A look at Nashville after 10 games

As October winds to a close, the Nashville Predators have experienced their fair share of highs and lows through the first ten games. After opening the season with road wins in Columbus and St. Louis, Nashville’s inexperience wasted no time in showing itself, as the Preds lost 5 of their next 6 games, before getting some starters back from injury and winning their next two. With the way they have looked at times, I’ll take 5-4-1. Things could be worse.

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  • Craig Smith’s confidence: Nobody knew what to expect from the rookie after he chose to skip his last two years at Wisconsin and make the jump to the pros. After notching six goals in two rookie games, he only notched one goal and two assists in the preseason. That one goal, however, came in OT in the last preseason game against Carolina, and with the news that he had accomplished the rare feat of not playing in Milwaukee before donning a Preds sweater, fans hoped that gave him some confidence as the regular season approached. Smith stormed out of the gate with two goals and two assists in his first two games, but was held pointless for the next four games as both he and the team struggled to find any offense, before tallying a three game point streak that was snapped Saturday night.

Unlike most of the team, Smith isn’t afraid to shoot the puck, as he is second on the team in shots with 26, only two behind Shea Weber; he has registered a shot on goal in every game but one this season, which was the disaster in Vancouver. All three of Smith’s goals have come close to the net off of a rebound, and two of his goals have been on the power play. Smith has gotten better with each passing game, showing flashes of his ability and creating chances with both his speed and his nose for the net. If he is able to continue getting those chances to continue contributing offensively… who knows what he’ll be able to accomplish this season.

  • Pekka Rinne: Same old, same old for Peks. He’s the only #1 in the league to start every single game to date, and that may continue to be the case for a few more games, as the Preds
    Pekka Rinne Predators
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    do not have another set of back-to-back games until next week in California. Rinne has continued his strong play from last season that got him named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, and has given Nashville a chance in the vast majority of their games. It’s hard to put much of any blame on him for the two ugliest losses this season, as terrible positioning by his defensemen oftentimes left him on an island against Phoenix, and a mixture of bad positioning and bad bounces led to a terrible first period in Vancouver that saw him pulled after twenty minutes. Hopefully the defense gets better with time, but until then, it’s nice to know that there is a solid goaltender between the pipes that gives his team a shot at two points every game.

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  • Shooting the puck: I’ve always wondered, what’s so hard about shooting a puck? The object of the game is to score more goals than the other team, and shooting the puck is kinda required to fulfill that objective. The Preds are currently dead last in the league in shots per game, and had been outshot in every single game this season until Saturday night’s win against Anaheim. Six games have seen the Preds outshot by double digits, and four games have seen the Preds put 20 or fewer shots on the opposing goaltender. The pass first, shoot second mentality needs to stop, and hopefully outshooting the Ducks Saturday night was the start; I’m not getting my hopes up, though.
  • Staying healthy: Nashville has not played a single game this season with a completely healthy roster, losing a total of 24 man-games this season (and counting). Mike Fisher and Francis Bouillon started the season on IR and  missed seven games a piece, with both returning last Tuesday in the loss to San Jose. Bouillon’s return gave Nashville’s some much needed stability on the blueline, and Fisher started out surprisingly strong with four points in his first two games before going down again thanks to a ferocious hit by Anaheim’s Francois Beauchemin. There’s no definitive answer to what Fisher’s injury is (then again, when is there one with any player in the NHL?), but it evidently was severe enough that David Poile recalled Ryan Thang from Milwaukee yesterday.
Martin Erat went down with an upper-body injury in the season opener, and missed the next 8 games before returning Saturday night, where he notched his first goal of the season. Patric Hornqvist missed the home opener against Phoenix with an apparent foot injury. Thursday night against Tampa Bay, Sergei Kostitsyn went down with a lower body injury after absorbing a hit from Brett Connolly that saw him end up falling awkwardly into the boards on his left leg. He appears to have dodged a major injury, but he was still held out of the lineup on Saturday.
Injuries were a big story for Nashville last season, and luckily the prospects who were called up from Milwaukee did a sufficient job in helping the Preds maintain and eventually clinch a playoff spot. With most of those prospects now playing full-time in Nashville, the key players must stay healthy to keep things from going south. Nashville is one of, if not the youngest team in the NHL, and simply do not have the experience to replace one of those key players in the event one of them go down for a substantial amount of time. Severe injuries have been avoided so far; let’s hope it stays that way.