How can the Nashville Predators possibly top the week that just went by, which featured three wins at Bridgestone Arena? Well, they can keep the momentum rolling during the days ahead, which feature two separate one-game road trips, and a home date against a Central Division rival...
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Tuesday @ Washingon Capitals
The Predators defeated Washington 3-1 at Bridgestone Arena back in mid-November, but since then the Caps fired head coach Bruce Boudreau, replacing him with former Washington captain Dale Hunter. The Caps haven't found the winning formula quite yet, but it sounds like they may be looking to play something a little more similar to Predators-style hockey. This, from Japers Rink a couple weeks ago:
Under Bruce Boudreau, the once high-flying Washington Capitals had all but abandoned an aggressive forecheck, instead often attempting to carry the puck into the opposing zone and sagging back to the neutral zone at the first sign of opposition possession.
Dale Hunter wants to be much more aggressive, it seems, and much more interested in dumping and chasing. And why not? He's got a slew of big wings who love to hit, including Alex Ovechkin and Troy Brouwer on the top line and throughout the depth chart, and getting physical with opposing defenders can wear them out during the course of a game and especially within a playoff series (cue Jim Mora).
Thursday vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
Thursday night, the Predators will look to start a new winning streak at Bridgestone Arena against the Blue Jackets, a team which they dominated on home ice for several years before dropping an overtime decision to Columbus on November 19. Despite getting some time to see what their lineup looks like with a relatively healthy roster, the Blue Jackets still can't put it together, and have lost 5 of their last 6 games.
Over at The Cannon, they're wondering if the focus is shifting towards a long-term rebuilding of the team rather than finding a quick fix for the present. While many have wondered why the team hasn't fired head coach Scott Arniel, the point may be that new hockey operations advisor Craig Patrick may be charting the path forward:
Firing Scott Arniel at this point would certainly send a message that the team needs new answers at the bench, but does nothing to address the rest of the organization.
Enter Craig Patrick.
Patrick's job at this point has been reported as "evaluation", but I think the closer truth is "Auditor". It's not surprising that he started with a look at the young talent in Springfield - and I wouldn't be surprised if he makes stops on some of the players like Boone Jenner, Will Weber, or Oliver Gabriel, either. It's time to see what the team can realistically expect out of these players, especially if Patrick feels that some of the issues in the locker room can only be fixed via trades. Some will be assets to move, some to nuture, some to promote.
Friday at Dallas Stars
The final game of the week brings a road trip to one of the more interesting stories in the NHL this season, the Dallas Stars. They went 11-3-0 in their first 14 games to take the Pacific Division lead, but have recently been caught by the San Jose Sharks. Fundamental team measures like Goal Differential and Team Fenwick portray the Stars as a sub-par squad, so the fall back into the pack not only is unexpected, but looks like it may not be over yet.
Part of that fall back to Earth is being laid at the feet of Mike Ribeiro, another classic example of a team signing a player to a big-money contract while he enjoyed a fluky goal-scoring season. He scored 27 goals in 2007-8 on a 27% shooting percentage, received a 5-year, $25 million extension halfway through, and hasn't come close since.
Here's how Defending Big D characterized the Stars' issues recently:
If you've watched a Stars game at any point this season you've inevitably heard complaints about the Stars offense. The Stars aren't scoring at an appropriate rate to be taken seriously as a contender lately, and there is plenty of blame to go around. The Jamie Benn/Loui Eriksson duo hasn't been scoring lately. Steve Ott has gone dry. The bottom two lines aren't realistically expected to score on a nightly basis. And, most noticeably, the Mike Ribeiro/Brenden Morrow line hasn't contributed much offensively so far in 2011/12.
So what are your expectations heading into this week? Can the Preds keep the good times rolling, against three teams which are all experiencing some struggles these days?