Weaknesses will surface for fast-starting Predators
Posted: Friday October 28, 2005 1:13PM; Updated: Friday October 28, 2005 1:16PM
Columbus' Adam Foote tries to keep up with Nashville speedster Paul Kariya.
The Nashville Predators aren't all that good.
Don't get sucked in by that eight-game winning streak to start the season. This is not a powerhouse in the making. Outside of goaltender Tomas Vokoun, a player who just might be as underrated as Arrested Development, the Preds simply don't possess the mix of superstar power, experienced defense and veteran savvy that true contenders such as Detroit and Ottawa have in spades.
No, the Preds aren't that good. But they have proven by starting the season 8-0-1 to be a team that deserves respect.
Although their bid to go 82-0 was dashed by an overtime loss to lowly Columbus on Wednesday night, the Predators used the opening weeks of the season to demonstrate they're as well prepared to succeed in the new NHL as just about anyone.
If this game is to revolve around creativity rather than brute force, the Predators are the prototype. This is a well-coached, well-constructed team that keeps its cool in close games and believes the emblem on the front is more important than the name on the back.
The forward corps, led by Steve Sullivan,Scott Hartnell and Paul Kariya, cunningly blends exuberance and experience, speed and smarts, grit and finish. The defense capably pairs slick, speedy puck-movers like Marek Zidlicky and Dan Hamhuis, with stay-at-home earthmovers.
And then there's Vokoun, the 29-year-old workhorse (142 games over the last two seasons) who was rescued from the Canadiens' slag heap in the expansion draft only to mature into one of the finest stoppers in the world.
Blues defender Eric Weinrich defined the Preds' early success when he issued them the ultimate compliment. "They're a hard team to play against," he told reporters after a recent loss at Nashville's hands. "They work hard for what they get." Credit GM David Poile, the new model of the patient hockey architect, for building slowly through the draft while bolstering the team with key acquisitions along the way.
Sullivan, who now leads the Preds in virtually every offensive category, was acquired for a pair of second-rounders. Zidlicky, the gifted offensive defenseman who scored 53 points in 2003-04, was a throw-in in the deal that sent Mike Dunham to the Rangers.
But the turning point in the fortunes of the franchise may prove to be the signing of Kariya to a two-year deal during this summer's free-agent frenzy.
Even Poile was surprised he landed the veteran.
"I think that it's somewhat of a stunner that he chose here instead of going to some other bigger market," he said at the press conference announcing the signing.
After a disappointing one-year run in Denver, Kariya appears to be back in form, using the open ice created by the new rules to display the speed and guile that marked his early days in Anaheim. He's become the team's go-to guy in the shootout, and twice has sealed victories with the decisive goal.
But as much as he spices up the on-ice mix, Kariya's greatest impact on the team may have been on its confidence.
After all, when a guy who's scored 50 goals and been named a first or second All-Star four times wants to come to your party, maybe you've got something going after all.
But for all the positive results, there are underlying signs that must keep coach Barry Trotz awake at night.
While the scoring has been balanced, the second line still needs a talent upgrade. Size is a concern (the top six forwards average 5-11, 185). Speed and skill may carry the regular season, but you'll still need a Clydesdale or two in the playoffs until proven otherwise.