Nashville Predators First Half Review

After Monday night's 5-1 trouncing in Anaheim, (but before their 7-0 rout of the L.A. Kings) the Nashville Predators have now hit the halfway point of the 2007-8 regular season, so it's time for a State of the Preds review. At 20-19-2 after 41 games, Nashville currently sits in 4th place in the Central Division and 12th in the Western Conference, five points out a playoff berth currently held by Colorado. You can also reference the 1st Quarter grades for comparison, if you like. All numbers after each player's name are as of Game 41 against Anaheim.
One of the main measures I'm using here is the Rating derived at BehindTheNet.ca, where they calculate the GF-GA rates per 60 minutes for each player in various situations (5-on-5, 5-on-4, etc.). The main Rating represents the difference between the team's GF-GA per 60 minutes when a player is on the ice, versus when they are on the bench. This helps reflect the difference between a guy who's coasting along on a great team, as opposed to a standout player on a lousy squad whose numbers otherwise would look terrible. I've provided a condensed snapshot of those ratings, reflecting Nashville players with a significant amount of duty in 5-on-5, 4-on-5 (PK) and 5-on-4 (PP) situations. Where I make reference to specific values (as in Arnott's grading below), those are from this snapshot which was taken after Game 41. If you click on links to BehindTheNet below, they'll take you to the stats as updated each morning. The other main metric I use is the Penalty Plus/Minus figure, a reflection of how many penalties a player is committing vs. how many they are drawing from their opponents. A positive figure there indicates a player generating net power play opportunities for his squad, while a negative figure shows a player leaving his team shorthanded all too often.
The Centers

Jason Arnott (40 GP, 14G, 20A, 32 PIM, +9, 18:54 TOI); As Nashville's lone All-Star representative, Arnott is on track for one of his best seasons as a pro, and has a shot at hitting 30 goals for only the 3rd time in his 14-year NHL career. He's been the team's biggest difference-maker in 5-on-5 action, improving the Predators GF/GA marks by +2.12 goals per 60 minutes, which if you look at players with 20 GP and 10 minutes or more on the ice per game, puts him at 7th in the league in that regard. On the power play, his 7 PP goals leads the team, one of the few bright spots on a disappointing special teams unit. The only downside is his Penalty Plus/Minus figure, which at -10 is worst on the team and is 8th-worst among forwards across the league. Given the decline in Nashville's penalty killing this year, taking those penalties and leaving his team shorthanded is especially costly this year. Grade: A-
David Legwand (40 GP, 8G, 22A, 24 PIM, -1, 18:03 TOI); The goal-scoring has pretty much dried up for Legwand, who has scored only twice in the 2nd quarter of the season. He's still a positive influence in 5-on-5 and a good penalty killer, but perhaps is a microcosm of what the Predators look like overall as a team; defensively responsible and speedy, but lacking enough offensive firepower to represent a serious Stanley Cup contender. Grade: C+
Radek Bonk (41 GP, 11G, 7A, 18 PIM, -15, 16:23 TOI); Bonk surprised many with his early season goal-scoring burst, and has lent a hot hand in crucial circumstances, finishing off a thrilling 5-4 comeback victory in Montreal, for example. Once you get past the highlights, however, you realize that despite being brought in as a checking center, he's getting scored on in bunches (more so than earlier this season), and has only scored two goals since Thanksgiving. Is Bonk conking out? Grade: C-
Scott Nichol (32 GP, 1G, 3A, 37 PIM, +5, 11:15 TOI); As the 4th-line and PK specialist, Nichol's done a fair job, excepting of course his five-game suspension for cross-checking Patrice Brisebois in the face. At even strength, he's had some impressive efforts when centering Martin Gelinas and Jordin Tootoo, but given the constant line-shuffling that combo didn't stay together for very long. Grade: B+
The Wingers
J. P. Dumont (41 GP, 15G, 15A, 18 PIM, +4, 18:22 TOI); His current five-game goal scoring streak has him leading the Nashville scorers, a welcome change from the early months of the season when it seemed like J.P. was failing to capitalize on great chances. He's spent most of his time paired effectively with Jason Arnott, and his 5 PP goals are tied for 2nd on the team with Radek Bonk. He's on pace to easily eclipse his career-best 23 goals, and he'll need to push 30-35 for the Predators to have a shot at the playoffs. Since he's an unrestricted free agent this summer, I expect he'll be extremely motivated to keep burying those pucks. And it's not like he's just a one-dimensional player, either; in 5-on-5 action, while the team's GF/60 minutes indeed goes up when he's on the ice, the Goals Against/60 minutes figure improves as well (2.38 when he's on the ice, 2.78 when he's on the bench). Grade: B+
