Yesterday we considered the goaltenders, and now it's time to review how the Nashville Predators' defense corps has performed over the previous month.
It's certainly been a roller-coaster ride at times watching this bunch sort out the most effective pairings, but does the stable play of the last week bode well for the month ahead?
First, let's start off with the numbers from Behind the Net, starting with 5-on-5 data:
|NAME||GP||TOI/60||RATING||QUALCOMP||QUALTEAM||PTS/60||GFON/60||GAON/60||+/- per 60|
Now, here's 5-on-4 power play action:
And lastly, 4-on-5 penalty killing:
The individual analysis follows...
|2009 - Francis Bouillon||13||0||1||1||-4||8||0||0||0||0||14||0.0|
Considering the fact that Francis Bouillon joined the Predators only during the waning days of training camp, and has had only a few weeks to familiarize himself with his teammates and coaches, his performance has been extraordinary. There's been little time to get comfortable, as injuries have forced the Preds to give him almost 20 minutes a night in a variety of roles. His sole assist so far came as the result of a nice effort on the power play against Chicago on October 29, when he moved down from the point and sent a centering pass to Joel Ward for the score. While it would be nice to see a few more assists by his name, I'm willing to chalk that up to a general lack of team scoring, rather than an individual failing on his part.
The defensive side of his game has been generally excellent so far; in 5-on-5, his Goals Against/60 minutes is the lowest on the team at 1.65. On the penalty kill, Bouillon's ability to jam passing lanes and move opponents has proven very effective. His results in 4-on-5 are best on the team by far.
Francis Bouillon's grade: A-
|2009 - Cody Franson||7||1||1||2||1||4||0||0||0||0||10||10.0|
While he failed to make the NHL roster out of training camp, Franson has made the most of the opportunity he was given when called up after Dan Hamhuis was injured. Protected by the coaching staff somewhat (his Quality of Competition is near the lowest among the Preds' blueliners, and he doesn't kill penalties), he's producing positive results, which can provide a nice boost to a team that will rely on contributions from every corner of the roster.
It will be interesting to follow Cody's fortunes in the upcoming road trip as he may play a larger role on the power play due to the absence of Shea Weber. His ability to move the puck, and put quick shots on net through traffic, could prove critical.
Cody Franson's grade: B
|2009 - Dan Hamhuis||9||0||3||3||-6||10||0||0||0||0||19||0.0|
His early-season pairing with Kevin Klein was an unmitigated disaster, as the Goals Against piled up predominantly on their watch (after 6 games, his Plus/Minus stood at -7). He's also been a workhorse on a PK unit that still sits among the league's worst. While things seem to have stabilized since he missed 4 games recently, he has a long ways to go to dig himself out of this hole.
Dan Hamhuis' grade: D+
|2009 - Kevin Klein||13||1||1||2||-4||4||0||0||0||0||9||11.1|
If I had to pick a main culprit in the early Hamhuis/Klein disasters, it would probably be Klein; lapses in judgment often left Hamhuis the lone man left around the net defending a 2-on-1, and his Plus/Minus also stood at -7 after just six games. Once that pairing was split due to his partners injury, however, things seem to settle down for Kevin; not only have the Goals Against dried up, but the coaching staff has rewarded stronger play with more ice time in a variety of situations.
Much as with Hamhuis, however, better play of late needs to go a long way forward to make up for an awful start. If he's going to become a regular Top Four NHL defenseman, he also needs to provide more offensive punch as well.
Kevin Klein's grade: D
|2009 - Teemu Laakso||7||0||0||0||-2||2||0||0||0||0||5||0.0|
While the results so far at the NHL level haven't been impressive, the fact that Laakso beat out both Franson and Sulzer to earn a roster spot with the Predators straight out of training camp was an impressive feat. At 22 years of age, he's still maturing as a defenseman, and will surely get another chance down the road.
Teemu Laakso's grade: C
|2009 - Alexander Sulzer||3||0||1||1||1||0||0||0||0||0||2||0.0|
Sulzer is a bit of an enigma; valued enough by the Nashville front office to earn a one-way contract (which they refused to give to guys like Antti Pihlstrom or Cal O'Reilly), but deserving of a demotion to Milwaukee during the early days of the season (especially damning given the salary the Preds had to pay to keep him there). With Weber on the shelf for 1-2 weeks, Sulzer will presumably get back into the mix, and needs to make an impression if he wants to stay there.
Alexander Sulzer's grade: Incomplete
|2009 - Ryan Suter||13||2||5||7||2||8||1||0||0||0||17||11.8|
Suter appears to be solidifying his place on Team USA's Olympic roster with a fine start, providing steady two-way play in 5-on-5. He could stand to shoot the puck more on the PP, as the Predators need him to assert himself more on the offensive end if they want to develop a 2nd pair which can consistently keep the attack rolling. He does also bear some of the blame for the early PK woes.
Ryan Suter's grade: B
|2009 - Shea Weber||13||5||4||9||2||4||3||0||1||0||36||13.9|
As his partner Suter lines up for Team USA, Weber appears to be making a strong case for wearing Team Canada's colors as well. Tied for the NHL lead in goal scoring among defensemen, Weber's 3 power play goals are as many as the rest of the team has combined. His defensive work remains top-notch as well, as he logs heavy minutes against elite opposition on a nightly basis, and can turn the momentum of a game with one of his thundering hits.
About the only knock against him so far is the lackluster overall special teams play; the Preds' power play is only half as effective in terms of Goals For/60 Minutes as the average NHL unit, and the penalty kill is still
Shea Weber's grade: B+
Which Predators defenseman has been the most pleasant surprise this season?
Francis Bouillon (71 votes)
Cody Franson (24 votes)
Ryan Suter (4 votes)
Shea Weber (7 votes)
106 total votes