New NHL a dogfight

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

How quickly things can change in the new-look NHL.

One moment, Barry Trotz's Nashville Predators are the hottest thing in hockey, Music City's No. 1 hit, with a perfect 8-0 record to start the season.

Fast forward a week, and they're hurtin' as bad as any country song, losers of five in a row.

It'd be enough to make a guy from Dauphin pull out his hair -- if he had any.

"I could be better," Trotz, the Preds head coach, admitted from Nashville yesterday. "Things that were going well for us early are not falling the way we want them to."

Now, there's no need for Trotz to hit the panic button, yet.

After all, three of the five losses were either in overtime or a shootout.

On way up

His team (8-2-2-1) remains solidly in second place in its division, too, suggesting all those pre-season prognosticators who said the Preds are on their way up the charts knew what they were talking about.

So no, he's not horribly concerned.

"I'm horribly concerned if it continues a lot longer," Trotz said. "You've got to try to keep everything in perspective. I kept saying when we were 8-0, 'We're finding ways to win,' which is a great thing. I don't think we were playing particularly well, though. We were giving up too many chances."

The crazy thing is, as good as Nashville's record is, the Preds were just three points up on the teams tied for 10th, 11th and 12th place in the tough Western Conference, going into last night.

That's not much of a walk from the penthouse to the outhouse.

"It gets a little hairy," Trotz said.

In some ways, the topsy-turvy story written by Trotz's team this season mirrors that of the new NHL.

With goals coming in bunches and penalties called anytime, there is no such thing as a safe lead anymore.

The old, standard way of shutting the opposing team down -- physically attaching a checker to anybody who ventures into your zone -- is no longer applicable.

"It's hard to hold leads right now -- that's one of the great things about our league," Trotz said. "You're never out of a game. You can't clutch and grab and hold, all those things. You have to skate."

That's something Trotz's teams have always been known for: their work ethic.

Which is one of the reasons he's one of the NHL's longest-tenured head coaches, in his seventh season behind the Nashville bench.

Another seven-year man, fellow Manitoban Andy Murray of the Los Angeles Kings, says the clampdown on the clutch-and-grab is easily the biggest change in the game.

"It is changed dramatically," Murray said. "It's a different kind of hockey altogether. There's no question the team that has time of possession in the offensive zone is going to win the game, because they're going to gradually wear the opponent down. The opponent's going to be forced to put a hand out or put the stick on somebody.

"I call it being good custodians of the puck. And we've done a good job of keeping the puck."

It shows.

Tops in division

Murray's Kings are 10-5, tops in their division and third in the conference, although, in typically cautious coaching fashion, the product of Souris puts a disclaimer on that.

"We've had a schedule that's favoured us," Murray said. "We've had 10 home games out of the 15, so that's certainly played in our favour. But on the other side of it, you have to win those games. So we did what we had to do at home."

Of course, Murray knows, too, that his first-place team (20 points) is just a hiccup out of fifth in the division (Phoenix, 16 points), so there's no relaxing.

"It's a dog-fight," he agreed.

Good to see a pair of Manitoba dogs right in the thick of it.


Videos

Photos