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Monday, August 11, 2008

Why can't the Jackets beat those pesky Preds?


Today I want to explore one question and try to find an answer:

WHY CAN'T THE COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS BEAT THE NASHVILLE PREDATORS?

Sorry for the caps and bold but I want to make sure that sucker stood out because quite frankly they are a BIG reason why the Jackets have been hitting the greens the last couple of seasons in April.

Lets first take a look at some combined records against these Preds over the past few years:

Last 3 seasons: 4-18-2

Last 2 seasons: 1-13-2

Last year: 1-6-1

The Jackets have just 4 wins against the Preds in the last 3 seasons combined. That just isn't even close to good enough.

Just taking last season alone the Preds sqeaked into the playoffs with a 41-32-9 record good for 91 points. Fifteen of those points were against the Jackets. With a shootout win and loss the Jackets managed to gain just 3 of 16 points - they coudln't even beat them in regulation.

Thinking hypothetically for a second -- if the Jackets would have just taken half of those games against the Preds last season they would have been looking at an 85 point season (if you already account for the 3 they had from their win and OTL) where the Preds all of a sudden have just 83 points (subtracting 8 points from 91). With those extra points come trade deadline time perhaps they aren't sellers and go for it.

Next season the Jackets will only see them 6 times but its still imperitive that they start taking points from this team.

So why can't this team beat them? I mean afterall they only entered this league two years before the Jackets?

I think it comes down to a numbers of reasons.

Draft and development
Even though the Jackets have the highest average draft pick since coming into the league the Predators have done a better job drafting and developing productive NHLers - especially in later rounds.

Looking over their first round draft picks since their first selection in 1998 in 2nd overall pick David Legwand they have really only struck out on 1 pick in 1999 with Brian Finley. They say it takes 5 years before you can declare a draft pick a success or bust so with that in mind Nashville has mined solid contributers in Legwand, Hartnell, Hamhuis, Upshall, Suter and Radulov. Of course some of those picks are no longer with the team (or in Radulov's case bolting back to Russia) but they are/were productive players in the NHL.

Its in the later rounds though is where they pull away from the Jackets finding diamonds like Karl Skratins in the 9th round of the 1998 draft, Martin Erat in the 7th round of the 1999 draft and super agitator Jordin Tootoo in the 4th round of the 2001 draft.

They have also done a much better job at hitting in the 2nd round with guys like Adam Hall, Shea Weber and Kevin Klien.

Bottom line is that with lower average picks the Preds have done a better job at drafting, developing and inserting young players into their lineup in order for them to find success which is something Jackets must improve upon.

Coaching
The Preds have had just one coach in their 9 year on ice history and that is Barry Trotz. Trotz has seen the bad times as the Preds missed the playoffs in their first 5 seasons but has also steered them through some good times in making the playoffs in each of their past 4 seasons despite some major adversity in payroll getting slashed, star players dealt and ownership quesitons marks.

Trotz has been consistant presence behind the bench in Nashville that gets all his players to buy in and do what it takes to win in the NHL. Its that kind of stability and constistancy that has certainly benefited the Preds, especially when the play a team like the Jackets that up until Hitch came aboard was nothing short of a coaching carousel.

The Jackets think they've finally found that coaching stability in Hitch and signed him to a 3 year extension to prove it.

Front office
As with Trotz the Preds have had consistancy at the GM level with David Poile. Poile has had a consistant vision since the Preds inception and has been patient and steadfast pursuing that vision. No knee jerk reactions, no over-selling -- only calm and calculated moves.

Over the first 5 years of their existance the Preds built through the draft as well as built a solid foundation as a hard working competitive team where if they were going to lose it wasn't going to be because of a lack of effort.

When the time came for the Preds to make some moves to take that next step Poile made smart trades to bring in players that complimented their lineup in guys like Steve Sullivan and made smart UFA acquisitions in players like Jason Arnott, Paul Kariya and JP Dumont.

