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Gill making presence felt on blue-line

When the Predators acquired Hal Gill last month, they knew what they were getting. They were getting a big, rangy defenseman that can log important minutes and play responsibly. Through 18 games with his new team, Gill has met high expectations of boosting an already-solid defense corps.

“He’s been as advertised,” head coach Barry Trotz said recently.

Gill has averaged more than 18 minutes a night since arriving, almost two minutes more than the ice-time he logged in Montreal before the trade. As the coaching staff hoped, Gill has taken away some hard minutes from Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, most notably on the penalty kill.

It’s a different unit with the 6-foot-7 Gill on board. Before he arrived the penalty kill was vulnerable when Weber and Suter weren’t on the ice. Now the unit is rock solid and difficult to score on.

“His veteran presence has really influenced the penalty kill,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said of Gill.

Ever since Gill stepped on the ice donning the gold and blue, the penalty kill is 34-for-38 – a percentage of 89.5. The unit has climbed from 16th to 13th in the NHL, 27th to 20th on home-ice. Last Tuesday’s game against Edmonton was the first time an opponent had scored a power play goal in Bridgestone Arena since Gill was acquired.

The team has been disciplined in the last month, and Gill has been in the box for a couple key power plays against. Gill has also been on the ice for all four of the power play goals against since arriving. But his sheer presence has made the Predators’ penalty kill tough for opponents to get much of anything going.

Said Trotz, “When opponents try to do stuff down low he gets down with that long body. It’s like putting a small Volkswagen right in front of you. If you try to go around it or shoot through it, it’s very difficult.”

Gill’s veteran presence has also come in handy with the blue-line having trouble staying healthy. Kevin Klein was out of the lineup for a bit, while Roman Josi is currently sidelined.

Not only did the Predators acquire Gill to boost the penalty kill, but they also got him because of his playoff experience. The 36-year-old has played in 105 career playoff games and has his name etched on the Stanley Cup – something no other Predators player can say.

“Hopefully that comes into value; I’m sure it will,” Suter said of Gill’s postseason experience. “He’s a great guy and very vocal, been around a long time. It can only be good thing.”

With the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009, Gill was a key cog on the back end of their Stanley Cup-winning team. So was his defense partner at the time, Rob Scuderi.

“When I look at Hal’s individual game, he takes up a lot of space, has a great stick, is always in good position and he’s not going to be beat one-on-one,” said Scuderi, who now patrols the blue-line in Los Angeles. “He also moves the puck smartly. It may not be the most beautiful play in the world, but he makes the right read and moves the puck to the area it needs to go.”

Scuderi, as well as Gill’s new teammates, raved about the big defenseman’s reach and how effective it can be.

“His wingspan and reach alone are tough to play against, and he’s good with it,” Scuderi said. “With every forward, it seems like you have to go through him. He’s certainly one of the better ones at it.”

Said Gill of his long reach, “It’s just taking away options. If you can be in a shot lane as well as a passing lane, the bigger you get the better. That’s what I try to do. For the most part you keep your body in the shot lane and use your stick to scourge a backdoor play.”

Scuderi is happy to see Gill, his defense partner of two years in Pittsburgh, succeed in Nashville and wishes him the best – just not at the expense of the Kings.

“You always want to play in the postseason and have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup,” he said. “For him to come to Nashville and join a team that’s already very good and add to that is good for him and the team.”

 
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