by Forechecker on 10/09/08 at 04:59 PM ET
As the NHL prepares to raise the curtain “for real” here in North America tonight, Predators fans have a number of questions upon which their team’s fortunes will turn in 2008-9. Once again the assembled media pundits are calling for Nashville to miss the playoffs, citing a lack of offensive talent and questions about goaltending. With all that negative press, the Predators should have no trouble building an “us against the world” mentality in the locker room.
So what are the keys to Nashville’s hopes this year?
1. Dan’s “The Man”: Dan Ellis’ ascension to the #1 goaltending job is the biggest area of uncertainty around this team. The Chris Mason experiment worked out horribly last season, and now Ellis gets his shot at the big time. The Predators don’t need him to lead the league in save percentage like he did in 2007-8, but they will need consistency, the lack of which was Mason’s undoing.
2. The Patric Hornqvist Experience: It appears that the Swedish rookie will start the season alongside Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont, and his 25 shots in five preseason games (3rd best in the NHL) shows that he’s already developing some chemistry there. Since the two veterans should draw most of the attention from opposing defenses, Hornqvist is in an ideal position to get off to a good start.
3. Shea Weber‘s Revenge: Knee injuries wrecked the big guy’s campaign last year, and he’s hungry to fulfill expectations this season. Besides that booming shot and nasty physical play, he’s shown some aggressiveness rushing and passing the puck as well.
4. Year of the (E)rat: Martin Erat received a long-term, juicy contract extension this summer, and along with that comes an expectation of team-leading offensive performance. Erat probably boasts the highest level of pure skill on the Predators roster, and if he can match that with an assertive, goal-scoring attitude, he could make Nashville fans forget all about Benedict (err… Alexander) Radulov.
5. Predators, not Matadors: After the Great Salary Purge of 2007, we heard that the Predators were going to become more of a lock-down, defensively oriented team. Last year, however, they were actually pretty mediocre in terms of both Shots Against (18th best) and Goals Against (16th best). With as little turnover as we’ve seen on the roster, it will be a test of Barry Trotz’s highly touted coaching ability to get a Top 10 defensive effort out of this group.
On top of these issues, of course, the regular season will bring a host of unexpected developments; some players will disappoint, others will step up, and it looks likely that we’ll see another heart-pounding race down the back stretch for playoff positioning. It’s a long, long road to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and we shouldn’t forget that it’s not just the destination, it’s the journey of the 82-game season that keeps us hooked for several months at a time. So kick back, enjoy the opener Friday night in St. Louis, and let’s drop the puck, already!
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