In this "Kick 'em While They're Down" edition of "Why You Care", lets look at the Predators' opponent tonight, the Tampa Bay Lightening. The only thing worse than being a Tampa Bay Lightening fan is being a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan (alot worse). The lightening come into town having won only two of their last 10 games. Let's examine how the predators need to take care of business against this Eastern Conference "also-ran" after the break. (Also, in case you need something with more pictures, and missed last night's anatomy of a play, click here).
Their Words, Not Mine
Here's all you need to know about the state of the Bolts, from Bolts Blogger Jon Jordan<: "Simply stated, the Lightning are floundering right now." He points out that the team has only scored nine goals in its last 13 games. Nashville, on the otherhand, has scored 39 goals in its last 13 games, (and to add insult to injury, an impressive five last night). The lightening are tied for next to last in the league in goals scored, and are one game out of next to last place in their conference. [To be fair, the Eastern Conference standings are crazy right now, and it seems like half of the division is one game out of next to last place, but whatever, you get the point.]
Winners Win the Games They're Supposed to Win
In football, the montra goes that you have to beat the teams you are supposed to beat. The (often) unstated rationale is that there are only 16 games, so a team can't afford to take a game off. By extension, hockey teams with their lush and lengthy 82 game schedule, should be able to take a few games off and still be fine come playoff time. NO! You're confusing hockey with basketball and baseball (and I don't know the first thing about NASCAR, but probably that... it seems like it goes on forever).
The Predators have been playing a tightrope act that is "making the playoffs" in the last two years. Last year, the Preds missed the postseason by 1 1/2 games. The year before, we made it by 1 1/2 games. Titans fans... you know how it seems Jeff Fisher loves to win or lose every freaking football game on the last drive (Rams beatdown excluded)? That's how the Predators are for the playoffs, and thats why we sometimes refer to them as the cardiac cats. There's a reason that PredNation starts posting and talking about its statistical playoff chances months in advance. [BTW PredNation, the odds are currently 50.8%] [BTW Titans fans, the odds for the Titans making the playoffs: 0.426%... so, how 'bout them predators, eh?].
Sufficed to say, this game is a game that winners win.
Playmakers Making Plays
You know you have a good fantasy football team (or heck, a real football team) when your top guys score points reliably and consistently. Take a Chris Johnson for example. It seems that no matter who the opponent is, CJ's going to find the end zone. CJ, meet LW Steve Sullivan (#26) and RW Martin Erat (#10). Sully got the hat trick (a three goal game, which is different and far less life changing than a "Legwand Hat Trick") on Monday, and now has 17 points in his last 16 games. Erat got his own hat trick four games ago. They are centered by Captain Jason Arnott (#19), who leads the team in points, and together this line is consistently producing huge points.
Silencing the Train Whistles
My car can't go as fast as Shea Weber can shoot a puck. I need a new car and Shea needs to stop breaking (last season) predators' face, leg, and (this season) foot with his 103.4 mph slapshot. That's actually a lie. Weber needs to keep shooting... the Predators in front of him need to get out of the way. Regardless, word is that Jordan Tootoo will be out three to four weeks with some broken bones in his foot.
Tootoo is a sparkplug. He's a rolling mass of fury on the ice... and lately, he's been playing some pretty good hockey. John Glennon at the Tennessean collected some quotes:
"He brings a lot to the team,’’ for ward Steve Sullivan said. "When he’s on the ice, he creates a lot of attention toward him self because teams are on guard when he’s on the ice. So he’ll definitely be missed. He continues to grow every sin gle year. I feel like in the last two or three weeks, it’s probably the best hockey I’ve ever seen him play. So to lose him now, we just hope it’s not a long time.’’
How do opponents know to be on guard? The crowd at the Sommet center blows on their train whistles. That high pitched (somewhat annoying) sound used to indicate that a world of hurt was coming your way. Sadly, those will be silent.
K. Vanden Bosch Out, D. Ball in... So to Speak.
Think of that level of talent as the gap between Tootoo, and his likely replacement Wade Belak. Belak can still dominate a few opponents an an enforcer, but he brings exactly zero offensive upside to the table. As he doesn't have a highlight reel of goals, provided for your amusement is some "best fight" footage.
A Note on Fighting in Hockey
Potentially the most confused aspect of hockey by the casual observer is the role of fighting. I will dedicate a blog post to it at some point. For now, just understand that is calculated, purposeful, strategic, and has a lengthy and well enforced etiquette.