franchise history. I think we learned a lot from that and found the way to win a round this year. We still need to learn from that and hopefully we learned from what we did wrong in the second round and do better than that next year.”

Barry Trotz really saw a long-term evolution in the Predators at the end of the year. "It's not the same. In some ways we wanted to validate that we were making strides and we were. It's not taking anything away from previous groups but it has been baby steps."

"This group got through the threshold. There were some teams that went into the payoffs that were great regular season teams but were way too light and didn't have the DNA that you need in the playoffs. This team had more of that DNA that you need and it started with the leadership group and then grabbing a guy like 'Fish'."

"If anyone had an idea of the injuries and how banged up some of the guys were and never uttered a word, it's pretty phenomenal. Some guys shouldn't have even been playing hockey but were competing at the highest level against the best in the world and not shying away from contact. It was incredible what some of the guys like Fisher and Spaling and others went through."

In summary, Rinne added a key point that was learned by the team in the series against the Canucks, “Just the fact that the differences are so small. Any team in the league can go all the way. The team just has to truly believe that, and stick together and believe in what you have in your locker room and with that, you have a chance.”

That belief in each other in the locker room is a key principal of “The Predator Way” and gives hope to the players and their fans of better things to come in the 2011-2012 season.

Buddy Oakes was a member of the Preds Bloggers Row in 2010-11 and oversees PredsOnTheGlass.com, one of the leading blogs dedicated to all things Predators hockey.

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POSTED ON Thursday, 08.25.2011 / 3:32 PM
By Jeremy Gover (section303.com)

Is it the organized chants? Is it the occasional star power on the band stage between periods? Is it the impromptu TV timeout standing ovations? What makes a hockey game in Nashville, Tennessee so unique?

All of the above.

Nowhere else in the National Hockey League do you have a crowd that essentially acts as a team member. And because Nashville Predators fans feel like they’re part of the team, they take the term “home ice advantage” to a whole new level, cheering the Preds on to one of the best home records in the Western Conference (24-9-8). In 2010-11, only the mighty Vancouver Canucks had a better home record.

So what gives the Preds the advantage? One of the main factors are the organized chants that originate up in 303. The Cell Block has been around since day one, literally. Founder Mark Hollingsworth and his band of rowdy misfits decided that they were going to take it upon themselves to make the early expansion years fun and exciting. Because, let’s face it, the early days of an NHL franchise can be long and painful. Like the Predators were building their organization over time, Hollingsworth, et al built the Cell Block over time. Since the Fall of 1998, it’s taken on a life of it’s own, having grown from just a few loud fans in section 303 to organized chants that are recited throughout the arena. The section is so famous around the league that it even gets a shout-out in EA Sports’ NHL video game franchise.

“You’re part of a family that’s united in their love for the Nashville Predators and the disdain for the opponent,” said Codey Holland, a season ticket holder in The Cell Block. “You laugh, you taunt, and above all else, you have a great time!”

But that’s not the only thing that makes Smashville unique. Where else do you have live music during the intermissions? Nowhere. In every arena around the NHL, it’s the same old thing: ads on the jumbotron, a video about an upcoming team event and some music. All while you go out and grab a hot dog. In Nashville, however, that’s not good enough. Alice Cooper, Big & Rich, Carrie Underwood and Vince Gill are just a handful of big names that have entertained Preds fans between periods on the band stage. And the list of stars is sure to grow over the next few years. Could Nashville residents Jack White, Taylor Swift or Tim McGraw be next? You never know who’s going to grace that stage on any given night.

The organized chants and heckling are great. The hall of fame musicians are great. But there’s another thing that sets Nashville, Tennessee apart from all the rest. And, if you’ve ever witnessed one first hand, you’re getting chill bumps right about…. now.

The TV timeout standing ovations are truly something to behold. 17,113 people stand, applaud and cheer in unison, all with the purpose of giving their hockey club that extra push to get that tying goal, or kill off that important penalty, or close out the final seconds of a close victory. Sure fans cheer and get loud in every arena, but this is something completely different. The Bridgestone Arena crowd senses a momentum change and does everything it can to help the Predators gain or keep that momentum. They can’t strap on the skates and get out on the ice so they do it the only way they can: with their voices.

