The Nashville Predators have had a roller-coaster type season with several streaks and plenty of ups and downs as the season is hits the thirty game mark tomorrow night.
A key ingredient to the periods where the team has played better has been the presence of veteran defenseman Frankie Bouillon in the line-up. If you look at his offensive statistics, they are not particularly impressive with only three assists through 17 games, but that is not an indication of his value to the Predators.
Bouillon missed the last half of last season with a concussion and it was never clear over the summer, when or if he would be able to return. He surprised many people when he was able in increase his workouts late in the preseason and return on October 25, after missing the team's first seven games of the season.
After going 3-3-1 to start the season, the team was noticeably better beginning with Bouillon's first game back against San Jose, which was a loss due to a late miscue. The Preds then proceeded to have their best run of the season going 7-1-2 as they were hitting their stride for the first time in the year.
Bouillon was re-injured on November 26 in a game in Detroit. This time it was a groin injury. The Preds were 2-3 while he was out and were heavily dependent on rookies Roman Josi and Jon Blum in Bouillon's absence.
He returned to the ice in Columbus last Thursday and provided a key spark in the Preds' 4-3 miracle comeback win with his first fight since before he was out with the concussion.
Bouillon is happy to be back in the line-up and claims to be at full strength. "I feel really good. There's no way that I'm going to play if I'm not 95-100%. It's been two games that I'm back and physically and mentally I'm there, and I enjoyed those wins."
When asked about the team's record being much better with him on the ice, Bouillon was modest as always, "I don't really look at those stats. I just try to do my best when I play. I'm a veteran so when I play, I play a lot of minutes behind Sutes and Webs so I always have an important job to do every game and I try to do the best job that I can."
One player who is really appreciative of having Bouillon back in the lineup is goalie, Pekka Rinne. "It's big. You can tell . It's just a fact that we have a young team and anytime we miss a guy like Frankie it's going to show."
"He's been a really positive guy and such a solid guy on and off the ice. He's a team guy and good to talk too. He's a real big part of this team."
Predators' coach Barry Trotz was more analytical with his explanation of Bouillon's importance. "He gives stability to our pairings. That's one thing when you have a veteran defenseman, they can stabilize the game for you and allow you to have better match ups. That's what he does. Frankie is one of those guys that's very valuable for a hockey team and it shows in the stats."
When told the team's record with and without Bouillon in the line up Trotz laughed and said, "I think we should keep him in the lineup."
The Predators have a tough schedule this week and hope to keep Bouillon healthy and build on the modest two-game winning streak as they host the Calgary Flames on Tuesday, the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, and the St. Louis Blues on Saturday.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass