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On The Backcheck: Predators persevere in a heavy physical match against Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders

The team that wants to be hard to play against had to play a hard game against a team that is hard to play against. They managed to come out on top, and here’s how.

New York Islanders v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

The Setup

Saturday morning at Bridgestone Arena was a little different than a game at night, but the biggest difference was the swarm of fans from the University of North Dakota that descended upon the Arena in anticipation of the US Hockey Hall of Fame Game tonight. As usual, I had some things to look for. First, I wanted to see if the Predators continued to establish themselves as a serious threat up close and in the middle of the ice in the offensive zone. I also wanted to watch Yakov Trenin. Trenin has done everything he needs to do on the ice so far except finish. I paid attention to his game hoping this would be the day he breaks through. And, of course, I looked for the Line of the Night (Afternoon).

Up Close and Personal

The Predators started off with a good pace, but it seemed like it took them getting a chance on the power play before they were able to get up close. Of course, I’ll point out that the game got physical early as the Islanders showed they were willing to play a rough, physical game. It seemed like a battle of two teams that set a goal of being hard to play against playing hard against each other. When that happens, both teams have to fight for every inch in order to get closer to the net. Even during the first period 4 on 4, both teams had a hard time getting near the crease. However, when the Predators were able to get up close, that’s when things started to happen. The biggest issue of the day would have to be the quality of goaltenders parked in the crease. It was going to take more than getting up close; screens, redirects, and a little bit of puck luck would be the key to the back of the net. It goes without saying that getting up close is what got the Predators both of their goals in regulation, thanks to Trenin (as you’ll read about below) and a great pass from Benning to Jeannot, who was parked on the goal line for the redirect.

Yakov Trenin

Trenin was back with the “Herd” Line of Colton Sissons and Tanner Jeannot. This is the identity line the team was known for last season and they’ve picked up where they left off. The difference for this game was that instead of this being the fourth line, they had them set as the third line. Trenin took a call for interference toward the end of the first, but it was really just a continuation of the rough stuff that had already taken place and a preview of what was to come. A huge moment that put Trenin’s talents on display had to have been his perfectly-timed jump screen as he rushed in front of Ilya Sorokin for Tanner Jeannot’s goal in the second. He didn’t get an assist, but that goal doesn’t happen in front of Sorokin without a screen. That’s what you hear referred to as hockey “sense” or “IQ”: knowing where to be away from the puck to make things happen. While it didn’t wind up being his night to break out offensively, he definitely contributed to the victory.

SURPRISE TOPIC

Saturday’s game took a turn for the rough and it took it early. I’ve spoken on at least two different podcasts and one YouTube show about the potential flaw in being “hard to play against”. The central issue arises because when you play with an “edge” you’re really playing close TO the edge. Sure, hard, physical play wears your opponent down, but it can also bring on some negative effects as well. The first, and most obvious: an increased amount of time spent playing short-handed. That leads to the second, and that’s overtaxing your penalty killers. This, in turn, wears your own team down. The risk can be worth it, but it can also come back to bite you. The Islanders scored two goals during the game and both of them came on the power play. Fortunately, the Predators were able to score two goals of their own in order to send the game to overtime. And the fruitless overtime stretched into a shootout where Filip Forsberg and Roman Josi were able to net the difference makers and notch a win for their team. However, had one of those penalties been left untaken, the overtime, and increased fan heart rate, could have been unneccesary.

Line of the Afternoon

The line of the afternoon was clearly the Herd Line of Trenin-Sissons-Jeannot. I’ll also throw in the pair of Borowiecki and Benning. This was a physical game and while the top lines certainly had some nice looks, it was the Herd line that got the job done. Benning not only had a beautiful assist on Jeannot’s second goal of the game but was also willing (along with Borowiecki) to stand up and get involved physically, both before and after the whistle.

Media

Hear from Colton Sissons (and Tanner Jeannot) on how Jeannot has enabled this line to play a much more physical game: