Coach Barry Trotz knew that he was stuck with Craig Smith, a young kid from Madison, and he had to make it work.
The timing was ripe for something good to happen for Smith. A player with his skill set isn’t best served playing on a line with grinders and brawlers, but that’s the reality of Nashville hockey at times. I’m not saying there’s a wealth of forward depth, I’m saying there’s quite a few players who play the game at about the same talent level. Is Craig Smith leaps and bounds better than Matt Halischuk at the moment? No. Upside? Yes. But at the given moment, Halischuk is more proven and better adjusted to the NHL game. Nevertheless, he’s not a top six forward yet either.
With Martin Erat and Patric Hornqvist out, Smith is about the best replacement the Predators have in the oh-so-rare top six forward department.
In Los Angeles, Smith was given the chance to go second in the shootout, which is the linchpin of the order. He came through and netted a nasty shot through the pads of Quick. And in San Jose, the most recent of a tough road trip, Craig Smith showed up in spades for the guys in gold. Five shots on goal, which equaled his season total, and several good scoring chances. This is coming from a player that was playing so bad we thought his gear and bag would be towed from the bus like the dog in the original National Lampoon’s Vacation. The shootout, while it’s not hockey, could’ve helped the young forward get his mind right.
Sergei Kostitsyn belongs on this list as well. After having a rough playoff series, his funk carried into the regular season. He wasn’t shooting, wasn’t gelling with Fisher and Erat like he needed to. Then Erat goes out, and the top line needed to be shifted around. Kostitsyn looked very out of sorts, especially in the third period when Trotz was forced to shuffle the struggling Kostitsyn down the lineup. For a top line winger to have 4 shots through 7 games, it’s hard not to fault his demotion.
In Los Angeles, against a team that has owned Nashville the last couple season, Kostitsyn played another anonymous game. Kostitsyn got his chance in the shootout after Brandon Yip, Roman Josi, and Gabriel Bourque had all went. He made one of the best technical goaltenders look silly and buried his chance, winning the game. The next game in San Jose, he looked even stronger. Kostitsyn took his customary one shot, but it went in. It was a situation where we’ve all seen him pass many times over. In fact, he mixed well with Colin Wilson seeing prime minutes against the hottest team in the west.
Kostitsyn’s problems have never been talent, they’ve always been more of a judgement and confidence shortage. He has a sneaky good shot, good speed, and he’s deceptively big. A confident Sergei Kostitsyn is what this team must have, moving forward.
Again, I’m still souring over the shootout. However, if these shootout wins over some very good Western Conference teams help build the confidence of a couple of young forwards who needed it sorely and a goaltender who is getting back to being a monster in the net, the long term reward is far greater than the ROW tiebreaker.