by J.R. Lind
This Week In The 'Drome, Nashville Truly Gets Hip
The Way vs. The Truth: This week in the dead-tree I set up the Predators 2013-14 season, which opened Thursday at St. Louis.
All offseason long, we've heard about a return to The Predator Way — the oft-used shorthand Barry Trotz uses to describe how he wants his team to play, namely: being tough to play against.
There are multiple ways to achieve that end, of course. A team could, like the Predators, play tight defense, wear down their opponents, get top-level goaltending and hope for the odd goal to win it. A team could also go out and hang six on the scoreboard every night (don't expect that).
In certain circles, this proclamation was met with raised eyebrows, the curious wondering when the Preds abandoned their low-scoring ways, but that ignores the other half of the Tao of Trotz. No, the Predators don't (and likely won't) put up big numbers on the scoreboard; that hasn't changed. But last season, the Preds were all too often given to giving up far too many goals. When Trotz talks about getting back on the path, that's what he means.
No, the Predators don't have an established scorer, but they never have. Yes, they have four lines of forwards which could generously be described as "four second lines," but it's really four third lines. Reflexively, that seems bad, but as Sam Page noted earlier this summer, it's actually more like what the team had in 2010 when they very nearly slayed the Chicago giant, a team that went on to win the Cup.
And we learned there's a method to this as well. The Predators have taken the model that served them well and added a new emphasis this summer on carrying the puck, rather than dumping and chasing it. They acquired Minnesota's Matt Cullen — the Wild's most efficient puck-carrier — and focused on bringing the play into the zone, building off research done by PhD Eric Tulsky.
Whether this return-to-the-past model will work remains to be seen — it's a long season, but a team stocked with interchangeable parts is built for one.
The Week Behind
What Is Hip? Tell Me Tell Me: Of course Jake Locker was playing another good game. Of course it looked like he turned the corner.
And of course we'll be left wondering if it was all a mirage.
The quarterback's hip injury near the end of the Titans 38-13 rout of the Jets won't answer any of the old questions (or the new ones).
When he comes back, what if he plays poorly? The coaches have the built-in excuse of the injury and when it's time to re-evaluate the team this summer, they'll still argue they don't really have a full season of Locker to evaluate.
What if the Titans sputter under back-up Ryan Fitzpatrick and the rehabbed Locker? Were the first four weeks an aberration or were the Titans really returning to form before the injury derailed them?
The only clarity now is that it's obvious the Titans are done with Kenny Britt and it's obvious they are OK with that. Nate Washington's late-career rejuvenation is a blessing as it gives the quarterback(s) a reliable, if not flashy, target to complement the youngsters in the receiving corps.
All the team should want from Fitzpatrick in the next few weeks is to hold the ship steady. If he's able to get a win or two while Locker is out, we may not have to consider those messy questions at all.
Other Than That, How Was The Play, Mrs. Lincoln? : The Preds fell behind 3-0 early in St. Louis and Pekka Rinne was swapped after half the shots he saw in the game's first 9:45 ended up behind him.
But after that, things got better. The Preds ended up losing 4-2 — the fourth goal was a bit of a trickler that beat back-up Carter Hutton — but the last 40 or 50 minutes of the game were quite good.
In the first couple of weeks of a hockey season, penalty killing units are a little iffy and that was clear Thursday.
But despite all that, Nashville wasn't discouraging, despite the score.
And Seth Jones? The guy that couldn't possibly live up to the hype? He was really good and got better as the game went on. On one Predators power play, he skated nearly the entire length of the ice, dodging and spinning, looking almost like a shifty forward instead of a giant defenseman. Later on that same PP, he leaped up at center ice and kept the puck from going all the way up the ice.
Anyhow, there were plenty of positives from a kind of crappy end result. It's a long season.
Blazed: Vanderbilt did what it should do when it plays lesser foes Saturday, thumping UAB 52-24 at Dudley Field.
