The Predators are slowly coming up the ranks in scoring with a shelling of the St. Louis Blues that saw Erat and Wilson have three point nights. Rinne has been solid between the pipes allowing only 3 goals in his last three games. Ryan Ellis has come through as the power-play specialist he was drafted and developed to become.
But what about the role players? The hard chargers, the gritty players, the sacrificial lambs that get more derision rather than aplomb? The absence of certain personnel from last year’s roster has been revamped and re-energized in the form of players like Yip and Hannan, while Spaling continues with some of the most consistent offensive/defensive efforts that have made him a staple in Trotz’ lineup.
Brandon Yip – 9GP – 2G – 2A – 4P – +3 – 8PIM
In 9 games, Brandon Yip has far surpassed the expectations by many to become one of the more solid options on the Predators roster be it PP, PK or even strength. He has the 6th most ice time per 60 minutes of all Predators forwards as he has been rewarded as of late by Trotz for his determined play and use for all situations.
On the downside, Yip also has the lowest Relative Corsi on the team at -16.2 (compared to team leader Colin Wilson at +24.5). This can be attributed to Nashville not putting many shots on net and the quality of competition Nashville has faced recently: Phoenix, St. Louis (3 times) and San Jose rank top ten in shots per game. Despite all this Yip, much like Spaling, continues to battle hard in the corners and play some hard minutes when called. That drive allows Yip to be in favorable positions for tap-in goals and disruption of the play that allows players like Spaling to score the opportunistic tally.
Nick Spaling – 9GP – 2G – 1A – 3P – -1 – 6PIM
Spaling is the real deal. Many think of him as a cheaper, younger version of David Legwand with defensive attributes that make him a dastardly two-way forward. Against the St. Louis Blues recently, Spaling nearly pick pocketed a St. Louis player on the PK and turned it into a scoring chance. Spaling crashes the net and is a surgeon along the boards more often than not coming up the ice with the puck. He also chips in with timely goals: i.e. the 2 goals against Anaheim in 2010 that sealed the win for the Predators and their first playoff series victory.
In real time stats, a player like Nick Spaling shines. His Relative Corsi is a modest 3.6 but amazingly Spaling has zero giveaways this season and a team leading 6 takeaways. He leads all Predators forwards in Short-Handed Time On Ice with 24:33. The only true flaw in his game is in the face-off department where his 49.6% is lacking compared to what Fisher (51.6%) and Gaustad (59.5%) bring to the face-off dot.
Scott Hannan – 9GP – 0G – 0A – 0P – -2 – 11PIM
Scott Hannan has not contributed anything offensively so far in this early part of the season. Hannan is the definition of a defenseman that knows his place and attempts to do the best job he can by keeping the puck out of his net. How effective has he been? Hannan is 3rd in Total Time On Ice for the Predators and is only a -2 on the year. His Relative Corsi is less to be desired at -6.5 but his Quality of Competition Corsi is one of the highest on the team at 4.48. Of course, one would also need to bring up that Scott Hannan is fifth in the NHL in Blocked Shots, a very important component for any defender.
In his first pairing with Shea Weber, Hannan got 6 of his 11 PIM and looked rough starting with his new line-mate. Since then, Hannan has been solid paired with Weber and this alignment has opened up the possibilities for other defensive pairing such as Klein/Josi and Blum/Ellis to work and provide much needed run support for Pekka Rinne (see St. Louis 6-1 drubbing).
An honorable mention should go out to Rich Clune (that’s Rich Clune, not Ryan Clune as the NHL Network kept calling him) who scored his first NHL goal the other night against St. Louis. Clune has been called out by the masses of Smashville for taking up a roster spot that a call-up from Milwaukee in the form of Austin Watson, Chris Mueller or Taylor Beck would fulfill (me being one of them). Clune’s style of play is similar to what Nashville lost in Jordin Tootoo, a hard-checking agitator that goes to the battle zones around the boards and muscles the puck out to awaiting teammates.
These role players make up the core of “Predators hockey.” Coach Barry Trotz and the Predators organization are fortunate to have these type of players in their system to rely upon for the hard work and the unsung methodology that goes with the 3rd and 4th lines of a successful team. Erat, Hornqvist, Wilson and Rinne may get the accolades, but every good coach knows that deeper down the bench is where playoff runs coalesce and championships are garnered.