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Predators' Laviolette paces Adams race at midpoint

by Jon Lane / NHL.com

With the first half of the 2014-15 season complete, NHL.com looks at some of its biggest storylines and award contenders.

The Nashville Predators are the latest to experience a renaissance under Peter Laviolette.

In parts of 12 seasons coaching the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes and Philadelphia Flyers, Laviolette's teams have improved dramatically in his first full season. The 2001-02 Islanders started 11-1-1 and finished with 96 points, the eighth-most in the NHL, one season after placing 30th with 52 points. The Hurricanes went from 23rd (76 points) in 2003-04, when he took over 30 games into the season, to fourth (112) in 2005-06. The Flyers moved from 18th (88 points) in 2009-10 when he took over 25 games into the season, to third (106) in 2010-11.

Laviolette is at it again with the Predators. After finishing three points out of the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference last season, Nashville has emerged as one of the NHL's biggest surprises; its 62 points are the most in the League. The Predators are 13-0-0 following a loss and their 41-game start (28-9-4) was the best in franchise history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The transition from Barry Trotz's defensive system to Laviolette's aggressive, attacking style has rejuvenated the Predators. They're getting it done offensively with 3.00 goals per game, up from 2.61 last season, and are 7-1-2 in their past 10, part of a stretch when they proved their legitimacy by taking six of a possible eight points against the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks from Dec. 29 to Jan. 4.

In addition to competing for the Presidents' Trophy, the Predators boast contenders for the Hart (Pekka Rinne) Norris (Shea Weber), Vezina (Rinne) and Calder (Filip Forsberg) trophies. Collectively they're thriving under Laviolette, which makes him the frontrunner for the Jack Adams Award as the League's top coach.

"I'm happy with the way they go out and work, every day, from Day One," Laviolette told The Tennessean. "I think that builds internally. There's an expectation to go out and work hard. They've been rock solid, really. The credit goes to them."

FINALISTS

Bruce Boudreau, Anaheim Ducks -- Boudreau entered the season with young players Frederik Andersen and John Gibson as his goaltenders, only to see Gibson sustain a groin injury in November. Corey Perry, Francois Beauchemin, Ben Lovejoy and Kyle Palmieri are among key players who have missed time because of injuries, contributing to Anaheim's 243 man-games lost.

The Ducks responded to take a commanding lead in the Pacific Division. Anaheim's 21 points in December tied the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets for the League lead and they are the only team with two winning streaks of seven games or longer. Andersen's 23 wins rank second and his 40 wins in 55 career NHL decisions (40-10-5) was the best start by an NHL goaltender in 34 years.

The Ducks' will to win is a testament to their 21-0-6 record in one-goal games, including wins in seven straight one-goal games since Dec. 18.

"The core group here has wanted to win ever since I got here, and they never give up," Boudreau told the Associated Press. "That's one of the reasons why we've had so many come-from-behind wins the last couple of years. These guys believe that they can win and that's half the battle."

Paul Maurice, Winnipeg Jets -- Injuries to forward Evander Kane, and defensemen Jacob Trouba, Toby Enstrom, Mark Stuart, Zach Bogosian and Grant Clitsome did not derail the Jets. Instead, Winnipeg holds the first wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

Maurice is 40-26-13 since taking over as Jets coach on Jan. 12, 2014. He has the Jets playing hard, aggressive and cohesive hockey, and in position to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2006-07, when the franchise played in Atlanta.

"It's been solid," Maurice told the Jets website. "We started with an idea of what we were trying to get to and we're part-way along in that process of getting to that game. It's all about consistency and a certain style of hockey.

"I think overall, over 40 games, we've been pretty darn consistent with that game. We've been able to survive some injuries and some tough stretches of schedule. We're going to face those again in the second half of this year, but I think we made good, solid progress toward a game we all understand."

Also in the mix: Jack Capuano, New York Islanders; Barry Trotz, Washington Capitals; Jon Cooper, Tampa Bay Lightning

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