Tonight the Predators open their 10th anniversary season at home against the Colorado Avalanche, and while previews galore can be found 'round the web, I wanted to pipe in on a particular coaching decision that has many Nashville fans up in arms:
Yes, the Music City's budding offensive superstar is starting the on the right side of Radek Bonk and Martin Gelinas, and many Preds fans are howling in disbelief.
But I like this move, and I like it a lot. Here's why...
In today's NHL many coaches don't focus on particular three-man forward lines anymore, so much as combining a two-player pairing with a complementary player who fulfills an otherwise overlooked role to provide balance. For example, Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont will provide the scoring punch on the top line, with Vern Fiddler playing a supporting role (hustling into the corners, etc.). David Legwand and Martin Erat will head up the second line, with Jed Ortmeyer providing the physical play.
When it comes to Bonk & Gelinas, you have two veteran, defensively responsible forwards who can not only provide a good working example for A-Rad to follow, but they can also help generate those neutral zone turnovers that the youngster can take the other way and catch opposing defensemen out of position (which to my mind, has always been a hallmark of classic Russian hockey - generating your best offensive chances by being patient and capitalizing on turnovers).
Remember that Radulov will get his offensively-focused prime time on the power play as well (last year he averaged 1:50 per game on the PP, and I expect that to double this year), so it's not like I'm saying Coach Trotz should get play him purely in a defensive role. While it would be nice to have Peter Forsberg in uniform centering him (that combo was a real treat to watch last spring), in the meantime I'll take this setup and see how it works for a month or so. If it doesn't gel, then fine, put him in there with Legwand & Erat and let's see if they can make something happen.
One last note - before you head down for tonight's game, if you're going to grab a bite to eat, please consider choosing one of the businesses that supports the team. I've updated the Google map considerably since earlier this summer, and you should be able to find a wide variety of places to eat around Nashville. Simply type in your location, and look for the blue markers to pop up...
Mrs. Forechecker & I will be in section 317 tonight taking in the action. After a summer of ownership and lease negotiation drama, it's nice to have some full-speed hockey to enjoy.