When any NHL team is down a man on the PK, usually the full brunt of the defensive duties lies with the 3rd and 4th liners and your top defensive pairs. Alongside an all-world goaltender, the Predators were one of the tops in the league last season on the Penalty Kill, but what happens when your stalwarts of defensive play are the ones making trips to the box?
Such is the case with the Nashville Predators 3rd and 4th liners and the big two on defense, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. So far this season (aside from fighting majors) here is the list of players registering 4 or more minutes in the penalty box:
Jordin Tootoo 4 PIM
Ryan Suter 4 PIM
Blake Geoffrion 4 PIM
Jack Hillen 4 PIM
Sergei Kostitsyn 4 PIM
Jerred Smithson 6 PIM
Shea Weber 6 PIM
Smithson said some very choice words after the contest against Edmonton that saw the Predators put 12 shots on goal and lose yet another third period lead by giving up 3 goals to the Oilers. Smithson was quoted as saying:
“We don’t work, we don’t skate, we don’t forecheck, we have a hardworking team that doesn’t work hard and I don’t know, it’s beyond frustrating right now.”
For the Predators to inspire confidence in themselves and for the fans of Nashville, they will have to get into the mindset of playing harder than their opponents and playing a smarter game. Smithson admitted further in the article that “I’ve never been a part of something like this.” While this may be true, Smithson is not above rebuke, his 6 PIM over 5 games shows that like many of his teammates, he also needs to step up and not commit these penalties. It serves no purpose for the Predators to be down a man, let alone to have players such as Weber, Suter, Smithson, and Tootoo in the box. These four players regularly contribute on the Predators Penalty Killing units.
Thursday night’s game should be an interesting match-up with the defending Western Conference champs and spoiler of Nashville’s second-round playoff appearance Vancouver Canucks. With Kesler making an early comeback and Vancouver getting routed 4-0 by the Rangers, the Canucks will be heading into the Thursday showdown with an axe to grind. Nashville needs to regain that chip on the shoulder mentality that saw them through to six playoffs out of seven years; that lunch-pail, bring-your-hard-hat kind of head-space that the Predators and their fans have come to love and cherish as their own. A work ethic and 110% game effort that a player like Smithson is committed to bringing each and every night he laces his skates.
Or maybe as Kris has suggested, this is just the growing pains that Nashville feels the need to venture into almost every season by winning two and dropping the next six or seven. This, also, seems to work out well for the Predators over the course of those seasons.
Or, Kris and I just need to start predicting before games again, the Predators seemed to win when we did this simple prognostication. What say you?