Practice Update and New Lineup - 10/19/09

Well, with the word of Predators captain Jason Arnott suffering an upper body (arm/elbow/shoulder) injury that will sideline him for 1-2 weeks coming after I returned home from the Predators practice at Centennial Sportsplex this morning it certainly puts things in perspective.

The focus of practice today was on transition - breakouts, regroups, getting through the neutral zone with speed. The team went through an array of flow drills designed to work on generating offense both off the rush and off the cycle when forced to dump the puck in behind the defense. There was a definite philosophy of getting both the puck and bodies to the net which has been lacking in our offense early this season. During the final session of organized team practice the team split into two groups with two power-play units working individually with Coach Horachek (and Steve Sullivan) at one end of the rink with the rest of the lineup working with Coaches Trotz and Peterson at the other end doing a series of four high-tempo passing drills.

As expected, with Arnott noticeably absent from the skate this morning, the lines were significantly jumbled in the ongoing quest to find consistent offense from the Predators lineup. The following forward lines were run throughout drills today: (Updated - see comments section below)

Sullivan - O'Reilly - Dumont
Erat - Legwand - Ward
Goc - Wilson - Hornqvist
Jones - Smithson - Belak

I'm personally excited to see the reunion of Sullivan and O'Reilly. Last season during the stretch run the two displayed a lot of chemistry together that brought out the best in each other. Adding Hornqvist to this line makes perfect sense due to his increased speed and desire to go into and win battles in the hard areas where his other two linemates struggle.

As for the second unit reuniting Legwand and Erat with Ward, one has got to scratch their head a little bit after the post-game remarks from Coach Trotz last Thursday night expressing frustration with and the desire to split up the long-time combination of Legwand and Erat. Ward has struggled offensively early this season after missing most of training camp and all of the preseason with a groin injury, but has shown some chemistry with the duo in the past and with each player individually in the offensive end this season.

Marcel Goc moving to the wing is a little surprising looking at the third line, but he should be looked upon to take defensive zone draws and provide speed and defensive awareness to the unit. Colin Wilson has yet to score this season, but adding a playmaker to his line in the form of veteran J.P. Dumont will undoubtedly increase his opportunities as he returns to Boston later this week for the first time as a pro after leading Boston University to the NCAA title last year as a sophomore.

And then bringing up the rear and being looked upon to provide some energy and bodies for special teams you have the unit of Jerred Smithson between Ryan Jones and enforcer Wade Belak. Smithson should see the majority of his time on the penalty kill and will see the most ice of any of the three, but Jones is still being looked upon to get started this season and perform consistently to the levels which we saw from him last season. The key for all three players is to make sure they are giving it full effort on every shift, finish checks, and keep their end of the rink clear. Jones might see some time on the power-play depending on how many units are used and Belak should have a few willing combatants against the Bruins.

Defensively, a game after witnessing the bench shortened to essentially four defensemen from early in the second period leading to 32:14 ice time for Ryan Suter and 40 shifts a piece for both Shea Weber and Francois Bouillon, it was a distinct possibility judging by the pairings that we might see a repeat Wednesday night...

Playing together throughout practice were the pairings of:

Suter - Weber
Bouillon - Klein
Franson - Laakso

Expect to see Coach Peterson use a similar method in terms of dividing up the ice time with many different pairings as the game goes on. I do not expect to see a pairing of two rookies out against one of the NHL's top teams, but rather foresee the top four getting the majority of the action with Laakso and Franson used sparingly in situations that best fit their skill level and confidence at this time and generally paired with a veteran while they are out there.

No idea on who will start in net for the Predators on Wednesday night. I have my feelings on who I would pick, but will leave that up to the coaching staff. This past weekend, Coach Trotz said that after getting his hands a bit tied up this past week naming the starter for all four games at the start of the week, that he will return to informing the starter of the next game the night before.

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