The search for the driving cause of the Nashville Predators successful start to the 2014-15 season has been ongoing for a few weeks now.
A healthy Pekka Rinne? The system implemented by first-year head coach Peter Laviolette? The addition of a sniper in James Neal?
In truth, the key to what’s guided the Preds to a 5-1-2 start and a spot atop the Central Division is probably all of the aforementioned theories and more. But for Laviolette and his players, the answer is pretty simple, and it doesn’t focus on one player or style of attack on the ice.
“The system we’ve put in is just a vehicle; it’s how you navigate the ice in a certain way,” Laviolette said. “For me, it’s the sense of belief in the locker room, in the players and in the mission that’s been vital. They’ve shown a lot of competitiveness early on here, and I think that’s been a strength of ours. I think that [belief] can be a leading factor in victories and I’ve been happy with that.”
This somewhat “outside” observation of the coach on the inner workings of his team’s dressing room would be one thing, but Nashville’s skaters are also in full agreement.
“You always want to have that belief and that you’re going to win,” said Preds winger Eric Nystrom. “Early in the season you’re nervous, and you kind of forget what it’s like to win games. We’ve won early on this year, and I think it’s the same for any player. When you have confidence individually, you feel like the game is slower, and you can make the plays. When the whole team is confident, you go into every game knowing that you have a good chance to win and that you can beat anybody.”
“We can feel the belief that’s in the room, whether Lavy says it or not,” forward Craig Smith said. “We know we can win. We’ve got the personnel in here now to get it done. We’ve got a lot of guys in here that want to do the right thing. When you’ve got that, that’s a good recipe.”
The new personnel on the squad referenced by Smith came in form of Mike Ribeiro, Derek Roy, Olli Jokinen, Anton Volchenkov (all through free agency) and James Neal via trade this summer; plus the emergence of 20-year-old rookie winger Filip Forsberg. The players, combined with Laviolette’s “go-forward” mentality on the offensive attack, have produced a “never give up” mindset in the club that hasn’t surfaced in this form in seasons past.
Take for instance the Preds record when giving up the first goal of a game: 4-1-1. Traditionally, NHL teams that notch a contest’s initial score emerge victorious two-thirds of the time - yet Nashville has flipped that statistic on its head. Plus, they’re already approximately halfway to the 11 wins the 2013-14 version of the team recorded in 82 games when trailing first, while only eight games into this season.
Preds defenseman Ryan Ellis says these results aren’t a fluke either. The blueliner explained that Nashville’s ability to repeatedly come back has been a side effect of the Preds new confidence in believing they can win every night.
“Honestly it’s a great feeling to know if you’re down that you can win,” Ellis said. “Especially in the first few games when we got down in the third period a few times. In those [situations] in previous years it was more like, ‘Let’s see if we can come back. We’ll see.’ But this year it’s different. Even in just the few games, we know that we’re going to have a chance every night whether we’re down or up. I think we have that belief that we can be a good team every night.
“I think it’s just different personalities in the room have brought different guys out of their shells. Going forward we think we can win no matter the score. It’s a great feeling to have as a team, and I think that everyone in here does believe that we can beat any team in this league.”
What’s also been impressive for the Preds less than 10 games into the 2014-15 season, is the buy-in by the new players and old alike. Laviolette has often complimented his squad’s work ethic and desire to improve. That focus helps build chemistry and in turn the belief that receives so much credit from the team, says the coach.
“The belief is the number one thing,” said Ribeiro, one of the new players on the team this season. “If you come to the rink and you don’t believe, or you’re not sure if you’re going to win the game, then you’re starting a step behind. It means to come and believe that you’re going to win every game and a belief too is trusting your teammates. You know that the guy beside you believes too and is going to push 20 guys at the same time and it’s a good thing. You can’t win all your games, but having that belief can push you to the most wins.”
That belief, as Ribeiro and his teammates call it, has been heavily subscribed to by the whole club and the early results are showing. After all, the Preds are off to their best start to a season in multiple years.
So what is the answer to why the Preds have found success this season?
Attributing their coach, new additions or top players should get partial credit, but that would be missing the predominate catalyst. Belief in the Nashville locker room is what’s making this unit click, and eight games into the season, it’s only getting stronger.