“It’s awesome,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “It just energizes you. It’s like a shot of adrenaline. Especially when you smell blood.”

On January 15, 2011, that Predators smelled blood. They had scratched and clawed their way back from a 2-0 deficit to the Central Division rival and defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. 12:17 into the final frame, a TV timeout occurred and Preds fans took to their feet. Their cheers and applause and all-around noise making was deafening and their team fed off of it. Just three seconds after the networks returned to live coverage – and with the standing ovation still going on – captain Shea Weber one-timed a shot past Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford to tie the game. It was the loudest that building had been in years. Maybe ever. The excitement of trying to help your team and then seeing the immediate pay off was beyond words.

“Are the Blackhawks taking a timeout here?” Predators play-by-play man Pete Weber exclaimed on the FS-Tennessee broadcast. “It’s so loud, I can’t hear.”

The TV timeout standing O’s only happen about 10 times a season. They’re hardly an everyday thing. But, in the end, that’s what makes them special. They would lose their effectiveness if they were planned or staged or forced. They wouldn’t have the same impact if they were predictable or frequent. They’re perfect the way they are.

Unique. Just like hockey in Nashville, Tennessee.

Jeremy Gover is a long-time Preds season ticket holder and the lead blogger for section303.com.
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POSTED ON Wednesday, 08.17.2011 / 10:34 AM
By Amanda DiPaolo (insidesmashville.com)

With just a month until the start of training camp, hockey’s off-season is almost over. For Predators fans, this summer has been the shortest in franchise history. Nashville played hockey in May for the first time, winning its first playoff series, beating the Anaheim Ducks in six games before losing to the Vancouver Canucks in the Western Conference semi finals.

At the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, some of the NHL’s biggest stars opened up about playing the Predators in the post season, including Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, Ted Lindsay Award winner Daniel Sedin and Vezina Trophy finalist, as well as Jennings Trophy recipient, Roberto Luongo.

Each player saw something different about Nashville that explained why the Predators were able to get past the Ducks and take the Canucks to six very close games.

Perry led his team back to the playoffs after missing the post season in 2010. With a 50-goal campaign, the forward scored 19 of those goals in the final 16 games of the regular season to capture home ice advantage during the first round of the playoffs.

While Nashville was able to beat the Ducks, Perry put up impressive numbers with 2 goals and 6 assists for 8 points in six games.

“It is one of those things where you don’t expect to finish fourth,” Perry said about the end of the season, adding “with three games left, we went from ninth to fourth and end up playing Nashville.”

Perry saw the Predators as a team that impressed all season long, one of consistency. “You look at that team, they played well all year. We played the wrong team at the wrong time. It is not a team we matched up well against. It was tough the way we lost.”

The Predators consistency showed in the season series against the Ducks, with Nashville winning three of the four games played between the two clubs.

Vancouver advanced to the Western Conference finals against San Jose by beating Nashville in six games, but each game was decided by one goal—with the exception of game four when the Canucks scored an empty net goal to double Nashville 4-2.

For Sedin, what made Nashville a tough opponent was the emphasis placed on defense, allowing the Predators to have a fighting chance to win any game, any given night.

“They are well coached,” Sedin said. Predators coach Barry Trotz has been a Jack Adams Award finalist for the past two seasons.

“I think they make it tough for you every game. You know it is going to be a low scoring game, some tight games. That’s the way it was every game during our series. We were able to beat them, which made me obviously happy,” Sedin said, noting that it wasn’t an easy series.

It is no surprise that Sedin would take notice of Nashville’s defense corps. The Predators defensive play effectively shut down the left winger who picked up only 3 points in six games (1 goal, 2 assists) against Nashville.

While it is no secret that consistency, coaching and defense are all strengths of the organization, Luongo, is quick to point out that the Predators goaltending is also second to none, giving credit to Pekka Rinne.

