The Nashville Predators have been short on star power for basically the franchise’s entire existence. (There are two possible exceptions: Peter Forsberg’s brief run after one trade deadline and Paul Kariya’s best moments with the team.)
That being said, the team has been scrappy enough to make the playoffs for years, with underrated center play being one of the reasons for their success.
Many Predators fans were optimistic this summer, as the team basically exchanged the offensively gifted but inconsistent and limited forward Jason Arnott for speedy two-way center Matthew Lombardi. Unfortunately, the team hasn’t been able to reap the benefits of that change because Lombardi has been injured.
If Legwand’s unable to go, however, what should the Predators do at center? Obviously O’Reilly and Goc are running the top two scoring lines, leaving two spots available between three possible contenders on the current roster – Jerred Smithson, Nick Spaling, and Colin Wilson. Smithson is at least used to battling tough opponents on a checking line and playing alongside Joel Ward, so he’s an option, and Spaling has been fairly effective in a limited role on the 4th line and PK unit. So does Wilson continue to linger in a marginal role?
As Hoag notes, “day-to-day” can mean just about anything in a league where injury details are guarded like a secret chili recipe. In most cases, I would say that a team with such a raw, makeshift group of centers would be in trouble, but this is the Nashville Predators. Coach Barry Trotz is one of the league’s best when it comes to rolling with the punches and making the most of limited talent.
Still, the team is struggling at the moment, so losing Legwand could be a problem … even if it’s in a subtle way.
Raanta rewards Rangers for starts over Lundqvist by blanking Blackhawks
If someone told you that the New York Rangers started a goalie on back-to-back nights, and that goalie wasn’t Henrik Lundqvist, you’d probably wonder if he was hurt or retired.
Nope. It just so happens that Antti Raanta is playing at an incredibly high level, Alain Vigneault noticed, and that decision paid dividends on Friday night. Raanta won both nights of a back-to-back, allowing a single goal (with the Rangers protecting him, being that he only needed to stop 43 of 44 shots during that span).
Raanta and the Rangers blanked the Chicago Blackhawks with a 1-0 overtime win, at least briefly climbing to first place in the massively competitive Metro Division:
1. Rangers – 39 points in 29 games played
2. Penguins- 37 points in 27 GP
3. Blue Jackets – 36 points in 25 GP
4. Capitals – 35 points in 26 GP
5. Flyers – 35 points in 29 GP
Nick Holden ended up scoring the only goal of the game:
Meanwhile, the Blackhawks lost but at least salvaged a standings point and it seems like Patrick Kane is OK after this injury scare:
Raanta improved to 7-1-0 on the season, allowing two goals or less in all but one of his appearances so far this season. That’s the kind of work you’d expect to see if you’re going sit a guy who’s, you know, a living legend.
Blue Jackets remain in thick of things in Metro on tough night for Red Wings
As the Columbus Blue Jackets keep rolling, the Detroit Red Wings are probably just happy to get Friday behind them.
For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets beat their opponent 4-1.
They’re now on a five-game winning streak, and like the climbing St. Louis Blues, things look great if you go back a little further. They’re 10-1-2 in their last 13 games and 13-2-3 since November began.
The New Jersey Devils have been incredibly difficult to beat at home. Lately, the St. Louis Blues have been on a roll just about anywhere.
On Friday night, the Blues were the hotter team, handing the Devils their first home loss in regulation in 2016-17. And it wasn’t particularly close, with St. Louis winning 4-1.
It’s a convenient time to note that the Blues rank among the hottest teams in the NHL. Most recently, they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven games, but they’ve been especially impressive since they flirted with .500 at 7-6-3. Beginning with a 4-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 15, the Blues are on a 8-2-1 tear.
This leaves them second in the Central with a 16-8-4 record.
That’s impressive stuff.
This 4-1 win was quite the showcase for Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko, in particular. Tarasenko collected three assists while Fabbri scored two goals on Friday night. His second goal was particularly slick:
The Blues are right in saying that this was a pretty fitting opportunity to drop a “Holy Jumpin.”
Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk has been the most difficult goalies to score against this season. Leave it to a high-level player like Leon Draisaitl to make it look this, well, “easy.”
Draisaitl scored his 13th goal of 2016-17 by capping this pretty give-and-go play with Benoit Pouliot. You can see the frustration from Dubnyk at the end of the tally, as if he was saying “How was I supposed to stop that?” (though probably with more colorful language).
Draisaitl came into Friday with five goals and three assists in his last five games, so he’s been almost unstoppable lately.