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Fisher helping Predators by adding offense

by John Manasso

NASHVILLE -- Mike Fisher was talking Thursday to a couple of reporters from Ottawa who have covered much of the 33-year-old center's career.

"Certainly, I've been going well here this last little while," said Fisher, who will celebrate three years with the Nashville Predators on Feb. 10. "Whatever reason, you guys know I've been streaky in the past a little bit. You just take it when it comes."

Lately, Fisher has been doing just that. In Nashville's seven games since Dec. 28, Fisher has four goals and six assists, helping to supply a good deal of the Predators' offense during a 3-2-2 stretch. As a testament to Fisher's streakiness, he had one point in the preceding nine games. The Predators went 3-5-1 during that stretch, a good indication as to what he means to them offensively.

Nashville entered Friday nine points out of the Western Conference's eighth spot for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Predators, a team built around goaltending and defense, are attempting to overcome the absence of two-time Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne, who has not played since Oct. 22 because of an infection in his hip. The Predators are tied for 24th in the NHL in scoring at 2.40 goals per game, but with Fisher on his hot streak they have scored 22 goals in the past seven games (3.14).

Fisher allows that he can be streaky, but there might be a little bit more to it right now. Because of his two-way prowess, Predators coach Barry Trotz has often used Fisher and his line to check other top offensive lines. Lately, in a bid to boost the offense, Trotz switched that role with David Legwand.

"There's a lot of big centermen and big teams in the West," Fisher said. "It's definitely a battle to shut some of those guys down and you can get tired."

As a result, Fisher has been able to devote more of his energy to scoring, not checking. Thursday offered a case study. Going against the red-hot Anaheim Ducks, Trotz opted to use Fisher's line with Colin Wilson and Eric Nystrom, who took the place of injured right wing Patric Hornqvist, against one of the top offensive lines in the NHL, centered by the Anaheim Ducks' 6-foot-4, 221-pound Ryan Getzlaf. It proved an off night both offensively and defensively for 6-1, 215-pound Fisher and his linemates. None of them were on the scoresheet and each had a minus-3 rating as they struggled to manage the puck.

Mike Fisher
Center - NSH
GOALS: 11 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 23
SOG: 95 | +/-: -4
Recently, nights like that have proved an anomaly for Fisher and his linemates, who will try to get back on track Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. Since Fisher arrived in Nashville, the meetings with Ottawa have proved rare, owing to their playing in different conferences. Fisher's friend and former teammate Chris Neil said he thinks Fisher playing his old team is not as meaningful as it once might have been.

"I think he's moved on," Neil said. "Obviously, three years [have] passed, so time flies. You can't dwell on the past and you've got to keep moving forward and he's done that. I think he's came into Nashville and he's played a good role for them. He's a good leader, a good role model for all those young guys."

An open question might be how much longer Fisher will continue to play that role. His contract expires after the 2014-15 season and Fisher offered somewhat cryptic comments Thursday about how much longer he would like to play.

One consideration is the demanding career of his wife, music star Carrie Underwood, who plays 80 to 100 concert dates a year. With Fisher's playing schedule, the couple's personal time is at a premium. Part of what made Nashville such an attractive marriage for Fisher, so to speak, is that Underwood had a home here.

"I think everybody does that," Fisher said of pondering how much longer he wants to play. "I think I'd be lying if I didn't. I still have, obviously, a year left on my deal. After that, probably next year, I'll be deciding that, how my body feels and where Carrie and I are at. But obviously there's always a green light from her, but it's going to be a decision. I really don't know at this point."

When prompted if he wants another contract after this one, Fisher responded, "We'll see … I try not to think that far ahead."

Neil offered some insight on Fisher's thinking.

"He's been a hard man on his body, the way he plays, the way he trains," Neil said. "There's not two speeds with Mike. There's one speed and it's a high speed. The way he plays, the way he works out, the intensity. For me, coming in, him taking me under his wing, I think living with him, I learned a lot from him. Push the envelope to get better.

"I've got a lot of respect for how he plays and the type of person he is. Everyone asks you what kind of person he is. You tell them everything's straight from the heart. That's why he's had success and he always will have success."

Trotz offered a similar take from a coach's perspective.

"Mike plays hurt, plays when other guys wouldn't even think about playing," he said. "You'll go, 'Mike, how do you feel?' And you know he's really in a lot of pain and all that and he goes, 'I'm fine, why?' That's all I get. 'I'm fine. Why? I can go.' 'Are you 50 percent, 60 percent? 'No, I'm good. I'm good to go.'"

In the NFL, where injuries can ravage teams, it's said that a huge part of being a good player is simply being on the field. Fisher seems to embody that in the NHL. Right now, he's trying to prevent Nashville's one-year absence from the playoffs from extending to two.

"Everyone's trying to pick up their game," he said. "It's important for our season. Hopefully, we'll keep it going."

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