Saturday, October 1, 2011

Predators Finish the Pre-Season 7-1 With a 2-1 OT Win Over Carolina


That is all that you can say after Craig Smith displayed an amazing amount of grit and determination to score the OT winner for the Predators with 10.3 seconds remaining to give the Predators a 2-1 win over the visiting Carolina Hurricanes.

This was the final pre-season game for both teams, and the Predators showed a bit of the wear from playing the night before in Winnipeg, as the first period seemed a bit disjointed for the home team. The Predators also played this game without Shea Weber and Ryan Suter on the blue line, which affected chemistry a bit on the back end but gave some of the young guys plenty of ice time.

Here are some thoughts after this contest tonight:

If you had to make a call between Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm making the final roster, I would go with Ekholm. Both of these players have good presence on the ice and good hockey sense. I give the edge to Ekholm because of his physical prowess. He is a big body- 6'4" and 204 pounds- that handles the puck well and makes good decisions with the puck. He is not afraid to shoot as evidenced by his 9 SOG in the contest. I think that his ability to match up with bigger forwards is the deciding factor for the coaching staff.

Patric Hornqvist is his usual agitating self, flying around the crease and creating havoc. Hornqvist tallied the tying goal on the power play in the third period. Hornqvist takes a beating, but there is no quit in his game, and his net presence is going to be critical for the Predators.

The player that has stood out to me in this pre-season has been Jordin Tootoo. His puck handling ability has gotten better, but more importantly, he is making good decisions on the ice both with and without the puck. He still has his ability to hit- witness the obliteration of Tuumo Ruutu at the Canes blue line- but he is picking his spots to bring the physical presence. His confidence with the puck is noticeable and his ability to handle the puck in traffic is much needed by this team.

The injury to Blake Geoffrion set him back. I think he starts the season in Milwaukee in an effort to get his game back to where it needs to be. Tonight, he was a non-factor.

Back to Craig Smith. His ability to handle the puck and his willingness to shoot are assets this team needs. I think he makes the roster, especially with Mike Fisher still recovering from his shoulder injury. Smith has a jump to his game that  I like, and in the overtime, he showed that he can carry his line. The experience, or lack thereof, at the NHL level are going to be limiting factors, but he has tremendous upside.

I liked the game from Kevin Klein. He has been much maligned, but pairing him with Jonathan Blum is good for him, and I believe that they will be a solid tandem for the Predators. Klein was often victimized by his former defense partner's mistakes ( I will leave it to the readers to guess who that was), and yes, he was not above making an egregious mistake at least once a game. I think this season will be a good one for Klein and Predator fans will see the emergence of a solid defenseman.

I liked the creativity of the forwards. Long time Predator fans can remember when we had a difficult time making a clean pass among the forwards. The group on the ice tonight made good passes and created chances and showed a good bit of creativity in the offensive zone. This will bring good results for this team if this continues throughout the season.

I like the game of Gabriel Bourque. He will start the year in Milwaukee, but this is a talented youngster that is strong on the puck and not afraid to be physical. Look for him to return to Nashville, especially if injuries mount during the season.

The final regular season roster will be set by the coaching staff this week. I think the forwards will be an easy decision for the coaching staff. The blue line will be interesting. Also worth watching is any moves that GM David Poile may make once the teams around the League trim their rosters.

The pre-season is the pre-season, and while it is nice to finish 7-1, the real work starts Thursday. The Predators are a team that can make some noise and are one that should be fun to watch.

I can't wait.

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