Don't Miss

The risk/reward of Preds defenseman Shane O’Brien…

Nashville Predators defenseman Shane O’Brien came to Music City with a reputation. A reputation for being a loose cannon, making poor decisions and taking bad penalties at inopportune times.

For the most part, he’s been a key cog on the blueline this season but, in this first round playoff series, Nashville has seen the latter all too often.

The biggest key to the series for the Predators was to stay out of the box. The top line of Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan and the Rocket Richard Trophy winner Corey Perry could be contained (or, at the very least, limited) when skating at full strength but, with the time and space they’d have on the power play, they could be potent. And that’s not even mentioning Teemu Selanne who has 50 points in 42 career regular season games against Nashville. For the Preds to win their first ever playoff series, they’d have to keep Anaheim off the power play.

So while Nashville leads the series 3-2, O’Brien hasn’t been helping the cause.

O’Brien has taken at least one penalty in every game this series and, even more importantly, the Anaheim Ducks have scored five times when he’s been in the box. That’s, in theory, five goals the Ducks shouldn’t have scored.

Just 4:18 into the first period of Game 2, O’Brien slashed Getzlaf just seconds after Martin Erat slashed Perry, putting the NHL’s third best power play during the regular season on a 5-on-3 advantage. Anaheim struck once during the two-man advantage and then again on the 5-on-4, putting themselves up 2-0 in the opening 6:02. Nashville would never recover and drop Game 2, 5-3.

In Game 3, O’Brien let tough-guy George Parros draw an elbowing call. Anaheim would then send the Predator killer himself Selanne to go do what he does best: score power play goals. Nashville would end up winning the game but it was closer than it needed to be, 4-3.

Just three days later the Preds blueliner took yet another penalty, this one for boarding Todd Marchant just 4:07 into the contest. 2010 first round pick Cam Fowler would score his first career NHL playoff goal 0:34 later. While the Predators hung tough through 40 minutes, the Ducks used three third period tallies to take Game 4, 6-3.

And finally, in Game 5, O’Brien took what would be the final penalty of the game when he tripped Brandon McMillan in the middle frame. The Predators were up 1-0 at this point but the Ducks tied it up when Jason Blake bagged his first of the post season with O’Brien sitting in the box. It would take last-minute heroics by Shea Weber and then an overtime winner by Jerred Smithson for the Predators to win a game they had complete control in until the power play strike by Blake.

You may ask, “if he’s a liability, why doesn’t the coaching staff scratch him?” The answer is simple. There’s nobody to replace him. Nashville is currently carrying only six blueliners instead of their traditional seven (six and an insurance policy).

And, quite honestly, the risk/reward is enough to keep him in the lineup. O’Brien has 33 games of playoff experience. Jon Blum, Cody Franson and Kevin Klein have just 25 games combined. If you scratch O’Brien, you’re not only going with five defenseman (which is never good) but you’re removing a key cog.

So that’s four straight playoff games O’Brien has been in the box when Anaheim has scored. It’s also five straight games he’s taken at least one penalty. If the Predators want to realize their potential with a deep playoff run, O’Brien absolutely must stop taking penalties and putting his team shorthanded.

Because while they may get away with it in this series, when the Predators play the mighty San Jose Sharks, archrival Detroit Red Wings or the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks in the next round, there will be zero room for error.

PHOTO CREDIT: Dylan Moody // special to (used with permission)