07 October 2013

NHL: Steve Downie, Roman Josi, and Seeing Monsters Under The Bed

By Spaceman
Nashville, TN 

As I told you late last week, Nashville Predators fans have grown to expect that their team will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs each spring. What you shouldn’t do, though, is mistake this for confidence in the team. When it comes to hockey, nothing is ever sure in Nashville - not even having a team.

Like Puritan settlers in 17th-century New England who saw their colonies beset on all sides by the Devil himself (or Antonin Scalia in modern America), a lot of Preds fans see their team engaged in a constant, uphill struggle against malevolent outside forces. In the minds of the more paranoid here in Music City, the league itself would rather see teams from larger markets succeed and media outlets never give the team any respect. Just two games into the 2013-14 NHL season we’ve already had our chance to dive in the deep end of this paranoia thanks to the big hit that Colorado’s Steve Downie put on Nashville defenseman Roman Josi in last Friday’s game:


Downie, who left his feet to make the hit, got a two-minute minor penalty for charging, but nothing else. As you can see from the video, Downie himself - not to mention the Colorado announcers - didn’t think his actions even warranted a trip to the sin bin. He did catch Josi’s head, but he also caught Josi’s body. Nashville’s head coach, Barry Trotz, said after the game that he expected the league to suspend Downie because the league itself has been trying to excise such hits from hockey. One of our top local stat-crunchers put together a spreadsheet showing that the league punishes nasty hits against big-market teams more often than it does against the likes of Nashville. Between that, the talk from Trotz, and the lack of a Shana-ban, folks around here are pretty upset with Downie’s only punishment for the hit being a two-minute minor penalty.

Josi, the Preds’ number-two d-man and such a bright hope that he was just signed to a seven-year contract, was left with a concussion and an uncertain timetable for returning to the ice. And the Nashville chattering class was left seeing conspiracies, as noted by my friend and fellow Preds fan Clare Austin on Twitter:
So where does this tendency to see monsters under the bed come from? Some people think that everybody in the South has an inferiority complex, but I don’t think this is really the case. Part of the problem is that human beings are wired to remember negative experiences more strongly than positive ones - and the number of positive memories we have here in Nashville is already a relatively small collection to begin with. There’s also the the fact that the defensive-minded Preds are more likely than a lot of teams to play close games, which leads to an awful lot of heartbreak over 15 years and not a lot of huge wins. Talk about a deck stacked against optimism! Probably the only thing that could change this would be a Stanley Cup parade down lower Broadway - and even then I’d take the under.

I’m not entirely going to discount the possibility that Gary Bettman and company really enjoy screwing Nashville - after all, two lockouts in eight years don’t suggest he's playing for the Good Guys. But I also think that in a fast-paced game where players are allowed to hit each other, bad things are going to happen - especially when an energetic player like Steve Downie’s involved. Put simply, hockey happens - even if it seems sometimes like it happens a bit more around here than elsewhere.

SO HOW ARE THE PREDS DOING SO FAR? 

With two games under their belts, this year’s Nashville Predators squad have compiled a 0-2-0 record. Not a good start, especially considering both losses were against opponents from the new-look Central Division. The good news is that the team hasn’t looked as downright terrible so far as it did last season. Most of St. Louis’ goals on Thursday were of the “perfect bounce” variety, and Colorado never looked to be in full control on Friday.

Seth Jones, the #4 overall pick and Nashville's newest defenseman

The new Eric Nystrom-Mike Fisher-Nick Spaling line has created a lot of chances so far, which is good because most of the other offensive options we were hoping to rely on (Filip Forsberg, Viktor Stalberg) are still sidelined with injuries. Pekka Rinne looked a lot sharper against Colorado than he did in his 10 minutes of ice time against St. Louis. But perhaps most importantly, the defense has made life tough for the opposition, in large part thanks to some fine play from rookie defenseman Seth Jones. Nashville’s first-round pick from this summer’s draft has already shown off his smooth skating and poise under pressure, looking not one bit nervous to be playing in the best league in the world. He’ll take his lumps at some point in this long season, but his presence on the blue line is going to be a very good thing down the line - at least until the monsters under the bed find a way to do him harm.

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