Weber Stays Home as Preds Head to Chicago
The Preds avoided a second period collapse and some horrendous officiating on Friday night to even the series, but lost the services of Captain Shea Weber for at least the next two games with an ankle injury.
With Nashville leading 2-1, Brandon Saad skated in to finish his check when their feet got tangled, causing a sudden twisting motion to Weber’s ankle, who went down immediately. As the Preds iced the puck, Weber limped to the bench in severe pain and headed directly to the locker room. It didn’t take long for the news to break that he would miss the rest of the game. Any time a player is declared out that quickly, it usually doesn’t bode well for his immediate future.
The question now becomes, what pairings will coach Laviolette go with for the road trip in Chicago? Weber missed a few games late in the season, and in that scenario, 20-year old Seth Jones was plugged into the first pairing with Roman Josi. Jones has had a strong playoff debut this week so I fully expect Laviolette to go the same route. Anton Volchenkov had mixed results during game 1, so the jury is still out as to whether he gets put back into the lineup. The other option is Victor Bartley, who would become the 7th player on the roster to make their playoff debut in this series. Although Bartley doesn’t have the size or experience of Volchenkov, he does bring just as much physical presence, along with being a faster skater. Against the dangerous group of forwards that Chicago brings to the table, I’m leaning towards Bartley.
With Chicago having the benefit of last change, there’s no real way for the Preds to ‘hide’ their weakest pairing. I think it’s safe to assume Jones steps in with Josi on the top pair. The rest of the lineup is up for debate, but I don’t think they keep Ellis and Ekholm together. This would expose a potential Bartley/Franson duo that have yet to skate together this season. My thinking is that Ekholm teams up with with Franson, and Ellis paired with Bartley or Volchenkov. This gives the team good balance throughout with a puck-moving defenseman on each pairing, along with a stay-at-home type to watch his back.
Whatever the coaching staff decides, the loss of Weber is large. The only solace we can take is that the Preds have enough depth with guys that have played consistently at the NHL level, as opposed to plugging someone in who spent the season in Milwaukee.
One thing is certain… the Preds NEED to take one of these games in Chicago without their captain, or face the daunting task of a 3-1 series deficit when they return home.