Our friends in Hockey Tonk are in quite a state these days. In less than 24 hours, they welcomed back the franchise goaltender Pekka Rinne from injury and traded away the Face Of The Franchise, the Original Predator, David Legwand. He was the first draft pick ever made by the Preds, 2nd overall in that summer of 1998. He has, quite literally, been a Predator forever ... as long as the team's existed. As you can imagine, this has been the source of much angst for them, and excitement as well. Perhaps, the biggest source of these mixed emotions is that Legwand was traded to Detroit, of all places. Now they find themselves in the unenviable position of hoping he does well, which means that they want Detroit to do well ... which is as awkward for them as it would be for most of us. Unbelievably, despite being in the bottom of the Central Division, the Preds are still within striking distance of the last wild card playoff slot. Their 62 points on the year is only 6 behind the Dallas Stars for that last spot. That can be made up in the 20 games remaining, but there's no time to waste. The chase is on, and they've already lost 2 in a row.
That leaves us with the task at hand; both teams have new players to break in, and to adjust to, and little time to to make that happen. In Beyond Checkerdome's Central Division preview, back before the season started, I said that the Nashville Predators would only go as far as Pekka Rinne would take them. After getting yanked in the season opener in St Louis, Rinne went on to a 4-4-1 record at the beginning of the season. He was obviously not his usual self in those games, and it was discovered that he had an infection in his recently-surgically-repaired hip. This put him on the IR, and the team had to make do with a patchwork of backups and journeymen, until he returned to action just Tuesday. In Rinne's first game back, the #Perds lost 3-1 to the Penguins. Apparently, the brain trust in Nashville thought that the best time for Rinne to get his first starts in over 4 months would be during the week that they play Pittsburgh and St Louis, two of the best teams in the league. Smart! With Tuesday's game, Pekka Rinne now has a 4-5-1 record with .911 save percentage and 2.39 GAA. In a trade-deadline move, the Preds also sent Devan Dubnyk to the Habs, in exchange for "future considerations". This means that "plan B" is once again Carter Hutton . Hutton shouldered a lot of the load in Rinne's absence, posting a .903 Save % and a 2.85 GAA while amassing a record of 14-10-4.
On the other side of the coin, the Preds traded away David Legwand, the teams' overall points leader. For a team that has historically had trouble putting up points, trading away the top points man is going to make the playoff push all the tougher. The return on that trade from Detroit includes Patrick Eaves, prospect Calle Jarnkrok, and a 3rd-round pick. I don't know what Nashville's plans are for Eaves, but he's only put up 5 points in 25 games played this year (2g, 3a). Legwand's absence puts even more pressure on the remaining Predators to put up points. The new leader is Shea Weber (shocked, I'm sure) with 40 points also (15g, 25a). Behind him, there's the goals leader Craig Smith (18g, 19a) with 37 points and Mike Fisher with 33 points (16g.17a). If they want to make it to the dance, they and the remaining Predators will have to pick up the slack.
The Predator's #fancystats are kinda interesting. The two charts below (via ExtraSkater) show dramatic shifts in trends. The rolling 10-game measurement of possession (5vs5 play, when the score is close) shows a substantial spike - the past two games (losses), they were over 55% Fenwick! The rolling 10-game measurement of "puck luck" (aka PDO) looks at the balance of shooting percentage PLUS Save Percentage. That should, over time, even out to 100... but in this chart it looks like the last few games they've plummeted from 102.4% down to 96.9%. Now, with all of the fluctuations in their lineup, it's hard to read too much into this. But it is certainly odd-looking:
Final Verse: Luckily, we're back in the Midwest for now, so it's the usual start at 7:00 PM St Louis time. The TV broadcast is on Fox Sports MW, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. The GDT should drop just before the puck does. Until then, consider this your pregame warmup. Grab yourself some dinner/snacks and a longneck bottle of beer. Empathize with the fans that have lost a favorite player, ponder where the Finns keep coming up with outstanding goaltenders, and wax nostalgic about the last time we saw Pekka Rinne ...