Time to move in more deeply into our first round opponent, and I will waste some of your time now by looking at the men who patrol the blue line for the Predators.
#6 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators
Aug 14, 1985
|2009 - Shea Weber||78||16||27||43||0||36||7||0||3||0||222||7.2|
#20 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators
Jan 21, 1985
|2009 - Ryan Suter||82||4||33||37||4||48||2||0||1||0||125||3.2|
A top pairing that is the envy of most of the league, partly to do with the age of these two. They're going to be around for a long time. It's hard to criticize Weber on anything. Booming shot, big body, nasty streak. But look at the +/-. As McClure pointed out on the podcast, that would indicate a lot of power play points. In fact, he's a negative player in Behind The Net Ratings. However, he is a plus player when it comes to Corsi Rating, and quite simply the Predators are better when he's on the ice.
Suter has had an up and down year. Though he had a very strong Olympic tournament, Preds fans were not exactly thrilled with the way he started the season. His four goals is a career-low, although he's never been quite the scoring force his partner in crime is. He's a + on Behind the Net, has decent size but his way above average skating probably means he's not fazed by the Hawks speed.
What will be one of the stories of the opening couple games is where does Barry Trotz deploy these two? Trotz has preferred to leave the top checking assignment to his second pairing to not nullify any of Suter's and Weber's offensive game. But with a top line of a frothing at the mouth Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa, with Sharp-Shooter riding shotgun, that almost seems like suicide. If Weber and Suter draw the top line, and Crush, Kill, Destroy can keep them pinned in the Nashville half for a majority of the time, the Preds are going to struggle to score even more than we thought they would. If Trotz is serious about leaving that assignment to someone else, that four-goal game we feel is coming for Sharp may be this weekend.
#2 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators
Dec 13, 1982
|2009 - Dan Hamhuis||78||5||19||24||4||49||0||0||0||0||115||4.3|
#32 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators
Aug 08, 1987
|2009 - Cody Franson||61||6||15||21||15||16||1||0||3||0||90||6.7|
Looking at these guys stats, it's a little easier to see why Trotz has opted to pit them against the biggest threats the opponents have. Franson has had a breakout season, leading Preds d-men in +/- and Behind the Net. He's big, and will probably be asked to continually pound Patrick Kane into dust. However, fans in Nashville have not been enthralled with is play of late, and as a rookie being throwing into the United Center cauldron at first playoff asking could see some jitters arrive.
Hamhuis was an outside shot to make Team Canada, drawing an invite to the orientation camp. He's simply a solid player. While he doesn't do anything that stands out, he doesn't do anything wrong, and will rarely be caught out of position. Wherever Trotz decides to deploy these two, it's imperative that the line facing them get the better of them to make Trotz adjust. Easier said than done, however.
#51 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators
Oct 17, 1975
|2009 - Francis Bouillon||81||3||8||11||5||50||1||0||1||0||86||3.5|
#8 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators
Dec 13, 1984
|2009 - Kevin Klein||81||1||10||11||-13||27||0||0||0||0||67||1.5|
This is where the Hawks depth at forward could come into play. Whereas against most teams you could hide these guys against third and fourth lines, these guys will be seeing Kris Versteeg, Andrew Ladd, a possibly reinvigorated John Madden, and a 4th line that is playing some serious rock-out-with-your-cock-out hockey right now. These guys aren't bad players, but Klein is bottom for both Behind the Net and +/-. Trotz will have to limit what these guys see and do, and he'll probably replace Klein with...
#37 / Defenseman / Nashville Predators
Oct 11, 1983
|2009 - Denis Grebeshkov||51||7||14||21||-16||32||1||0||0||0||47||14.9|
Word is Grebby will play in Game 1, and Preds fans think this is the difference. While he is a nifty puck mover and will provide some scoring from the backend, this is one of the may Oilers who didn't want to do the dirty work and probably can be intimidated into incompetence. He's never been in the playoffs either, and one feels like a couple decent Ben Eager checks and this guy is going to be somewhere else. Maybe he pushes the play to keep the Hawks bottom lines in their own zone, and then the Preds will have a better chance than first imagined. But I'll believe it when I see it.