Against many odds, the Nashville Predators continue to find ways to win enough games to make the playoffs year after year. Last season marked their fifth post season appearance in the last six years.
Yet somehow, coach Barry Trotz, the second-longest tenured coach in the NHL behind only Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff, is repeatedly over looked for Coach of The Year honors.
In net, things are pretty solid with 6’5″ Pekka Rinne. On defense, their young Canadian-American duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter rivals the Kings’ Drew Doughty / Jack Johnson tandem, in terms of talent and future upside.
They also have another good one on the way in Ryan Ellis, the Team Canada captain who was just voted top defenseman of the World Junior Championship yesterday.
Offensively, well…they’re still searching for the right mix of responsible forwards and ones skilled enough to put the puck in the net on a regular basis. For now, it continues to be ‘scoring by committee.’
They’re biggest off-season move was signing center Matthew Lombardi away from the Phoenix Coyotes – something that should have given them more team speed, in addition to some goals. Unfortunately, he’s been out with a concussion since the second game.
They still had Steve Sullivan, a Kings killer (more on that here), up until two weeks ago – he’s now out with a lower body injury. Plus, they recently lost Jordin Tootoo for an unspecified period of time when he admitted himself into the league’s Substance Abuse Program.
One bright spot through all of the team’s challenges though has been Marcel Goc. They signed the German-born center to a free agent contract in the summer of 2009 and it’s been paying dividends. His 30 points (12g, 18a) last year were career highs and he’s on pace to surpass them again this season. He comes into tonight’s game with 16 points (7g, 9a).
This morning I spoke with Goc for a quick preview of tonight’s game…
MM: You’ve faced the Kings twice so far this season. What have you seen from them that’s different, if anything, compared to what you remember from last year?
MG: They’re both pretty good goalies. They’re situation is similar to ours too. Both starting goalies know they have a strong back-up behind them – so, when they make mistakes he’s there for them. We just have to make sure we show up tonight and not think about the past. Mentally you don’t want the game to be over before it’s started. We want to think positively and get points today.
MM: The Kings recently acquired Marco Sturm, a player you know fairly well from several international tournaments with Germany. Any thoughts on playing against him tonight?
MG: He’s very wise and a very tough player. He knows where to be on the ice in all situations. Coming back from that type of injury (major knee surgery) is tough, but he’s off to a good start. I watched a little bit of the game they played in San Jose last week. He scored a goal, which I think got the team going a little bit. From what I hear he’s fitting in well and he likes it here.
MM: We’re reaching the mid-point of the season. Given that each year has its own characteristics and story line, what’s something you’ve learned about this team that you didn’t know back in training camp?
MG: Well, I don’t know. We’ve had to go through a lot of injuries, that’s for sure. We had some similar problems last year too. I think the guys that were called up or came in from other places played well for us though. It’s the same situation this year though. We don’t have one line that does the scoring for us every night. We need every line to do it at a certain point, while playing well defensively every night also.
MM: Barry Trotz continuities to find ways to push the right buttons in Nashville. What does he mean to you personally as a coach and how has he helped your game?
MG: I like that he’s easy to talk to. He’s also straight forward with you, he tells you what he wants. He gives guys confidence and that’s probably one of the main reasons why things are going well in Nashville.
A few other pre-game notes…
* Patric Hornqvist not only leads the team in goals (12), he also has scored in three straight – including the game-winner last night over Anaheim.
* In the two prior match-ups vs. LA, Nashville was limited to a single goal in each game – Shane O’Brien scored with less than three minutes to go in the first tilt and Sullivan found the back of the net in a game last month in Nashville – his 34th point in 39 career games vs. the Kings.
* The Predators currently have 46 points, one better than the Kings. Both teams have played 39 games, fewer than most of the teams in front of them. Thus, the two points tonight are a crucial step to keeping pace in the uber-tight Western Conference.
* Bernier will be going for his fourth straight win over Nashville…in only his 19th NHL game. The only other team he has more than one start against is Anaheim and he’s a perfect 2-0 there also.
Can he keep the streak alive – and get the Kings back in the win column after four straight losses – or will Nashville find their offense? The puck drops at 7:30pm PST.