The Preds game last night was certainly a bit better. Still quite a bit of sloppy play, especially late in the 1st. Still a ton of chances left lying on the doorstep because no one was at home in front of the net. Plenty more occasions where we had great chances with the puck up front, but couldn't finish (pictured at the right). I'll grant you, Hedberg played well, but not amazing. We are still just not finishing the way a winning team should.
But so much was improved.
The defense was checking hard (Hamuis was involved in more than one hard hitting, body sacrificing play, which i haven't seen from him as much). I especially loved Hammer's check at the blue-line (pictured at left). That's building a wall!
I also loved how Erat was playing with Dumont and Arnott. Not just that he was playing with them, which i thought a good combo, but the way he was playing. More than once i thought it was Legwand out there, the way he was playing an aggressive but smart, positional forecheck. If he'd just put that puck in the net instead of off the post, i think everyone would be calling him out for a great game as well as Toots and Smithson, who played like first-liners...well, up against the sieve-like 2nd and 3rd Atlanta defensive pairings. But hey, we'll take it!
Win is a win. It felt great.
Ellis played really well, but i think more importantly, the team played better in front of him. Just like they used to do with Mason compared to Vokoun last year, the team seemed to play more intelligent, especially on defense, when playing in front of "the backup". It's amazing how much of it is still mental for this team. I do not envy Trotz the decision of going with Ellis (who is confident and hot) or Mason (get his confidence back and fulfill the "Mason vs Vokoun" billing for the big game) for the game against Florida.
Last note about the on-ice product:
We have two versions of the Predators. One that wins and wins big, and one that loses and loses big.
Our total Goals For / Goals Against per game for the year is 2.3 / 3.3. Doesn't look too horrible and is about what you'd expect (or better) from a team that is 3-6-0. However, if you check our GF/GA per game for wins, it is 4/0.3. That is dominant hockey! We've only allowed 1 goal in our 3 wins. That's great! Trouble is our losses. GF/GA per game is 1.5/4.8 there. Ouch. We're giving up nearly 5 goals a game in our losses.
Normally i would look at those stats and say they are indicative of a young, inexperienced team. But we're supposed to have more age and experience this year than last. What gives? Also, we supposedly got bigger and stronger during the off-season. But we still rank 27th out of 30th in the league in overall size (height/weight). That isn't going to get it done if we're trying to play more physical, grind-style hockey this year.
A few other random notes from the game:
The big new screen is now apparently being called the "Megatron" (capital M?). Paul McCann and the rest of the arena crew called it that multiple times last night. I don't know of this is a Hasbro/Paramount sponsorship, or just a cheesy name. There's even a new feature video about it up on Predators TV (i haven't seen it yet, streaming video is blocked at work). I think it sounds a little silly, but i don't know what else to call it...so fine.
What is not fine is that the crew i called out for doing such a good job of paying attention to aspect ratios has now either been replaced or gotten dumb. All the videos all night were stretched to fill the width of the screen. Now, i know there are a lot of bumpkins out there that probably complain about "those black bars at the side of the screen, it ain't workin' right". But now the videos look bad. Those bumpkins can watch Seinfeld re-runs in 'fat' stretch mode all they want on their $899 plasma's at home, but please don't make me watch it that way at the arena. Especially for videos that are actually wide-aspect to begin with (like movie clips) - crop the videos! Don't just stretch them so we have a fat Gnash and a tiny little strip of Matthew Broderick in the middle of black bars. Cummon people, this is your job and i can do it better as a hobby. If you need me to do it for you, send me the videos at my gmail account and i'd be glad to reformat them to 16:9 for you with the correct cropping/scaling so that everything looks nice.
Also, we apparently are losing sponsors right and left. We've picked up a few (most notably the Signature Tower), but we've also lost quite a few. It is no longer the "Fantastik Fan of the Game" it is the "fan of the night". No longer is the second Zamboni painted like Scrubbing Bubbles - now it's just a Predator Zamboni. We no longer have the "Windex Seats on the Glass" (movin' on up!) where they took people from the upper decks to seats on the glass. Most importantly, the free tacos from Taco Bell at the 5-goal mark are gone! (thanks to HordyHsrHar for the reminder- i knew i left something out!) I've also listened to several games that were on Lightning 100 with nothing but music during 'commerical' breaks. They didn't have commercials to fill the air time. Partially i blame that on Lightning 100's sales department, but it proves there is still not a line of sponsors waiting to be associated with the Preds. Not a good sign and something that needs to be turned around quickly.
There is also just no promotion or advertising off the ice going on at all. I overheard someone walking down the hall at work the other day asking someone if they were going to the Preds game Thurs. They replied "Nah. I thought they were going to move in 6 months anyway, weren't they?" This team is in desperate need of off-ice support and a major PR campaign, but there is no way Leipold is putting another dime into this team, on the ice or off. Contract/negotiation periods aside, this team needs new owners who can come in tell the city that the Preds are here, they are staying, and they are exciting and worth coming to see. Not just "worth supporting" like something on welfare, but worth spending money on as great family entertainment.