When the ownership question marks dominated the future of this franchise and Poile was forced to trim payroll. Even with this hands tied he still managed to make the best out of a bad situation setting a new trend in the NHL in dealing free agents to be Scott Hartnell and Kimo Timmonen for a 1st round pick which turned out to be Jonathan Blum.
He's leaned on young players to be key contributors but he's given those players plenty of time to develop and surrounded them with legit NHLers to play with and learn to be pros from.

Its those kinds of smarts and stability in the front office that have led to the recent success on the ice and has certainly outclassed the Jackets front office to this point.

Unlike Doug MacLean new GM Scott Howson has a plan and the early signs point to him following a similar strategy to what Polie has done in Nasvhille and that's draft and develop well, build a competitve hard working team through the draft, smart trades and free agents and build stability in the front office and behind the bench.

Established identity
The Preds just don't ever seem to take a night off, especially against the Jackets. They work hard every game, every shift and as I mentioned earlier are the type of team that is not going to get outworked.

They also can play you any way you want. They have good skill and can beat you on speed and on special teams yet also possess plenty of toughness where they can punish you on a nightly basis. Couple that with their resilancy and never say die attitude and they are a real difficult team to play against.

Unfortunately up until last year the Jackets have had no identify. They had no consistanty night in and night out and they got pushed around regularty by tougher opponents. That will have to change if the Jackets want to be this team on a regular basis.

Score by comittee
The Preds had 10 players reach double digits in goals scored compared to just 5 on the Jackets. They had 13 players over 20 points compared to just 9 Jackets.

The Preds were 12th in goals scored per game with 2.77 versus the Jackets who were 29th with 2.32 goals per game.

Last season the Predators scored 3, 4, 3, 4, 1, 4, 3 & 2 for an average of 3 per game against the Jackets. The Jackets on the other hand scored 3, 1, 1, 3, 1, 2, 0 & 0 for an average of 1.375 goals per game -- ouch.

Bottom line the Jackets have got to find more ways to score against this Preds team.

Clutch goaltending
Now you could say that perhaps the Jackets offense will make any team's goaltending look good but on nights when the Jackets cleary have outplayed this Predators their goaltending has been there to save em to steal a game here or there. The Jackets have yet to get that kind of performance from their tenders againt the Preds.

In their heads
The Jackets managed to eeek out a shootout win against the Preds last season in their 5th game against them on January 12th. Darth Vader had finally been beaten however over the final 3 meeting the Jackets managed just 2 total goals and where shutout twice.

At this point the Preds are in the Jackets kitchen. They are in their heads and the Jackets are going to have to, and to paraphrase Hitch a bit, beat a win out of them.

So back to my orginal question of what's it going to take beat these guys? I mean is it the chants (which are pretty cool I must admit)?

I think its a combination of all of the above.

They have to do a better job at drafting and the hope is that later rounders like Boll, Dorsett, Sestito, Russell and Mason can finally be some big time contributors. Even more than that they need to hit on their most recent first rounders in Brassard, Voracek and Filatov. They also need some second rounders like Pineault, Legein, Weber and Golobouf to make an impact in the coming years.

They must find stability in coaching and management and the early signs are that this stability may have arrived in Hitch and Howson. Like any professional team they will be judged in wins and losses.

A team identity was starting to get established last season as a hard working strong defensive team who will not be out worked. Howson has gone out and added players that fit the identify they want to establish and dumped guys who didn't fit. The jury is obviously out on whether or not the pieces fit together but on paper this is a much bigger and conisistant team in terms of showing up to play night in and night out.

SCORE! The Jackets have got to find more ways to score. They traded away some offense in guys like Z and let Hainsey walk as a free agent but have beefed up their blueline and replaced offense in Huselius, Umberger and Torres. They need guys to produce as well as vets like Modin to stay healthy and they need some young players to step up at the highest level. They also need better transition and special teams play if they hope to put more goals on the board.

