Saturday, November 27, 2010
At the Quarter Pole- A Predators Report Card
21 Games into the season, the Predators stand 9-8-4 and have 22 points, good for 13th in the Western Conference. The Predators are 3-1-4 at home and 6-7 on the road. They have 50 goals for and 58 goals against. Time to give a report card on the performance of the team so far this season, so let's see how they grade out.
The Predators once again fit their description of "offensively challenged" with their play so far this season. It is known that the Preds have to score by committee, but sometimes the committee seems to show up and sometimes it doesn't. Granted, the Predators have battled injuries up front. Notably, they lost their biggest off season acquisition- Matthew Lombardi- after only the second game with a concussion. David Legwand is currently on IR with a lower body injury. This has forced some guys to step up, and in particular, Cal O'Reilly has risen to the challenge, leading the team with 16 points (4G-9A). Steve Sullivan leads the team in goals with 6 and has 11 points on the season. The problem with this group is that several key players that were expected to contribute have yet to kick it in gear. Marty Erat, Colin Wilson, Joel Ward, Shea Weber, and Sergei Kostitsyn all have only 2 goals. J.P. Dumont has 3. That scoring has been a problem for this team is obvious. The problem, in my view, is that this group is not doing what has brought them success in the past. They are losing battles on the board and for the puck and they are failing to get to the hard areas to score goals. With the exception of Patric Hornqvist, who battles in front of the net every night, this group seems loath to go into the tough areas. This group is not skilled enough to to dance on the outside an make things happen. Shooting the puck and crashing the net are the essentials for success. To date, in this season, there has been too much inconsistency in this area. The players that have stood out for me for their level of play have been the aforementioned O'Reilly and Hornqvist along with Jerred Smithson and Marcel Goc.
Inconsistency is the hallmark of this group. Losing Ryan Suter early in the season discombobulated the pairings and seem to fluster this group. There are times that the defense can lock down another team's forwards and times where they inexplicably let them run loose. Losing coverage in the defensive zone happens, but when it happens with regularity it is unacceptable. This group was to be the foundation of this team, and it has been shaky at best. Cody Franson (+4), Ryan Suter (+3), and Kevin Klein (+1) are the only D men with a plus rating. Shea Weber (-8), Shane O'Brien (-6), Alexander Sulzer (-3), and Francis Buillon (-2) have struggled in the defensive zone. This is a talented group, but their cohesion has been virtually non-existent. For the Predators to have success, this group is going to have to steady their game and elevate their level of play.
Pekka Rinne has a .911 save percentage and a 2.61 GAA; Anders Lindback has a .913 save percentage and a 2.78 GAA. Given the way this team has played in front of them, these stats are impressive. Rinne battled a knee injury suffered in the first game against Anaheim, and Lindback came in and played very well. With these guys in net, this team has a chance every night, but at times they have been under siege. Rinne in particular has let in some goals that he would like to have back, but generally can be counted on to come up with some great saves. These guys have to be at the top of their game every night for the Preds to have an opportunity to win, and for the most have answered the bell.
Grade: Split grade: PP: F PK: C
Let's face it, the Predators power play is anemic at best, clicking at only 11.5% (thanks to 2 PP goals in the Minnesota blowout), good for 27th in the league. This unit has trouble entering the zone, and once in the zone, either seems loathe to shoot the puck or content to take shots from the perimeter. Gaining the zone, putting shots on net, and getting the "greasy" goals around the net are how this unit will succeed. For some reason, the PP units don't seem to grasp this concept. Head Coach Barry Trotz has taken over the duties of coaching this unit, but his efforts have not translated to success on the ice. I don't know if the players are not getting the message or are unwilling to execute, but the Preds power play has hurt the team to date.
The PK struggled early, but has improved their play of late. This group is killing penalties at a rate of 82.5%, good for 19th in the league. This group has to continue their strong play for this team to have an opportunity to win games. Losing Legwand for a period of time due to his injury has not hurt this unit- yet. As Coach Trotz has said, this is a matter of "want to" when a player is on the ice for the PK. The "want to" factor has improved and is being reflected in the kill percentage.
This group continues to squeeze the most out of the talent they have been given. Frankly, the talent they have is not top flight, but the staff does a good job of getting them ready to play. If there is a significant criticism, it would be sticking too long with players that are not producing. The staff seems to be unwilling to call up players from Milwaukee and insert them into the lineup for players that are not playing the way necessary to win games. The players seem to respond to the message that the staff delivers, and I don't think there is an issue of the coaches having lost the team. The issue is execution on the ice, and in this, I think the staff is probably too patient with some of the players that are playing to their maximum.
OVERALL TEAM GRADE: C-
The Predators are one game over .500 and have struggled throughout the first quarter of the season. They have given some games away (think: Phoenix and Toronto) and they have not been competitive in others (think: LA). In others, they have played Predator hockey and come away with the win. Consistency is a problem for this team, and for success to come, they have to consistently elevate their game night in and night out. Until that occurs, this team will continue to hover around the .500 mark and find themselves on the outside looking in when the playoffs roll around.