“He had an unbelievable year. He played fantastic against us in the series we were against him,” Luongo said.

The Canadian Olympian points to Rinne’s size and athleticism in explaining his success in net. “He is a big guy. He covers a lot of net and there isn’t a lot of room to score. Even sometimes when you think you have an open net, he is so big he will reach out and put a piece of equipment in front of the puck,” Luongo explained.

Luongo added that he expects Rinne to continue to dominate League statistics for the next several years.

This season, Rinne was nominated for the Vezina Award for best goaltender in the League and finished fourth in voting for the Hart Trophy, given to the player most valuable to his team.

With the off season winding down in the middle of the slowest month for hockey, attention now turns to a new season, with many new faces but similar challenges in finding ways to improve the power play and score more goals.

Gone are Steve Sullivan, JP Dumont, Marcel Goc, Joel Ward, Cody Franson and Matt Lombardi. If the Predators expect to return to the post season, jockeying for position in an ever increasingly talented Central Division, they will need to do it with their youth and play to their strengths—putting together a consistently well-played season with good coaching, strong defense and excellent goaltending.

Amanda DiPaolo was a member of the Preds Bloggers Row in 2010-11 and oversees InsideSmashville.com, one of the newest blogs dedicated to all things Predators hockey.

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POSTED ON Wednesday, 08.10.2011 / 10:09 AM
by Dirk Hoag (OnTheForecheck.com)

While at first glance they might appear to have little in common, football and hockey share some surprising similarities. Sure, the environments in which they are played couldn’t be much more different, when you compare the sweltering heat of a football training camp to the frigid atmosphere of an outdoor hockey game played on a frozen pond, but victory in either sport often depends on which side wins the battle of field position. They may not call it “field position” in hockey, but keeping as much play as possible in the offensive end and playing strong team defense in front of your own goalie are essential elements of the game.

Identifying the individual players who contribute offensively is easy work – just glance at the basic goal and assist statistics and one can see that names like Sergei Kostitsyn, Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist and Shea Weber led the way for the Predators last season. But on the defensive side, you have to do a little bit of digging to fully appreciate one of the best defensive forwards in the game, Jerred Smithson.

Since joining the Preds for the 2005-2006 season, Smithson has been a mainstay on the penalty kill, and has led Nashville forwards in shorthanded ice time per game for five consecutive seasons, anchoring a unit that has usually ranked among the NHL’s best. In 5-on-5 play, which makes up the vast majority of a typical game, we can also show Smithson’s defensive dominance and his contribution to this battle over “field position”.

Hockey stats analysts use something called the Corsi Rating to reflect the flow of play during an individual player’s ice time. Named for Buffalo Sabres assistant coach Jim Corsi, who came up with the idea as a way to measure a goaltender’s workload, the Corsi Rating reflects the balance of Total Shots for and against a player’s team while he is on the ice. By “Total Shots”, we include any shot fired, whether it misses the net or not, or whether it is blocked by an opposing skater. The standard convention is to isolate this for 5-on-5 ice time, and show it as a rate for every 60 minutes of play. Hockey stats analysts dig into these numbers at sites like Behind the Net, which offers a variety of different ways to view conventional and advanced hockey statistics.

Looking at total shots provides a more detailed statistical view of the game as compared to only using goals. Again building on our comparison with football, examining the balance of shot totals is akin to looking at yardage, while goals are the equivalent of touchdowns and other scoring plays. This adds a layer of information which better informs our understanding of team and individual performance.

The idea here is to use the Corsi Rating as an indicator of which team is spending more time in the offensive end attempting to score, i.e. winning the “field position” battle while that player is on the ice. At first glance, Smithson’s -10.8 Corsi doesn’t appear impressive, since it means Nashville’s opponents attempted about 10 more shots than the Preds for every 60 minutes of Smithson’s 5-on-5 play. That was the lowest figure on the team last season among those who played at least 40 games.