Martin Erat (37 GP, 10G, 18A, 18 PIM, +1, 18:38 TOI); After a hot November, Erat's production has tailed off once again, with only two goals from December 1 through game 41. Erat's speed and puckhandling ability still help drive the attack when he's out there, but as my boss says, "efforts are appreciated, but results are preferred." One impressive aspect of Erat's play is on the penalty kill, where's he only been on the ice for one goal against despite averaging more than a minute per game of PK duty, among the best marks in the league for players seeing significant PK time (scroll way down this list to find Erat near the bottom in terms of GA/60 minutes of 4-on-5 time). Grade: B
Alexander Radulov (41 GP, 12G, 18A, 22 PIM, +6, 15:17 TOI); Here's what I wrote prior to the start of the season about how I thought A-Rad's season would go. "Figure him for something like 200 shots, a 13-15% scoring rate, and 25-30 goals. Anything above that would be a huge bonus to the Predators." Let's see, halfway through the year he's got 12 goals on 94 shots, a 12.8% scoring rate. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back for that one... Seriously, though, Radulov's coming along nicely and has proven to be an underrated playmaker. His dazzling puckhandling skills draw the attention of opposing defenders, and the super soph has the awareness to find open teammates regularly. If he can cut down on the defensive-zone gaffes that still pop up occasionally, he'll make that next leap to the 18+ minute per game level, and have more of an opportunity to become the 30-40 goal scorer that most envision him to be. Grade: B+
Vern Fiddler (38 GP, 6G, 10A, 24 PIM, -2, 13:13 TOI); Vern has been shuffled between lines perhaps more than any other forward, which is likely a sign of Trotz's confidence in his ability to plug holes rather than an indictment on his play. After a hot start his offensive contributions have dried up, however, and his penalty killing work has been subpar. Grade: B-
Jordin Tootoo (41 GP, 7G, 6A, 57 PIM, -4, 10:02 TOI); The goals have stopped coming in bunches like they were early on, but the disciplined agitation factor is still there, represented by Tootoo's Penalty Plus/Minus figure of +7, which leads the team. Despite leading the team with 57 penalty minutes, he's goading opponents into taking penalties at a fairly significant rate, which helps create valuable power play time for the offensive leaders on the club. Tootoo has taken a major step forward in his development as a regular NHL player this year, and has gotten some playing time alongside Arnott & Dumont in recognition of that. Grade: B
Jed Ortmeyer (36 GP, 3G, 3A, 19 PIM, -7, 13:05 TOI); His hustle is undeniable, but the lackluster 5-on-5 results and the continuing difficulties on the power play leave room for improvement, which may also have been a factor in Ortmeyer being a healthy scratch in a few recent games. He has finally popped in a few goals, but Nashville needs more out of a guy who's main job is to shut down opposing offenses. Grade: C-
Martin Gelinas (35 GP, 6G, 4A, 10 PIM, +1, 13:43 TOI); Finally healthy for a decent stretch, Gelinas has been a positive influence at both even strength and on the penalty kill. He's basically filling the role expected of him, to provide competent 3rd-line and PK work with occasional cameos on the top line or power play. Grade: B-
Jerred Smithson (40 GP, 4G, 3A, 29 PIM, -12, 12:57 TOI); Like Radek Bonk, Smithson appears to be getting lit up at even strength. Unlike Bonk, his penalty killing numbers are the worst among the main shorthanded specialists, and he isn't scoring goals to make up for what's going into his own net. His sub-.500 faceoff percentage isn't helping matters, either. Grade: D
Darcy Hordichuk (20 GP, 0G, 0A, 25 PIM, -5, 4:38 TOI); Over the last few weeks Hordichuk's been getting more action, and has proven himself worthy so far of staying in the lineup. He's been stronger on the puck isn't getting burned as badly as he was early on, and in Game 42 against Los Angeles scored his first goal of the season, charging to the net and banging home a loose rebound. Grade: C+
The Defense
Shea Weber (16 GP, 1G, 5A, 14 PIM, -6, 18:01 TOI); This has been an injury-filled season for Weber, who only played 5 games out of the first 21 and is currently out with another leg injury. When healthy, he's been a shadow of the player everyone in Nashville has been hoping for, and when he's been on the ice for power play action, he's actually been outscored 4 goals to 3. There's still plenty of time to salvage his season, but he certainly needs to recuperate as fully as possible before returning to the lineup, as the Predators need him at his confident best, playing physical defense and bombing away iwth shots from the point. Grade: D+
