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It’s All About Momentum (The Obligatory “Preds without Suter” Article)

By Miranda Martin

Since July 4th, there has been preparation for the Ryan Suter discussion before first matchup between the Minnesota Wild and the Nashville Predators. Today, it arrives, but with only two previous games for each team and a lockout that eased the anger, this article is not what was originally expected.

The article was going to be beautiful. It was going to talk about the most disappointing summer since high school teenage romance. It was going to start with some cheap puns about a broken-up bromance, full of Nicholas Sparks plot lines and break-up clichés, like “it’s not you, it’s him” and “he’s not worth it.” Then, there would be some stabs at Suter-stealer and former Predators owner Craig Leipold, calling him a shopaholic for whining about money then spending $196 million on two purses… just to be late on his first payment.

It was going to point out every little flaw of Suter’s career. There would be mentions of his unnecessary penalties in the conference quarterfinals in 2011 that changed the momentum from the Predators to the Canucks, inevitably ending in the loss of the series. It would mention that some of the most pivotal moments that involved Shea Weber actually did not involve Suter. And of course, it’d be too easy to mention how he got completely owned by Pavel Datsyuk with just moments left in the third period to give Detroit a win and a spot in the highlight reels last season. But all of this would seem to begrudging, don’t you think?

Moving on.

During a season preview on NBC Sports network, one of the panel of “experts” mentioned on many occasions that the Predators would falter and never be the same without Suter. But Suter, albeit talented, is just one player on a very deep and capable roster. Proving them wrong seemed to be an immediate concern. Because who wants to be told how poorly they’re going to perform? The Predators, as usual, are pitted against all odds. It’s the same old song and dance that the team and fans have grown accustomed.

Now, the team relies on a heavily altered defense core. Shea Weber immediately knew Roman Josi would be his new right-hand man, which is a lot for the 22-year old to fill. Is he capable? Certainly, and with Weber’s leadership, the pairing has great potential. Ryan Ellis is adhering to a full-time NHL position to replace fellow short defenseman Francis Bouillion, who made an exit to Montreal while everyone was too busy talking about Suter. Scott Hannan was picked up in hopes to add more experience to a young squad—the same reason Hal Gill was picked up at the trade deadline in 2012. A practically brand new defensive core had the expectations to beat the odds, with only a week to get to know each other.

After the first two games of the season resulting in shootout losses, maybe the panel at NBC Sports had a point. With individual efforts looking fair, the major issue with the Predators defense is communication. It almost seems that Congress has had more communication than some of these defensive pairings. Several actions have been miscommunicated, resulting in odd-man rushes and frustrating goals. The seven minutes without Shea Weber in the middle of the game against Columbus showed how much the team needs him. If the season was predicted on just the first two games, the defense looks ugly. Thankfully, there’s 46 more games to learn to talk to each other.

Though the talent on defense has changed, has the attitude really changed? The team has always heavily relied on the expertise of the goaltender, allowing dozens of games to exceed 30 and 40 shots on goal. The offensive players are also generally well-rounded enough to play defense. Already this year, players like Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn have made extraordinary defensive moves in the first two games. In previous seasons, Pekka Rinne has had to face 40 or more shots on goal dozens of games. It’s not much more different than when Suter was around.

However, for Minnesota, the Wild is reveling in a new found momentum by two all-star, Olympian, talented moneybags. Remember after the 2004 lockout when Craig Leipold’s Predators brought in big-named players like Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott, and Peter Forsberg? The momentum changed heavily in favor of the Predators, with the team breaking records on the ice left and right. Right now, Minnesota is riding on that same momentum that Nashville found in those years. Their two victories seem to forecast that the team has high hopes for a very productive and successful season.

But let’s not forget Suter and Parise are just two players in the Minnesota system, and those big-named Nashville teams still couldn’t get past the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Predators have lost hundreds of players before, and the Wild has had major talent before, like Marion Gaborik, Pascal Dupuis, and Pavol Demitra (RIP). It’s a team effort, and all it takes is a little momentum shift.

It’s still too soon to tell what Nashville’s defense will be like, or even how this game tonight will be. After two games, it doesn’t look pretty. Ask again on March 9th when Minnesota visits Nashville, and you may have another story. As for tonight, let’s just hope for the first win.

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