Due to travel commitments, I was unable to watch last night's Predators/Oilers game. You can get excellent summations here, here, and here, or with any of the Preds bloggers listed on the right.
I do have a few thoughts about this team and the sprint to a playoff spot.
This team has played itself out of a playoff spot by playing average hockey. Injuries have had a lot to do with the level of play, but there is also the aspect of management of the locker room and the handling of adversity such as this team has faced. This is the first real test of Shea Weber as captain and the leadership group of this team. Shea, along with Ryan Suter have a challenge right now to keep the team cohesive and focused on their goal of making the playoffs. Just as some young players are seeing increased ice time and learning from the experience, so is our leadership.
Don't underestimate the contributions of Martin Gelinas to this team. Having to thrust young players into action at the NHL level can be tenuous for any team, but these young Predators compete well and don't appear to be flustered. Having a Director of Player Development like Gelinas goes a long way to having them prepared to compete on the ice and comport themselves well off the ice. This was one of the smartest moves the Predators made by securing the services of Gelinas.
The young players in the lineup now find themselves in an intense push to the playoffs. There was some degree of disappointment from the Predator nation that we didn't get a veteran to augment the roster. In my view, asking prices were too high and we were wise not to attempt a rental acquisition. So the burden of making the playoffs falls on a team with an average age of 26. This is the opportunity for the young guys to step up and play a major role in the playoff push. This is why Paul Fenton and the scouting staff are paid- to stock the team with prospects that can be developed and eventually- and hopefully- are good enough to make the roster and contribute to the team. We are seeing the results of their efforts, and I think the young guys are going to be positive contributors to the team.
The coaching staff is walking a fine line with this team right now. They have to keep them focused and intense, yet too intense and they start gripping their sticks too tightly and begin too press to hard mentally. The coaching staff is going to have to do their best coaching yet for this team to be successful and get to the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how Barry Trotz and his staff handle the guys over the next few weeks.
The challenges facing this team are getting greater as the season winds down. After this road swing, the friendly confines of the Tire Barn await for the majority of the games remaining in the season. The Predators 7th man is going to have to do their part to exhort the team to much needed wins. The challenge is there for us as fans as well. I expect all of us in Predator Nation to be bringing it as well