Kukla's Korner

Predators struggle with the Blues

Tonight’s one of the games for which I enjoyed press access with the Nashville Predators; a key Central Divison matchup as the Preds took on the St. Louis Blues.  Even Commissioner Bettman was in the house for this one, so let’s get right to the action…

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The Commish Goes Honky-Tonkin’

Prior to tonight’s Blues/Predators game here in Nashville, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman took questions from the local media, and your humble scribe got to sit in on the proceedings…

David Boclair of the Nashville City Paper did a better job writing it up than I ever would, though, so check out his summary.  The AP writeup featured over at USA Today also gets into Bettman’s comments debunking the talk in the Canadian press about the Predators “papering the house” in order to hit the key figure of 14,000 average paid attendance.

I’ll add that I did ask a couple questions, although my most hard-hitting moment came before the session even started, when I almost wiped out the Commish as he walked up behind me towards the podium:

1.  On whether the NHL would consider holding openers in North American non-NHL cities like Winnipeg, Kansas City, or Las Vegas.  The answer there was that since fans in those markets have access to the NHL in nearby cities or on TV, it doesn’t hold the same appeal to do that as it does to reach out to European fans who are interested in the league, but can’t follow it so easily.

2.  I asked whether Jim Balsillie’s recent sanctioning by the Ontario Securities Commission and the US SEC might inhibit his chances for NHL ownership, but he refused to bite the bait there, saying he had no reason to get into specifics about Balsillie at this time.

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First, find the problem

Back-to-back losses while pursuing a playoff berth are enough to try the patience of most any hockey fan, and in Nashville, folks are calling for all sorts of solutions.  Whether it’s benching underperforming stars, sending goal-starved rookies back to Milwaukee, or paying whatever it takes to land a proven, top-six forward, the natives are restless in Music City.

To set the stage for that discussion, I first wanted to delve into the issue of which players are or aren’t helping this team win; outside of Shea Weber & Ryan Suter, nobody is outperforming offensively, but given the decent defensive performance, it’s likely that some are contributing on that end more than others.  For the purpose of this discussion I’m ignoring the goaltending, which, regardless of performance, isn’t a candidate for change via trade or promotion/demotion.

So who’s getting it done for the Preds so far?

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It’s the NHL Hour, live from Nashville

From the NHL:

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, in Nashville as part of his regular tour of League markets, will host today’s edition of NHL Hour With Commissioner Gary Bettman on SIRIUS XM Radio live from the Music City.

Members of the Nashville Predators organization scheduled to guest on today’s show include Chairman David Freeman, President of Hockey Operations and General Manager David Poile and Head Coach Barry Trotz.

NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman broadcasts live on Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. ET on NHL Home Ice (XM Channel 204 and on SIRIUS Channel 208 as part of the “Best of XM” programming package) and NHL.com.
The show will re-air on SIRIUS XM Radio, with archived shows available for download via podcast on NHL.com.

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To bench or not to bench, that is the question

Preds fans, as we try to put last night’s 6-2 train wreck in Detroit behind us and focus on St. Louis coming to town this evening, I thought I’d offer up your Nashville Predators Question of the Week: Should Barry Trotz bench one of the “top” forwards like Montreal’s Bob Gainey has done to Alex Kovalev? And if so, who should sit?

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Get me the puck outta here

Having been a healthy scratch for most of this season, Nashville defenseman Ville Koistinen has had enough:

Defenseman Ville Koistinen made his return to the Predators lineup Wednesday, but he’s not happy with his overall situation in Nashville.

The blueliner, who’d been a healthy scratch for the previous eight games, said Wednesday morning he’s hoping to be traded. Predators General Manager David Poile confirmed that the team has talked with other teams about Koistinen.

Koistinen, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, had an excellent rookie season last year, but has taken a step backwards, losing his spot on the depth chart to Kevin Klein.  It was hoped that he would step into Marek Zidlicky’s role on the Nashville power play, but that hasn’t worked out.

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Sullivan scores twice, rest of Preds don’t do much else

In a rather poetic twist on this morning’s Tennessean article (”Steve Sullivan skates, but not much else”), Sully provided pretty much the only highlights for Nashville in a 6-2 trouncing on the road in Detroit by scoring twice; these are his first official goals since coming back from his back injury a few weeks ago:

Expect Pekka Rinne to return to the Predators net tomorrow night when the St. Louis Blues come to town.  In the morning, look for an update on J.P. Dumont, who left the game in the 3rd after getting cross-checked in the back by Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall.

For a more verbose rumination on the game, check out Rachel’s summary at What the Puck.

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Hump Day in Motown

Having given away a two-point opportunity against the Ottawa Senators Tuesday, the Nashville Predators return to action tonight in Detroit, ahead of a date tomorrow at home against St. Louis, and a road game against the Blues on Saturday (the Wings, meanwhile, are in the middle of a week on home ice).  These are the dog days of the NHL schedule, wherein grit and endurance have as much to do with victory as does pure skill, and this critical stretch over the next four days sets up a five-game homestand which will determine whether the Preds are buyers or sellers at the NHL Trading Deadline.

Tennessean update: Dan Ellis gets the start in net, Radek Bonk returns (but might have difficulty with faceoffs), and Wade Belak will be scratched.  Ville Koistinen returns to action, in an attempt to bolster the Preds’ pathetic power play.

The matchups on special teams are between extremes: Nashville’s power play is 29th in the league, but Detroit’s PK is 27th. The Red Wing PP is #1, but the Preds boast the #4 PK unit.  For Nashville, I say stick Ryan Jones on the top line with Arnott & Dumont; he can crash the net so Dumont will know to just shoot the &*^!ing puck, and he’ll hopefully draw penalties from the Wings defense to boot.

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Sullivan’s return: boon or bane?

Nashville Predators fans often complain about the lack of quality local media coverage, but in this morning’s Tennessean Jessica Bliss does a fine job with a tough, but fair appraisal of Steve Sullivan’s contribution so far as the Preds attempt a run for the playoffs.  The piece is titled “Steve Sullivan skates, but not much else”:

Without a doubt, the fact that Steve Sullivan is skating is remarkable.

The Predators winger missed almost two full NHL seasons with back issues that necessitated multiple surgeries, months of rehabilitation, and all but paralyzed his career.

Still, on Jan. 10, he defied the injury by returning to competition. For more than a month he has injected life into the Predators’ lineup by sparking the offensive output of his teammates.

Now, it’s time for him to the take the next step by igniting his own.

This is something I addressed last week, and it’s a fine line that Barry Trotz needs to walk; Sully needs the ice time to get back into a playing groove, but in the meantime, he’s a liability in 5-on-5 action.  My suggestion would be to manage his ice time based on the score. When within a goal, use him mostly on the power play. When the gap is two goals or more, go ahead and play him.  Right now, the team can ill afford lost opportunities while waiting for Sullivan to find his scoring touch.

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The Forechecker’s Fabulous Rumor Mill

A few days ago I noted the heroic efforts by the folks over at HockeyBuzzHogWash.com, as they attempt to keep a scorecard to determine just how worthwhile the supposedly “inside information” is that’s provided Eklund over at HockeyBuzz.  I titled that post “Even a broken clock is right twice a day”, and keeping with that theme, I’ve come up with a set of trade deadline scenarios which are likely to be more accurate than the 3.6%** he’s running as of this writing.

So here are the rules I followed…

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