Beat wins out of them. Quite frankly the Preds have pushed the Jackets around and that has to stop. If Jordan Tootoo wants to take runs at guys like Jan Hejda then guys like Boll, Commodore and Tollefsen have got to answer the bell. If the Preds are taking runs at the Jackets stars like Nash or Huselius then guys like Klesla, Tyutin, Chimera need to start throwing their weight around.

In fact screw reaction - the Jackets need to initiate. There is no reason a top 4 of Klesla, Hejda, Tyutin and Commodore can't punish those Preds forwards...and this is no reason guys like Chimera, Boll, Nash, Murray, Torres, Modin, Umberger an co. shouldn't be leaning on the Preds defense with their size and strength and wearing teams down.

Mentally the Jackets have to come in prepared to take the battle to these guys and that losing isn't an option. That doesn't mean to take stupid penalties or get rattled but instead play their hard checking sound defensive game and convert on offensive opportunities. Everybody stands up for one another.

They now have the horses to play that type of game but they have to execute it.

All that and lets be honest, some cooler crowd chants at Nationwide certainly couldn't hurt!

Discuss - what's it gonna take to beat those Preds next season?

-LTL

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I think the Preds strength has been their defense and goaltending. They have developed better defenseman which further just proves the point that you can have all the skilled forwards that you want, but games are won and lost from the goalie to the defenders.

I am not so sure about the notion that the Preds never got outworked. If you look at the shot totals as a bit of a gauge from last year we were:

GM 1: 39-29 jackets
GM 2: 30-31 preds
Gm 3: 31-32 preds
Gm 4: 39-32 jackets
GM 5: 29-27 jackets
Gm 6: 33-31 jackets
Gm 7: 36-24 jackets
Gm 8: 43-24 jackets

Over the course of an 8 game series we outshot the preds: 280-230... 50 shots different!!! Not that shot totals are always indicative of who outworked whom, but over the course of 8 games, 50 shots is significant.

I don't think the jackets were outplayed in any of those games, but two things happened: we got out-goaltended in those games and we didn't capitalize on our chances (the story of the year...)

I don't think we have had enough competitive players in the past to stay with the game when the going got tough. Feds, Vyborny, Hainsey, Zherdev, were all guilty of going after 'easy ice' and when it got tough, their scoring went away. That is 3 of your top 6 disappearing in 'heavy games' and one of your top minutes defenseman. That is way too many players to have go a.w.o.l. and still expect to win.

That is one of the reasons I like our team so much better this season. We seem to have weeded out the light, flaky players and replaced them with big, hard nosed, competitive guys. Huselius is a bit light, but he still manages to play and make plays within a demanding conference. I will be VERY surprised if we only get 2 points off those effers this year...very surprised.

LTL said...

Great post and solid points.

What's interesting is that the Preds had the 27th worst powerplay in the league - heck even the Jackets were better coming in at 26th. They were strong on the PK with the 3rd best kill in the league.

That tells me that team was real strong 5 on 5 and when they did get in trouble their defense and goaltending bailed them out.

Jackets are going to have to be the better team 5 on 5 next year and win those battles all over the ice.

I like your point about losing alot of the cookie dough on this roster and replacing them with bricks. Hopefully that will translates into more wins against those guys.

We won't have long to wait seeing that our fourth preseason game and our home opener are against those fools.

-LTL

DRU said...

The answer to beating the Preds is the same thing it has always been, just get nasty and take it to them. It's sad when players like Tyler Wright brought more to the table against Nashville than HHOF'er Sergei Fedorov.

I completely agree that guys like Feds, Hainsey, Vyorny, and Z roll over to tougher teams. I don't think that skill set is the best way to get ahead of a central division rival. I think Hitchcock & Howson understand this. Thats why Feds and Vybes were automatically gone, Hainsey was looking for money, and Zherdev (who was our only real trade bait) was moved.

Anyhow, those guys are history and I think we can all breath a small sign of relief. With the new guys, all competing for a permanent spot in the line-up, I think we will see plenty of hitting against Nashville very early in the season.

We will nail them this year.