Ryan Suter (37 GP, 5G, 10A, 30 PIM, -6, 20:40 TOI); Another young Nashville defenseman with injury issues, Suter missed some time with a leg injury in late December, and hasn't played well since then, seeming to avoid contact. That has landed him in Barry Trotz's doghouse for the time being, as Suter's been a healthy scratch on a couple recent occasions. While his 5-on-5 and PK numbers are mediocre, he's actually achieved pretty decent results on the power play, and is pretty daring in his forays deep into the offensive zone. With Kevin Klein unable to return to Milwaukee without clearing waivers, Suter will be pushed to play his best in order to make the lineup each night. Grade: C
Dan Hamhuis (41 GP, 3G, 13A, 38 PIM, -3, 23:27 TOI); Whereas previously Hamhuis' Penalty Plus/Minus figure was tops among NHL defenseman, now it has slipped to a more pedestrian -3, and while he's played every game and leads the team in ice time, the numbers he's putting up don't exactly make you jump out of your seat. Grade: B-
Marek Zidlicky (39 GP, 3G, 21A, 35 PIM, -7, 21:02 TOI); Zids has improved somewhat as the season has progressed, perhaps in part due to his recent pairing with young Ville Koistinen. No matter what, he's been the biggest difference-maker on Nashville's power play, and he's no longer quite the liability 5-on-5 that he was in the first quarter. He still needs to cut down on the penalties, however, as his Penalty Plus/Minus of -10 is tied for worst on the team. Grade: C
Greg Zanon (41 GP, 0G, 3A, 16 PIM, -4, 19:20 TOI); #5 logs the most PK time on the team, and has been outstanding in that role, helping to lift it into 8th in the NHL currently, whereas earlier this season it was among the worst in the league. He currently stands 2nd in the league in Blocked Shots, and keeps his own penalties to a minimum. He's the kind of stay-at-home blueliner that any team loves to have. Grade: A-
Greg de Vries (41 GP, 2G, 6A, 24 PIM, +6, 19:06 TOI); The veteran free agent pickup gets the 2nd-most 5-on-5 time on the team, and provides the type of "glue" that the team was looking for when he was brought in. He's one of those guys who's at his best when you don't notice his play very much, making things look simple and routine. Grade: B+
Ville Koistinen (26 GP, 1G, 8A, 12 PIM, +10, 16:03 TOI); While this rookie is eligible to head back to Milwaukee without clearing waivers, Trotz can't take him out of the lineup the way he's been playing. He's maintained his outstanding performance in 5-on-5, and has been very impressive lately on the power play, where he's shown a willingness to fire away early and often with the puck, and the deft puck-handling to deal with pressuring forwards. Grade: A-
Kevin Klein (9 GP, 0G, 2A, 6 PIM, -3, 13:06 TOI); The recent injuries to Weber and Suter have given Klein a second opportunity for NHL action, and it's gone much better this time around. Once Weber returns we'll see whether room remains in the lineup. Grade: Incomplete
The Goaltenders
Chris Mason (28 GP, 10-14-2, 3.09 GAA, .892 SV%, 1 SO); A nasty bout of the flu pretty much wiped out Mason's December, as he tried to play through it, looked awful doing so, and slowly worked his way back. The first game of the second half (Game 42 against L.A.) saw him pitch a shutout, so perhaps he's finally back in game shape. Nashville fans sure hope so, because the first half left them feeling pretty nervous. Grade: C-
Dan Ellis (19 GP, 10-5-0, 2.42 GAA, .917 SV%, 3 SO); While the inevitable return to earth has occured for Ellis (Game 41 in Anaheim, for example, saw the Ducks take advantage of habitually-plentiful rebound opportunities), he's still done an outstanding job as the backup, and started four games in a row recently. At the very least, the team has gained confidence playing in front of him against any opponent. Grade: A-
The Coaches
This has been a very streaky team, although even during dark stretches there have been very few games where the Predators looked unprepared or disinterested. The one game that does come to mind was the 6-0 pasting they took in Los Angeles, which they avenged Tuesday night with that 7-0 win. Considering that the team's most dynamic offensive player (Steve Sullivan) continues to recover from back surgery, and their #1 stud defenseman (Shea Weber) has been hampered with knee trouble, Nashville has hung around the playoff race admirably. If their current level of play can be maintained over the next couple weeks, they should comfortably clear Chicago and Columbus in the standings and drive towards their 4th consecutive playoff berth.
On the downside, the power play continues to be a source of concern. While the addition of Koistinen has given it some life, it still ranks 24th in the NHL along with giving up seven shorthanded goals, a figure outdone only by the Wild and Islanders with eight each. The penalty kill has improved greatly since the first quarter, and must continue to do so given the team's lack of consistent offensive punch. The main challenge coming up is how they will deal with eight defensemen on the active roster. Perhaps David Poile could relieve that glut and pick up a Top-Six forward in trade? Come on, pretty please? Grade: B-