There was no need for halftime histrionics or overwrought videos in this one, unlike last week when the Vandy Mythmaking Machine turned a second half against a woeful UMass team (which had lost to FCS Maine just weeks before) into the Charge of The Light Brigade (featuring The Gipper).
The 'Dores just flat beat an over-matched team. Which is what good teams do.
Trouble Fantasy: Chris Johnson has very little time for fantasy owners:
“Public service announcement: I can care less about fantasy football. Key word fantasy. As long as we win I’m happy. I rush for 200 n lose y’all happy”
He followed it up with another tweet putting the onus on fantasy owners to make better decisions.
“U r the coach n the owner of ur fantasy team so u should be mad at urself I didn’t ask any of u to draft me so if I’m so sorry y start me.”
"The nicest [penalty boxes in the NHL are in] Nashville, for sure. The worst is Dallas," claims Clune. "The fans’ comments [in Dallas] are awful . . . I don’t know if it’s a bunch of season ticket holders who sit down there, but they give Texans a bad rep. The IQ is extremely low in that section."
The Gallatin Gunner: Great story over at Narratively from Nashville exile W.M. Akers about an old minor league pitcher in Nashville who killed an opponent (who happened to be an ex-teammate) and then threw a perfect game shortly thereafter.
The Week Ahead
Black And Gold And Black And Gold And James Franklin And James Franklin: A surprisingly game Missouri comes to Nashville Saturday to take on Vandy in the biggest game of the Commodore season since the last biggest game of the Commodores season.
It's the loss in that first big game, the opener against Ole Miss, that makes this game so crucial. It's still hard to gauge how for-real Vandy is because they've played a run of games in which the outcome was more or less foreordained. Ole Miss, Missouri, Auburn. These are the teams that are Vandy's measuring stick.
Mizzou is led by quarterback James Franklin, who seems like he's been playing for the Tigers since about 1978, but hasn't been, because Blaine Gabbert used to play there and that guy is still in the NFL (although that one's a bit of a mystery, too).
Worthless Prediction: Vandy 24, Missouri 17
Welcome Back Again For The First Time: The Predators close the season-opening back-to-back tonight against Colorado, where Barry Trotz will need to make sure he stays away from the bench-dividing plexiglass.
Next week sees the first two games of a five-game homestand, beginning with Ryan Suter's second trip back to Bridgestone Arena with the Minnesota Wild, after he was booed mercilessly the first time around last year. The Wild are one of the teams (along with Dallas) who, presumably, Nashville is competing with for a playoff spot. It's October but getting a win against them early would set the table nicely.
The Toronto Maple Leafs visit Thursday. Every Eastern Conference team will come through Bridgestone Arena this season. It'll be interesting to see how Pekka Rinne is deployed in the early going coming off hip surgery.
Worthless Prediction: 1-1-1. You pick 'em.
Chiefs. Titans. The Big Week Five Matchup You All Expected: The undefeated (yes) Kansas City Chiefs come to town to take on the 3-1 (seriously) Tennessee Titans in one of the biggest (I'm not kidding) early season match-ups of the young season.
Harvard man Ryan Fitzpatrick — he who only runs when he's scared — will try to wily the Titans to a win against a Chiefs team which has faced, thus far, the NFL's easiest schedule (although the sample size is, admittedly, quite small here).
The coaches insist the playbook has been tweaked slightly and by "slightly" they mean they took out all the designed runs or anything that requires Fitzpatrick to move more than five or six yards at a time. They'll have to find some way to stave off the Chiefs pass rush, because the threat of mobility from the quarterback is gone.
So good news for Chris Johnson fantasy owners, perhaps? Perhaps so.
Worthless Prediction: Been bullish all year and I'm not changing now. Titans 28, Chiefs 17.
Programming Note: I'm on vacation starting Wednesday through the following Friday, so you're facing two Dromeless weeks.