In the last seven games of March, the Predators surrendered 22 goals in seven games (3.14 goals allowed per game). In the first seven games of April, including the playoffs and regular season, the Predators have allowed just 10 goals (1.43 per game).
What’s been the difference?
“The commitment level and wanting to keep the puck out of the net,” head coach Barry Trotz said today on a conference call. “Defense is about hard work. Players love to have the puck and work really hard with the puck; when they don’t have the puck sometimes players don’t work quite as hard. The biggest thing to me has just been the commitment level has been ramped up.”
As Trotz mentioned as well, it helps when you have a goaltender in Pekka Rinne that has stopped 168 of the 176 shots (.955 save percentage) he has faced in his last six games.
In the seven aforementioned games in March, Rinne’s save percentage was at .890; the team went 3-4 in that stretch. At the most important time of the season, the Predators have gone 6-1 in April due to the improved effort on the defensive end of the ice.
Another reason for the Predators allowing fewer goals this month has been the fact that the late-season additions have all officially been acclimated into the system.
“We had all those new guys come into the system. We had to figure that out and everyone had to get used to each other,” defenseman Kevin Klein said earlier today. “We’ve been working on the D-zone all the time, communication with the defense and the forwards. The main thing is just getting used to each other and gearing up the intensity towards the playoffs.”
With that being said, after getting out-shot by a combined 84-39 in Games Three and Four, Trotz sees room for improvement going into Friday’s Game Five.
“You obviously don’t want to give up as many chances as we did to Peks,” he said. “Puck management and puck support go hand in hand. We can hang onto the puck a little bit longer in terms of our puck-possession skills down low. Detroit is doing a real good job in the neutral zone and we have to support the play a little better than we are right now.”
In the first round thus far there has been a nightly occurrence of violence or over-the-line actions that have stirred up a lot of emotions within the hockey world. The latest came last night when Coyotes forward Raffi Torres leveled Chicago’s Marian Hossa; Torres has been suspended indefinitely by the NHL.
On a conference call this afternoon, Trotz was asked if players are losing respect for one another. His response:
“The one thing that stands out is it’s gotten to a point of parity in the NHL [where] there are eight teams that believe they can win the Stanley Cup in the West. That’s a fine line. The competitive juices are ramped up to an all-time high.
“I can’t really talk a whole lot about the respect factor. At certain times there is a lot of respect on certain plays – almost too much respect – and other plays there seems to be a lack of that. It’s hard to get a handle on it, and the only thing I can say there is a fever pitch where every team believes they can win the Cup.”
David Legwand chimed in, as well.
“The Torres hit last night – everyone has seen highlights of it – and then you look at the [Dustin] Brown hit on [Henrik] Sedin and Brown doesn’t leave his skates. The puck is gone for maybe a tenth of a second, doesn’t target his head, hits him shoulder on shoulder. That’s respect. He hits him hard and clean, and then you look at the Torres one – shoulder hits [Hossa] in the head and the puck is gone for eight-tenths of a second.
“The respect has gone down a little bit. Guys are intense, the playoffs are around and everyone is playing for the same thing right now.”
There have been nine suspensions doled out by the NHL (including Torres) in a week of playoff action. Aside from the Shea Weber/Henrik Zetterberg incident, the violence has been kept to a minimum in the Predators’ series with Detroit.
Trotz also gave an update on defenseman Hal Gill, who has yet to play in this series due to a lower-body injury.
“He is feeling better every day,” Trotz said. “He’s in a day-to-day mode right now. Do I expect him on Friday? I really can’t answer that. That’s probably a better question on Friday morning than it is today. He’s making good solid progress right now. He’s tracking very, very well for us right now.”
Gill participated in yesterday’s morning skate and skated this morning at the team’s practice facility.