To see how important the return of Francis Bouillon to the Nashville Predators has been, you simply have to look at the team's record. Prior to his return on October 25, the team was 3-3-1 and the defense was yielding 2.71 goals per game and was lacking Bouillon's veteran presence. The Preds even started three rookies on defense on a couple of occasions.
In his first outing against San Jose, the Preds played much better but lost 3-1 on a pair of late goals by the Sharks. Since that time, Nashville has sported a 5-1-2 record and has not had as much confusion in the opponent's end of the ice.
Bouillon was sidelined with a concussion on January 25, 2011 and had a long road to recovery, with no real time-table for a return. Over the months, he gradually increased his workouts and eventually began contact drills last month.
Since his return, he has seen his minutes increase and he has returned to being an anchor on the penalty kill unit. He has been at 22 minutes a game for three of the last four games.
When he first returned, he was played some on the third line but soon found himself paired with Kevin Klein. "It's been a few years now and we played well together last year and when I came back they put us together again. He's a good player. I like playing with him and I'm used to playing with him. We have a tough job to do every game since we are always up against a good line."
"Webs and Sutes do a good job against the first line, and me and Kleiner have to do a good job against the second line every game. We have to be consistent."
After Saturday's game, Bouillon claimed to have put the injury in the past. "I don't have to think about it. I've got to play my game, a physical game. That's the way I made it to the NHL so that's the way I'm going to play."
Solidifying the second line has also paid benefits with the third defensive pairing of Jack Hillen and Jon Blum getting more comfortable with each other's game.
The Predators are facing a stretch of four home games, split between Eastern and Western Conference teams. Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals will be at the Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday at 7 p.m. and then the much improved Toronto Maple Leafs will follow on Thursday.
The weekend will bring division rival, Columbus and the final home game of the month will be a week from tonight against the surprising Edmonton Oilers.
Bouillon is looking forward to the upcoming competition. "It doesn't matter who we play. We have to play the same every game. Game after game, we have to play hard in our own zone and move the puck. It doesn't matter who you play or against which line, you have to do the job each game."
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Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass