It was February 18th, 2001. That date has special significance beyond the world of hockey which I'll mention briefly, only because it adds to the weirdness of the story: it's the day that Dale Earnhardt was killed in Daytona. I wasn't (and still am not) a racing fan, so the death didn't affect me deeply, but learning of the death when I got home was a somewhat surreal experience.
Anyway, it was a Sunday afternoon start, if I remember correctly, and the section we were in (maybe 327?) was nearly empty. I was standing up during the 1st period, chanting "LET'S GO PREDATORS" when it appeared that Scott Walker had scored. It looked as though the puck left his stick at a high rate of speed, eluded Kevin Weekes, and entered the Tampa Bay goal. But I wasn't sure... no one in our section was cheering and the goal horn didn't sound, so I wasn't positive it really happened.
After looking again and verifying that the puck was in fact currently located in the Tampa Bay goal, I decided to start cheering. I was cheering alone for a solid 3-4 seconds before anyone else joined in and I think-I think-even Scott Walker didn't realize he had scored. The goal horn finally sounded and we all celebrated a goal together. But for those 3 or 4 seconds, I was alone in my celebratory madness... it was odd.
Hockey in Smashville has come a long way. Not only are the Predators a better team, but we are better at realizing when they've scored.
The Tampa Bay Lightning
The top ranked offensive team in the league doesn't mess around when it comes to scoring. It's what has led them to the top of the Eastern Conference with 73 points (34-16-5) and it's what will carry them into the playoffs. They roll out nine double-digit goal scorers and two 20 goal scorers (basically three... Tyler Johnson is at 19). They have six players with at least 30 points. Jon Cooper has this team eating goaltenders for breakfast (not really... but maybe?).
Speaking of scoring goals, Steven Stamkos is pretty dang impressive. Not only has he scored the 9th most goals before the age of 25, but he can probably remember every detail about all of them. The guy leads the Bolts with 28 goals, leads the team in shots, and is 2nd in shot %. Strangely, his +/- sits at 0, but who cares. Even if that stat indicates he is a defensive liability (which it most definitely doesn't, because +/- sucks), there isn't a team out there that wouldn't want Stamkos' laser shooting accuracy and goal sniping ability.
On the defensive side, the Lightning are effective, but not as dominant as they are offensively. They are allowing 2.56 goals per game which is good for 13th in the league. Ben Bishop has a respectable .912 save % in goal and Victor Hedman is a top 10 possession defenseman on the blue line. The Lightning don't have the same defensive depth that the Predators... well, did, but they have some veterans like Anton Stralman and Jason Garrison, who should be back from injury. They did lose Matt Carle for up to two months. Lot of that going around, it seems.
The Nashville Predators
Get ready for it Mr. Poile... the trade deadline is coming.
Let's take stock, shall we? You've been out a defensemen, Ellis, for a while now, and don't know when he will be back. You just lost another in Ekholm, again, not knowing when he will be back. Colin Wilson gets injured Saturday... more unknowns there. Meanwhile you have ineffective Olli Jokinen, subpar Matt Cullen, and white elephant Viktor Stalberg. You also have a team that's played itself to 1st in the NHL with a mere 29 games to go, managing to navigate a very tough Central division schedule even despite injuries to Pekka Rinne and Mike Fisher along the way. You may need to make a deal to shore up the defense, but what about the offense? Do you stand pat with Jokinen as Wilson's replacement? Risk the future to land a top 6 forward?
Honestly, if I am David Poile, I do nothing. The team has found it's way to the top of the league despite some pretty hefty injuries thus far. This team is much larger than one or two players, that's been clear from the start. Obviously, we can't afford to lose much more, but I think with the indefinite nature of the injuries we have so far and with Peter Laviolette on the bench, we could be safe making exactly zero moves. Ellis will be back. Wilson and Ekholm should be back. If we can manage the rest of the regular season with no major injuries (FIND SOME WOOD TO KNOCK ON) I like our chances.
Maybe we should ask Filip. "Hey Filip, will you guys be ok with the roster as it is?"
The smile says it all.
Reasons To Watch
- The #1 team in the NHL faces the #1 team in the Eastern Conference.
- The #1 scoring offense faces the #3 scoring defense.
- I mean, did you SEE Filip Forsberg on Sunday?
The Important Details
7 pm start, but... no TV. NO TV? WHAT ERA ARE WE IN, THE VICTORIAN? THE MEDIEVAL? THE PALEOPROTEROZOIC? You'll just have to imagine yourself a hockey game using Willy Daunic's voice guided instructions on 102.5 The Game. Or, you know, GO TO THE GAME.