7:00 PM CST | 102.9 FM | FS-TN (HD)
Radio Note: I'm joining Willy Daunic on 102.9's post-game radio show tonight - Dirk
As the Nashville Predators visit the Edmonton Oilers tonight at Rexall Place, the watching world might be wondering, "just how does Nashville do it"? After all, the Preds are 4th in the Western Conference as of this writing, without a single player with 30 or more points, yet with eight players over 20 points. They boast the league's 3rd best defense and 5th ranked penalty kill, and even have a positive goal differential, which is something we're not used to seeing.
And yet, Nashville's doing it all without "star players", and even without three of their most crucial offensive pieces. What gives?
The answer, in part, lies behind the Predators' bench. Barry Trotz is now over 400 wins in his coaching career (all with Nashville), and has guided the Predators to five straight seasons of 40 or more victories. Only San Jose, Detroit, and New Jersey have amassed more points than Nashville in the past five years. Sure, we could all use some playoff success, but there might not be any coach in the NHL who gets more out of less than Barry Trotz.
Trotz consistently takes his strengths (Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Pekka Rinne) and gets the very best out of them. With those core players leading the way, he's able to put interchangeable parts into a system that, as I've mentioned before, allows the most simple of talents to make an impact on the NHL level. The key seems to be not putting any player into a situation where they it would be extremely difficult to succeed.
Yes, this is frustrating with players such as Colin Wilson, but when you consider that Chris Mueller and Joel Ward have both spent major time in the ECHL, Nick Spaling and Matt Halischuk the AHL, Marek Svatos the KHL, and Anders Lindback in Sweden, it's somewhat astounding that, once again, the Nashville Predators are a good hockey team.
The Edmonton Oilers, on the other hand, are not good. At all. In fact, only the New Jersey Devils are worse. This isn't to say there is a complete dearth of talent of talent in Edmonton - quite the opposite. The problem is that the talent is almost exclusively young, and with that comes the obvious growing pains. Very soon, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, Magnus Pajaarvi, and whoever the Oilers choose in the upcoming draft will be a massive pain to play against. Right now, however, not so much.
The Oilers give up 3.33 goals per game, last in the NHL. Their power play is 2nd-to-last, while the penalty kill is dead last at a ridiculously poor 73.8 percent. Considering these numbers, you might ask if this was the prototypical "trap game", and I'd have to say yes.
The Predators have been playing extremely well, winning 9 out of 11, while the Oilers are just 2-8-0 in their last ten games. You'd hate to see Nashville go ahead and chalk up the two points before the game even starts, because no matter how well a team is performing, you just can't do that in the NHL. Bad as they are, Edmonton still has NHL talent, and especially NHL speed. One or two mistakes, and the Preds could very well lose the game.
A win tonight will ensure that Nashville goes at least .500 on their longest road trip of the season, and without Matthew Lombardi, Steve Sullivan, Cal O`Reilly, Marek Svatos, Jordin Tootoo, and Francis Bouillon, that's as good, if not better, than anyone could expect. Of course, that's more the norm, but hey - we wouldn't have it any other way.