After six games of this young season, the Predators are showing signs of gelling.
Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette preached throughout training camp that despite last year's experience gained from the memorable playoff run, every group is unique. Roles have to be defined. New stripes have to be earned.
To a person, the team was disappointed in their first outing in Boston. A 4-0 loss in Pittsburgh certainly wasn't the desired result in the second contest, but Laviolette saw signs of life. In each game since then, Laviolette has expressed in his postgame comments that the Predators have shown game-by-game improvement. Not coincidentally, the team is on a 3-0-1 stretch as they head out for the next short-term goal: road wins.
Here are a few nuggets contributing to the improvement...
1. Rinne Efficiency:
Former NHL goaltender and current Preds TV Color Analyst Chris Mason has pointed this out on recent telecasts: Pekka Rinne is such a tremendous athlete he has the ability at any time to "freelance" and creatively make a spectacular save (an example would be Tuesday night's wacky play against Colorado. Scott Hartnell eventually ended the madness by knocking the net off the moorings). Rinne can still use that athleticism when he needs to, but more often he looks "quieter" on the ice. His movements are compact, and he seems to be making challenging saves more effortlessly. His last three games have been very strong.
Video: COL@NSH: Rinne makes save on deflection
2. Defensive Pair Chemistry:
After the 0-2 start to the season, the Predators came home from Pittsburgh with some challenges on defense:
a. Roman Josi was injured.
b. Alexei Emelin was a healthy scratch.
c. The d-pairs without the injured Ryan Ellis had yet to sort themselves out.
A couple of things have happened since then:
a. Emelin showed a great attitude after sitting out against the Pens and has found his groove. Now paired with P.K. Subban, the two are starting to build good chemistry and are playing tough minutes.
b. Young Samuel Girard provided the Predators with a big jolt of energy and skill while Josi was out.
c. The greatness and versatility of Mattias Ekholm has helped Girard shine. Plus, when Josi returned Tuesday, Ekholm paired with the Preds' captain and the two seemed to gel. Ekholm continues to be among the most underrated players in the game.
Video: COL@NSH: Josi tallies slick second-chance goal
3. Arvi Hustle:
Viktor Arvidsson continues to be truly unique. He has the rare combination of having game-breaking speed in the open ice (see above his goal vs. Colorado on Tuesday) but also the ability to effectively go into the toughest areas on the ice to make a play (see below his assist on Tuesday on the 5-on-3 power-play as he digs a puck out of the blue ice to keep the play alive while taking a vicious cross check). Here are a couple of numbers (via Naturalstattrick.com) he tends to excel in when his game is cooking:
Video: COL@NSH: Arvidsson slips backhander past Varlamov
a. Shot Volume: He currently has 27 shots on goal (leads team).
b. Penalties Drawn: four (leads team).
c. Hits Taken: eight (he was among the League leaders last year).
Arvidsson works tirelessly. He gets pucks to the net. He is tough to defend and puts his team on the power play often. And he inspires with his willingness to take a hit to make a play.