F or over a year, Jonathon Blum labored in the AHL.
The highly regarded young defenseman started the season with Nashville, but his game was stagnant. Blum’s potential was simply not showing up.
Thus, instead of letting him languish and struggle to fit in at the NHL-level, Nashville sent Blum to their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee.
“Last year was a big wake-up call for me,” Blum said. “It’s the NHL. It’s the greatest league in the world and you can’t take nights off. I’ve learned that. I just have to play this game as hard as I can every night. In the minors you can get away with taking a few nights off, but up here you can’t.”
After Nashville’s brief post-lockout training camp, he cracked Nashville’s opening night roster. While he was a healthy scratch, he was back up with the big boys.
It took another two weeks before he finally returned to the lineup. On February 2 in San Jose, Nashville decided to roll out seven defensemen – Blum, like the number on his back, was number seven.
“It’s always nice for the first couple of games to have 7 defensemen and get your feet wet a little bit and not just get thrown out there,” Blum said. “Whatever we do, whenever we do it, all 7 of us will be ready to go and help the team win.”
While more defensemen means that Blum would play fewer minutes than he usually would, he was back on the NHL roster and his play was making it hard for Barry Trotz to take him off. When the team needed an extra forward for an offensive boost on Tuesday night against San Jose, Trotz scratched Hal Gill instead of Blum.
“We’re pros,” Blum said. “We adapt if it’s seven or six. If it’s seven, we have to be ready to go with any line. If it’s six, you kind of know who you’re playing with and what lines you’re going against. Seven keeps you more on your toes on the bench with late changes and stuff like that. I think we do a good job of it here.”
Since Blum rejoined the lineup, the Predators have reeled off a record of 4-1-1 while only giving up an amazing five goals in the six game stretch. While it might be the fresher legs on the seven defensemen, Blum credits the play of Pekka Rinne.
“We have the best goalie in the world,” Blum said after Nashville knocked off San Jose 1-0 in overtime on Tuesday night. “You saw that tonight in overtime – the saves he was making were unbelievable. He’s definitely keeping us in it when we’re not getting the offensive chances.”
While the Predators have had trouble lighting the lamp as of late, the defense has stood tall, making the lack of goal-scoring a perk, not a necessity. Bear Bryant reportedly once said, “Offense sells tickets. Defense wins championships.” With the make-up of the team, it’s a philosophy that Blum apparently buys into.
“I think this team is built to win 1-0, 2-1 games,” Blum said, “and that goes a long way in the playoffs.”
Photos: Sarah Fuqua