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Rematch offers Predators chance to play better against San Jose @NHL

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -As an expansion franchise, the Nashville Predators talk a lot about taking steps forward.

Now they get the chance to prove they learned from their biggest stumble.

A year ago, the Predators couldn't have been happier. They had earned home-ice advantage in the NHL playoffs for the first time in their second postseason and opened as the No. 4 seed, winning the first game. Then they lost the next four to conclude a promising season in an embarrassing thud.

So it's only fitting that a team that spent the offseason trying to address the problems exposed by that series opens Wednesday night against the very same team - the San Jose Sharks.

"It's sort of ironic," Nashville coach Barry Trotz said Monday of the rematch. "Some of the things we felt we needed to improve upon in the offseason because of that playoff series we did, so it does work out just fine."

The Sharks exposed Nashville's need for size up the middle with big centers, 6-foot-4 Joe Thornton and 6-2 Patrick Marleau. They also scored nine of 17 goals on power plays as the undisciplined Predators took 88 penalty minutes in five games.

"We felt that was an area we needed to correct," Trotz said. "By playing San Jose, that brought it to a clarity if you will. That was an area we wanted to be better at."

Nashville addressed the size issue by signing 6-4 center Jason Arnott and added some scoring from 6-1 forward J.P. Dumont last offseason. Adding Arnott also brought some Stanley Cup experience with his clinching goal for New Jersey in 2000 and help to battle against Thornton and Jonathan Cheechoo.

San Jose coach Ron Wilson believes both teams are better than they were a year ago, he said Saturday after his Sharks finished the season with a 4-3 overtime loss to Vancouver.

"They've addressed some issues, so have we. We're much bigger, much stronger, probably much faster and hopefully more ready than we were last year too. Not just to play a team like Nashville, but to play anybody that we're going to face in this conference," Wilson said.

Nashville forward Darcy Hordichuk said these Predators are very different, with more talent across the board. This is the team that added Peter Forsberg in a February trade, while San Jose picked up forward Bill Guerin.

"We've got to be physical with these guys right from the get-go and hit some of their skill players and make it tough on them," Hordichuk said.

That is where the Predators have to be smart.

Nashville spent much of that playoff series killing off five-on-threes - when the Sharks scored three times. Six players who totaled 46 of the 88 penalty minutes didn't survive last offseason, including Mike Sillinger and Brendan Witt with a team-high 12 penalty minutes each.

The Predators worked on taking fewer penalties this season. A team that tied for the third-most power plays allowed in the NHL last season cut down to ninth-fewest this season, going from 6.5 power plays per game to 4.7 this season. Nashville ranked third in killing 86 percent of power plays.

They will need that discipline against San Jose, which goes into the postseason tied for the league's second-best power-play unit with 92 goals with the man advantage.

Arnott has only looked at last year's playoff loss from an outsider's perspective because he was with Dallas this time last year. He said the loss can be blamed on a lot of things but sees discipline as the huge factor.

"Size set aside, you put these guys on the power play, they're going to capitalize. One of the best passers in the world against you, you go in the penalty box, they're going to capitalize on it," he said.

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