Part of the disappointment from last night's 5-3 loss to Minnesota was the fact that the Nashville Predators didn't seem to respond well once they got behind. Despite four power play chances in the 1st period, the Preds were outshot 10-7 and down on the scoreboard 2-1. Things only got worse in the 2nd, as the Wild outshot them 18-9 and added two more goals to the lead.
In light of the fact that Patric Hornqvist was a healthy scratch, the question on the minds of many Predators fans was why Wade Belak had such a quiet night. To put it bluntly, why didn't he go out and pound the snot out of one of those guys in green, red & white?
Let's be clear about Wade Belak is, and isn't, at the NHL level:
- He's not here to score goals (8 in 509 career games);
- He's not here to play lock-down defense;
- He's not fast enough to forecheck effectively like Tootoo does, but
- He's a legitimate heavyweight NHL enforcer
On a Saturday night at home, down by a couple goals and getting outshot consistently, that would seem to be a perfect opportunity to send a guy like Belak out there to start something and get both the team and the crowd into the game. Instead, he sat on the bench, took 3-4 shifts a period and was basically invisible, rather than invincible.
The point is, Belak, within his role, can be a useful player - take a look at this video courtesy of HockeyFights.com, from a game in January 2007 when Wade was still a Maple Leaf:
First he puts a good hit on Florida's captain, Olli Jokinen, and then gets into a scrap with Bryan Allen who comes over to stick up for his star. Wade's patience, balance and strength come together and he wins a solid decision. Not only does a fight like that get the fans excited, but it absolutely pumps up his teammates and sets the other team back on their heels a bit.
Especially when you're losing early in a home game, a fight like that can change the momentum of a game. The potential downside, of course, is that (1) you can draw an extra minor for Instigating and have to kill off a power play, and (2) your guy could lose the fight badly and really let the air out of the team's tires.
As far as #1 goes, that's the cost of doing business, and Nashville's PK is generally a team strength. And for #2, that's not very likely as Belak is a guy I'm confident going up against anyone in the league. Besides, when you're already staring at a 2-goal deficit, maintaining the status quo isn't a winning option.
Was Belak only dressed because Derek Boogaard was going to play for Minnesota, and thus was there as an insurance policy in case the Boogie Man stirred up trouble? The rest of the Preds appear to have enough toughness to handle themselves in the face of such aggression, and you'd hate to see roster decisions made in reaction to what the other team is doing - it's preferable to put your best lineup out there and force the other guy to react.
In my humble opinion, the Preds need marginal offensive contributions from their 4th-line players, and would be better served by having a guy like Hornqvist taking up that final spot. If this were a team that could rely on three forward lines to carry the action, perhaps they could afford to dress an enforcer who plays 5 minutes a game, flashing the badge on occasion to protect the talent.
But they aren't. Nashville remains around the bottom of the NHL in goals scored, and could use one more forward storming the opposition net more than an enforcer who scores one every year or two.
If he is going to play, however, that enforcer needs to be used.
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