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Barry Trotz figures he'll look back someday and shake his head in amazement that he got to coach two studs on defense like Ryan Suter and Shea Weber.
Short of pretending it's what Scotty Bowman feels when he reminisces about coaching the Big Three of Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe and Serge Savard, in today's 30-team NHL, the Suter-Weber combo is an impressive tandem that drives the little engine that could in Nashville.
"Twenty years from now, I'm going to go, 'It was something to watch those two kids together,'" the Predators' head coach told ESPN.com Wednesday night. "Their combined skill produces the ultimate defenseman."
Between Weber's "physicality, big shot, leadership and nastiness," and Suter's "game management, great escapability, the way he does all the subtle things, these two guys just dominate a game," Trotz added.
|Shea Weber, left, Ryan Suter and Pekka Rinne are most responsible for keeping Nashville in a playoff spot, coach Barry Trotz said.|
The Preds are second in the NHL in goals against per game and third on the penalty kill. Those stingy defensive numbers are why they sit fourth in the tough Western Conference.
"We've had really good team defense," Trotz said. "It starts with Suter and Weber on the back end, they've been absolutely fantastic. And we've had great goaltending."
Pekka Rinne's numbers are among the league leaders, and combined with the Suter-Weber star pairing, you're looking at the three guys most responsible for keeping Nashville in a playoff spot.
What irks Trotz just a bit is that people around the league don't seem to recognize the star players on his team.
"Sometimes I think people don't think we have any players, and coaches and management here maybe get too much credit, but we have some really good players," Trotz said. "Suter and Weber are really all-world. I was disappointed because I thought Rinne, Suter and Weber -- all three should have been in the All-Star Game. I'm biased but I see them on a nightly basis, and I know how good they are."
Only Weber got the All-Star nod. Trotz continues to be amazed that Suter isn't regarded as highly as he should be.
"Ryan Suter doesn't get nearly enough credit for how good he is. He is just outstanding," Trotz said.
So is the coach. Although Trotz said that maybe he gets too much credit and his players not enough, the fact is the NHL should implement a rule that stipulates that Trotz is an automatic nominee for the Jack Adams Award every single season he's in Nashville. He coaches the heck out of a roster that every fall has new, unknown faces.
And right now, the team is on quite a roll.
"Our identity has come out in terms of being really resilient," Trotz said. "We've got people out, and people have stepped up."
The team ranks only 23rd in offense (top-notch offensive talent costs money), but the Preds have gotten "timely goals from different people," Trotz said.
"Sergei Kostitsyn, for example, he's been really good for us, stepping up and getting some timely goals," Trotz said.
Kostitsyn, who wore out his welcome in Montreal, has caught fire with 20 points (9-11) in his past 19 games, including five goals in his past six games.
"He's a guy that once he trusted us in what we were doing, he started to buy in," Trotz said. "And he started to play more and got more opportunity. And he's run with it. He's been a real good story for us."
He's had to be because the player Nashville figured would be one of their top offensive forces has been shelved nearly the whole season. Matthew Lombardi, who was signed to a $10.5 million, three-year contract this past summer, lasted two games this season before a serious concussion derailed him. For a team that doesn't spend a lot of money, that one has hurt.
"Lombardi is out indefinitely," Trotz said. "He hasn't been cleared yet to do anything. He hasn't played for us, so we don't know what it feels like to have him on the team. Other guys have stepped in."
Martin Erat could be back this weekend. Steve Sullivan is out until the All-Star break. Jordin Tootoo, who entered the league's substance-abuse program, is also out.
The Preds could use those players. But they won't complain.
"We've been resilient," Trotz said.
Well, of course, it's the Predators way.