We can set that performance in context, however, by looking at the conditions under which Smithson worked using another advanced stat, called Zone Starts. As one of the best faceoff men in the game (6th in the NHL at 57.4%), Smithson was typically sent out for defensive zone draws, so much so that over the course of the season, he was on the ice for 256 more defensive-zone faceoffs than ones in the offensive zone, the 3rd-greatest such imbalance in the league, behind Dallas Stars center Steve Ott and Vancouver’s Manny Malhotra. Put simply, no matter how effective a player is, starting a shift in the defensive zone greatly increases the likelihood of giving up a few attempted shots by your opponent. The plan, then, is to minimize the damage and get play moving in the right direction as quickly as possible.

To extend our field position analogy, Smithson is Nashville’s specialist at helping the team battle its way out of the defensive zone, and his basic Corsi Rating reflects the difficult circumstances he often faces. We can correct for that mathematically, however, and once those Zone Starts are factored in, Smithson’s Corsi swings from a -10.8 up to +6.9, a stark difference that demonstrates his effectiveness at helping the team escape difficult situations on a regular basis.

He may not show up in the traditional lists as one of the team leaders, but there is no question that by taking on that overly-defensive Zone Start burden, and handling it the way he does, Jerred Smithson plays an essential role on the Nashville Predators. Without players like him who relish and excel at what can be a thankless task, the offensive stars have a much tougher time showing off their talents.

Dirk Hoag is the managing editor of OnTheForecheck.com, which provides news, opinion and analysis on the Predators and the NHL at large.

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POSTED ON Friday, 08.05.2011 / 10:17 AM
by Ryan Porth (Smashville247.net)

Barry Trotz was nominated this summer for the Jack Adams Award for just the second time in his coaching career; the first nomination came in 2010. You can make a case, though, that Trotz has been a worthy candidate for the Jack Adams (given annually to the league’s best coach) throughout his tenure in Nashville.

There was that time he helped the Predators to their first ever playoff berth in 2004 with the lowest payroll in hockey. There was that time he helped the Predators to a team-record 110-point campaign in 2007 when pundits thought they were a fluke (prior to the Peter Forsberg acquisition). There was that time he led the Predators to a remarkable postseason bid, against all odds, in 2008.

In most of the seven seasons that the team has made the playoffs, the media picked them to finish outside of the Western Conference’s top eight. Simply put, the only bench boss the Nashville Predators have ever known gets the best out of his team year after year.

“A lot of times at the beginning of the year, the media says we’re not supposed to make the playoffs,” associate coach Peter Horachek said. “We all take on that same kind of feelings about those things, that it doesn’t matter. We’re going to go out and make people believers.”

Horachek has been with Trotz since the start of the 2003-04 season and is happy to see him finally get the national recognition he’s been getting in recent years.

“Barry’s a very prepared person,” Horachek said of Trotz. “He allows us to be great coaches, he allows us to contribute, he’s able to delegate and do things. I have a great amount of respect for him and what he does.

“A lot of times, because of the lack of national and Canadian media outlets, we don’t get the recognition. In past years there’s been other opportunities where Barry could have been nominated [for the Jack Adams]. We were three points from the Presidents’ Trophy one year, and you would have thought that would have gotten him some recognition at that time, too.”

What is the secret to Trotz’s success?

First off, his players like playing for him. You don’t become the second-longest tenured NHL coach if you’re players don’t enjoy playing for you.

“He’s a player’s coach,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “He treats you like family members. He’s tough, but if you do something well, he remembers it. I think he’s really fair and that’s the bottom line. The biggest thing is he treats everybody well and players like him. When you have 23 players on a team, it’s a pretty important thing.”

Trotz goes the extra mile to have a relationship with his players, which contributes to the notion that he is well-liked by every player that steps into the locker room.

“Our organization looks at each player as a unique individual,” said Trotz. “One thing I try to do is have trust with my players and find out what really makes them tick, what their personalities are. I can’t change people’s personality overnight. You have some players that are projects that have had their own demons, so you have to deal with each individual.”

