The one word to describe Joel Quenneville's coaching: impressive. Looking at his record and playoff experience, he missed the playoffs only ONCE in his ENTIRE CAREER. He was fired from St. Louis in 2003-04 with a winning record (so he didn't make the playoffs that year, but for arguments sake he would have probably got in) and he led the Colorado Avalanche to the playoffs two out of three seasons. Every other season coaching the Blues and Hawks, he has led his team to the playoffs.
His success has come in the new millennium with the emergence of the Blackhawks as a formidable Western Conference powerhouse. Having an embarrassment of riches in players like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, Quenneville is able to balance out all his lines. Unsung heroes like Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell and Niklas Hjalmarsson are possibly the most underrated players on the team, although people around the league are starting to take notice. Coupled with a competent goaltender in Corey Crawford and this is the recipe for post-season success every year.
Much like the Predators, the Blackhawks struggled over the last few weeks of the season sporting a 5-5-0 record. Quenneville will have his squad prepared for the playoffs where all records are given the reset button. Coach Q is not a coach you want to turn your back on; just ask Boston fans what 17 seconds feels like. Odds are that Quenneville is going over tons of tape on the Predators and readying the troops for a hard hitting, forechecking scrap fest where players like Brandon Saad and Shaw could tear through the Predators defenses and put up points. And of course there is the return of Patrick Kane to the lineup which gives the Hawks even more speed and a deadly shot. Their second line on any other NHL team would be their top line without question.
On paper, the Hawks have a statistical advantage from their regular season numbers. Expect Quenneville to press relentlessly on offense and shore up any chances on defense by stacking the blue line and attempting to stifle the Predators quick zone entry offensive system and rely on the dump and chase.
Only the second head coach in franchise history, Laviolette made his presence known from the get-go this season. The days of boring dump and chase hockey and preventative defense were gone. The time of quick outlet passes and odd man rushes were here at last and the offensive system was not only a breath of fresh air for Predators fans but had the Predators screaming up the standings to lead the Western Conference and the NHL for stretches of the season. An ill-timed injury to Pekka Rinne had many fans worried that the ride was coming to an end, but Lavy held the team together and weathered the storm with a decent record to boot. Then came the fall. The Predators, who had not lost more than one game in regulation back to back all season dropped six in a row and since then have not played with the same fire and tenacity.
Back in the Offseason
Back in the Offseason
Many point to the up-tempo system Laviolette employs and the toll it takes on the players over the 82-game season. Some also believe that Rinne hasn't been up to task since his injury. The Predators backed into the playoffs with a very forgettable 0-4-2 record having won four in a row beforehand against three Eastern playoff teams. All season long, the Predators have shown an ability to beat any team they go up against. For a stretch, they were one of the best teams in the NHL coming back to win games having allowed the first goal.
David Poile, who many thought was putting together an island of misfit toys for a soft rebuild, struck gold with Mike Ribeiro. Ribeiro is an assist machine and having him on a line with crack shots like James Neal and Filip Forsberg, it is a " G** D*** sniper's delight" (Read that in Aldo the Apache's voice). Speaking of Forsberg, a possible rookie of the year candidate, led the Predators in points and goals. James Neal was the scoring force the Predators desperately needed and was clutch all year tying Forsberg for the most GWG with six.
The true power behind the throne for the Nashville Predators are their blueliners, guided by one of the most prolific defenseman of all time: Phil Housley. Although the PP has been sub-par for most of the season, the defense has been a highlight reel of talent from top to bottom. Shea Weber was his normal dominant self but the often overshadowed Roman Josi broke out for an amazing season leading all Predators defensemen in points while serving only 26 PIM. Seth Jones and Ryan Ellis continue to get better and are taking on more important roles on the team. Cody Franson was a welcome addition (for some) to the back end where his offensive prowess will be much needed on the PP (although they are not deploying him in this manner). Then there's Mattias Ekholm, who is developing into another Roman Josi.
Laviolette will have to pull out all his tricks to beat the Chicago Blackhawks and exorcise the demons that sent him and the Flyers into the summer with only an Eastern Conference Championship banner. If Lavy can get the Predators to play a FULL SIXTY MINUTES, then the Predators have every opportunity to come out of this series with four wins. If they play like they did over the last two weeks....oh boy.