Last night's 3-0 win over the Atlanta Thrashers certainly was the tonic for many depressed Predators fans; it brought an end to the 6-game losing streak, backup goaltender Dan Ellis recorded his 1st shutout in only his 2nd NHL start, a variety of grinders contributed to the scoring, and perhaps most importantly, Nashville put together three solid periods of hockey, something that had been missing over the last two weeks. Barry Trotz made a couple noteworthy adjustments in this game. First, he jumbled up the lines extensively, putting Martin Erat up alongside Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont for example. Secondly, Marek Zidlicky was a health scratch, reportedly for only the second time in his four-year tenure with the team.
Zidlicky has incredible puckhandling talent, to be sure, but for a defenseman that's often as much a curse as a blessing; if he's the last man back and loses the puck, it's a breakaway for the other team. Was this benching a shot across the bow from Trotz to let the veteran know that he's got to be more disciplined in his approach, or is something more interesting in the works? Some fans got all excited about a post by Eklund that said the New York Rangers "may be talking to Nashville regarding a young offensive minded defenseman." Was Zidlicky scratched because a deal is in the works? I doubt it, as Trotz had some comments after the game that Zidlicky needed to step up his game, and that's not something you typically say about a guy you're trying to pawn off on another team. Plus, there are additional factors such as a no-trade clause that ZIdlicky has, and the salary implications (mostly involving keeping Nashville above the league-mandated minimum), which make such a deal with the Rangers highly unlikely, I would think.
Overall, the game last night held plenty of encouraging signs for Predators fans. Ellis played a strong game, the entire team worked hard to finish their checks and keep Atlanta hemmed in their own zone for extended periods, and there were occasional flashes of individual brilliance, for example by Kevin Klein on his setup of Jordin Tootoo's goal in the 2nd period. That said, there is still room for improvement, particularly on the power play. Entry passes were getting away from their intended recipients, wingers were going offside, etc. It still looks very disjointed, to the point that even moving the puck around the perimeter is an adventure. All the preseason focus on reengineering the Nashville power play has apparently gone for naught so far.
The paid attendance for last night's Predators game is likely to be awful, but one has to keep in mind that this was one of two games (the Calgary game a couple weekends ago was the other) for which partial season ticket holders were granted complimentary tickets, so that represents thousands of freebies handed out.. We should see a positive trend start Saturday night when Tomas Vokoun and the Florida Panthers come to town.
And Falconer, where were you buddy? I showed up in front of the pro shop during the 2nd intermission, but you weren't there. I know things aren't going well for the Thrashers, but losing yourself in the Jim Beam won't do any good (except for benefitting the Tennessee economy, of course, for which we're entirely grateful).