I’m thrilled to introduce to you Buddy Oakes, a wealth of knowledge on all things about hockey in Nashville and around the NHL. Buddy, along with son Jackson, are the duo behind Preds on the Glass, the leading new media website in Predators-country.
Buddy, has graciously agreed to share his views as a comprehensive preview to Thursday’s Predators – Canadiens matchup with readers of All Habs Hockey Magazine. I’m sure that he would be happy to receive your comments.
Once you are done reading, click on one of the links below the article to listen to my chat with Buddy on Preds on the Glass radio.
The Nashville Predators arrive in Montreal after being brutalized at the hand of the mighty power play of the Toronto Maple Leafs in route to a 5-4 loss on Tuesday night. The Preds gave up four man advantage goals during the second period to a team who only had a 12% success rate heading into the contest.
The team that normally works together to win games was successful in acting as one in orchestrating what may have been the worst period of hockey in franchise history.
Coming in to this season, the Predators clearly had the most talent on the ice in franchise history. They are deep in quality players, not only in Nashville but also in Milwaukee. This is the team that management and fans expect to break through to the second round of the playoffs and possibly compete further.
That being said, this year’s version of the Nashville Predators is still a team in search of it’s true identity. The team roared off to a quick start and had the best record in the league after back to back road wins over Dallas and Tampa Bay in late October.
From there, they proceeded to sit at the 13 point mark for 18 days, losing five straight games, and falling to thirteenth place in the Western Conference. Injuries to several players including Ryan Suter, Marcel Goc, and Marty Erat contributed to the dive.
Like magic, they suddenly became the team all expected them to be in back to back shootout wins over St. Louis and Chicago last weekend. Then, as if someone flipped a switch, we saw the nasty debacle against the lowly Leafs on Tuesday.
The Predators’ Way…
Many folks don’t realize that he Predators have the fifth best overall record since the lockout and have made the playoffs five of the last six seasons, bowing out in the first round each time.
The tandem of General Manager David Poile and Head Coach Barry Trotz are the only folks to have ever held their positions in Nashville and have been together since the year prior to the Predators debut in the 1998-99 season.
Trotz recently moved into fifth place in the all-time list of games coached with with one team and is roughly a season behind Lindy Ruff among active coaches on the list. He is thought to be the best coach in the league to have not won the Jack Adams Trophy, although he dis finish second to Dave Tippett in 2010.
The key to the Predators success over the years has been a strict team concept that requires all players to buy into the system and play as one. Defense is a top priority in the Trotz system for all 20 players that dress each night. It is a “Band of Brothers” mentality that usually results in a loss when a everyone doesn’t play as a unit.
Alexander Radulov was a player that never quite understood the concept and spent more time in the Trotz doghouse than on the ice and eventually found comfort in the more laid back KHL. Other players like Marcel Goc and Joel Ward have come to the Preds and thrived in the team system.
The Predators have been rated as having the top farm system in the NHL by Hockey’s Future in the last two ratings and have always been near the top of the list. Fourteen of the 23 players on the current roster are products of the Preds’ savvy drafting.
The team sports four defensemen from the 2003 Entry Draft that was held in Nashville. Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Kevin Klein, and Alexander Sulzer are probably the only defensive group of four in the NHL that play together on one team that came out of a single draft.
On the offensive side, David Legwand was the Pred’s first draft pick in 1998 and remains with the team. Marty Erat, Cal O’Reilly, Jordin Tootoo, Colin Wilson, and Patric Hornqvist (who was the last player take in the 2005 draft) are all products of the Predator system.
The Predators are best known for their goalie finds and subsequent development under the direction of Mitch Korn. Currently the Preds have a tandem that is know for being “thirteen feet of goalie” a phrase coined by Amanda DiPaolo and is discriptive of the combined height. Pekka Rinne was taken in the eight round in 2004 while rookie Anders Lindback was taken in the seventh round of 2008.
Over the years, ownership turmoil and attendance issues have been one of the primary things that Nashville hockey was known for. The Predators have turned the corner under the direction of Jeff Cogen, and are playing to over 95% capacity this season with three hard sellouts in their first seven games. Early games, during football season, have historically not drawn well and the Preds have rarely play to more than 80% capacity before American Thanksgiving.
The Montreal Connection…
Frankie “Cube” Bouillon joined the Predators as a free agent before last season and immediately became a fan favorite, playing steady defense and adding grit to the young Predator defensive core. This season, he has returned to a role more similar to the one he had with the Habs, and has already dropped the gloves twice and is eighth in the league in hits with 56.
In the offseason, the Predators acquired Sergei Kostitsyn from the Habs in exchange for the rights to Dan Ellis and Dustin Boyd. Kostitsyn has been an interesting addition to the team, but has been slowed by a broken foot.
On the opening day of camp, Kostitsyn was shocked at the small group of relatively friendly faces in the media that were happy to see him in a Preds sweater. When asked the big difference between Nashville and Montreal, he sheepishly said that there was always about forty people around him after practice.
Leaving the spotlight of the Montreal press scene has allowed Sergei to play under less pressure and he is developing into a player that will do well under the Trotz two-way system. He is slowly earning more minutes and is starting to be seen on the ice at more criticle junctures in games.
Another ex-Hab that was signed by Nashville as a depth move at the start of the season is Steve Begin. He is currently playing in Milwaukee, mentoring the youngsters and waiting for a call-up to the Predators.
The Predators are rarely players in the free agent market, but after they were able to unload Jason Arnott’s contract to the Devils, they signed Montreal native, Matthew Lombardi to a three year contract.
They have yet to see the true benefit of their signing since Lombardi received a concussion in the second game of the year and is not expected back for a few more weeks. After seeing Lombardi in Phoenix and in the preseason, there is little doubt that he will become a key cog on the Predators once he returns.
Another Montreal connection for the Predators is Blake Geoffrion who will become the first “native Tennessean” to play in the NHL when he is called up at some point this season. The 2010 Hobey Baker winner’s roots are planted firmly in Montreal history as his father Danny, grandfather Bernie (Boom Boom), and great grandfather Howie Morenz all played with the Habs.
Nashville and Montreal have only met twelve times in the Preds franchise history. The Predators are 4-5-3 against the Habs and have won only once in Montreal. The win came on December 1, 2007, when the Preds scored four third period goals in a span of 10:34 to send the game to overtime and a dramatic 5-4 shootout victory.
Last year the Predators shut out the Habs 2-0 on November 14 at the Bridgestone Arena in their only meeting of the season. Pekka Rinne got the shutout and Steve Sullivan scored both Predator goals. The story of the game was Carey Price who tied a Montreal record by stopping 53 of 55 Predator shots. It was one of several hard luck losses for Price last season.
This Year’s Game…
The meeting between the Predators and Montreal will be a criticle game for Nashville as they hope to shake off the last loss and stop the Habs four game win streak. It will be interesting to see if Tuesday’s collapse will draw the team closer together or if the effects will linger into Thursday’s game.
From an historical standpoint, the team has been successful at moving past travesties and playing well in the following game. My prediction for the game is that the Predators will play hard for the road point and take the game to the shoot-out where it will be a classic battle between Pekka Rinne and Carey Price.
Thanks to Rick Stephens for the opportunity to share a bit of Predator hockey with his knowledgeable and loyal readership.
You can listen here to Buddy and Rick preview the Predators – Canadiens matchup at Preds on the Glass radio.
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(AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Paul Chiasson)