With the Predators not being able to spend money like the big-market clubs, Trotz and company always have to find a way to make up for that. His solution? ‘Predator Hockey’, a forechecking-based system that relies on strong defense and goaltending. Even though, on paper, the Predators don’t match up with some of the top teams, ‘Predator Hockey’ makes up for any differences.

Trotz is also known to be a master motivator, getting the best out of his team and players at key times. Two examples from this past season were the sudden turnaround of Sergei Kostitsyn in November, as well as an intermission tantrum on Jan. 2 against Columbus, which sparked a dominant second period en route to a 4-1 victory and a subsequent four-game win streak.

When Brent Peterson stepped down this off-season as associate coach, it was an emotional time for everyone involved, especially Trotz. He and Peterson had been behind the bench together since Day One of the Predators’ existence. Trotz contributes a portion of success to Peterson.

“Not only has he become a tremendous friend, but he got me through the early part of being a young head coach in the NHL,” Trotz said. “As a young head coach, sometimes you think you know everything; I found how little I knew at times. Brent was a great resource for that.

“My biggest regret for Brent is that he was definitely head coach material in the NHL – great knowledge and understanding of the game with great passion – and he didn’t get an opportunity to do that. I know that he should have and had some interviews a few years back, but I think once he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s that probably backed everybody off. At the same time, he’s got a great hockey mind.”

If there is anyone that knows Trotz the best, though, it’s GM David Poile. The two go back to their days in the Washington Capitals organization where Poile was GM and Trotz was head coach of their AHL affiliate. They have also been together since Day One.

“Our success of our organization starts with David. He’s the head guy,” Trotz said. “I talk to other coaches and minor league coaches, and sometimes they don’t have much contact with the (affiliate) coach or the general manager. I find that really strange to me, because David’s developed a culture of everyone working together. The Nashville Predators and Milwaukee Admirals work together to develop good hockey players, a good culture and a good team.”

Poile has seen Trotz grow into the coach he is today.

“As we’ve developed from an expansion franchise to one that thinks we can compete for the Stanley Cup, so has our coach,” said Poile. “Our coach came in with no experience in the league and is now the second-longest tenured coach in the NHL. Our team has improved, he has improved, and he’s gone from almost an unknown to one of the best coaches in the league.”

Ryan Porth is the founder and owner of Smashville 24/7 (smashville247.net), a full-time Predators blog bringing you extensive and in-depth coverage.

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HOME
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PROMOTIONAL

STANDINGS

WESTERN CONFERENCE
  TEAM GP W L OT GF GA PTS
1 z - ANA 82 54 20 8 266 209 116
2 y - COL 82 52 22 8 250 220 112
3 x - STL 82 52 23 7 248 191 111
4 x - SJS 82 51 22 9 249 200 111
5 x - CHI 82 46 21 15 267 220 107
6 x - LAK 82 46 28 8 206 174 100
7 x - MIN 82 43 27 12 207 206 98
8 x - DAL 82 40 31 11 235 228 91
9 PHX 82 37 30 15 216 231 89
10 NSH 82 38 32 12 216 242 88
11 WPG 82 37 35 10 227 237 84
12 VAN 82 36 35 11 196 223 83
13 CGY 82 35 40 7 209 241 77
14 EDM 82 29 44 9 203 270 67

STATS

2013-2014 REGULAR SEASON
SKATERS: GP G A +/- Pts
S. Weber 79 23 33 -2 56
P. Hornqvist 76 22 31 1 53
C. Smith 79 24 28 16 52
M. Fisher 75 20 29 -4 49
R. Josi 72 13 27 -2 40
M. Cullen 77 10 29 4 39
C. Wilson 81 11 22 -1 33
N. Spaling 71 13 19 2 32
R. Ellis 80 6 21 9 27
G. Bourque 74 9 17 -5 26
 
GOALIES: W L OT Sv% GAA
C. Hutton 20 11 4 .910 2.62
D. Dubnyk 11 18 3 .891 3.43

 
 

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