Mar 15, 2012; San Jose, CA, USA; Nashville Predators defenseman Hal Gill (75) warms up before the game against the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion. San Jose defeated Nashville 2-1 in shootouts. Mandatory Credit: Jason O. Watson-US PRESSWIRE
Nashville has missed the defensive presence and experience that Hal Gill brings to a team in the playoffs. As a result, captain Shea Weber needs to step up, even when Gill returns to the lineup.
Gill, 37, is a solid stay-at-home defenseman with size. Standing at 6'7", Gill also knows how to use that size, not necessarily to make bone-crushing hits, but to keep bodies away from the puck and having an advantage in reach. Nashville already had star defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, but adding a defense-first blueliner to the two scoring defensemen gave the Predators the depth they needed for a deep run in the playoffs.
Aside from the skill-set Gill brings, the 16-year veteran brings intangibles that are desired for a team aiming for a serious playoff run. Gill had been involved in two recent runs: In 2009, he was an addition to a Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguins team and the following year, Gill was on the Montreal Canadiens team that upset the Washington Capitals and then went past the Penguins, only to lose to the Cup-runner-up Philadelphia Flyers. For a team that could use little something extra for the playoffs, Nashville was certainly lucky to have acquired Gill.
Before Game 1 versus the Detroit Red Wings, Gill was scratched with a lower-body injury. The Predators came away with the 3-2 victory, but not after some shenanigans -- the Wings scored a late goal to bring the deficit to one goal and Weber earned himself a fine for a head-smashing incident with Henrik Zetterberg.
Gill was unable to return for Game 2, and after the Wings handed out retribution for Zetterberg, Detroit then scored two quick goals to leave the first period with a 2-0 lead. The Preds could have taken an early lead prior to the Red Wings' first goal, but they played shaky offensively. Despite the many momentum swings Nashville's way, Detroit remained calm, taking advantage of any mistakes in Rinne's positioning.
It is cliché, especially during this time of year, but the Red Wings have been here before, and they have just enough players like Nicklas Lidstrom, Danny Cleary along with coach Mike Babcock and others within the organization to get past the obstacles and win a tough first-round series. That certainly helps when needing to fix mistakes from the previous game, while remaining composed when the tide is against them.
Hence, it is moments like these where Gill would not only provide practical aid for Nashville, but as one of the rare players on the Predators' roster who has won something, Gill's presence and experience would help keep them composed against opponents like the Red Wings.
Gill continues to be questionable for games, and barring his return, the Predators will need to quickly learn to balance out the leadership with other players and performances. One player who will need to step up in Gill's absence is Weber.
As team captain, he almost brought the Predators back, bringing the deficit to one goal late in the third period, but going forward, Weber will need to help the team play more disciplined in terms of penalties and in strategy. Taking more command with the puck like he did during the regular season will lead to more opportunistic play in front of the net, and lead to more pressure on Jimmy Howard. Heading to Detroit where the Red Wings have been so dominant, this will be key for Nashville going forward.