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Faceoff Rule Change Impacting Preds; Team Fine-tuning Offense

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators bussed back across the Hudson River for a brisk practice at the AmeriHealth Pavilion at the Prudential Center in New Jersey on Wednesday afternoon.

A day removed from upping their record to 3-0-0, the Preds worked on offensive zone plays and d-zone breakouts after Head Coach Peter Laviolette said he was displeased with the scoring and shot production from his team during the young season. Following the on-ice session, Nashville’s bench boss talked about his club’s progress.

“We’re working on it. It’s early in the season and we’ll continue to work that way,” Laviolette said. “In the third period [versus the New Jersey Devils], we played hard, we just didn’t generate a whole lot. We didn’t give them anything either, they didn’t have any chances until the last little bit with some 6-on-4 chances.”

The Predators will play their inaugural contest at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., tomorrow, after the New York Islanders transitioned to the venue from Long Island. Forward Mike Fisher says it’s safe to say Thursday’s contest will provide the most challenging test the undefeated Preds have faced yet.

“They’re going to be the toughest team we’ve faced, there’s no question,” Fisher said. “Typically, we’ve been able to rise to the occasion of the team we’re playing against and we have to do that tomorrow. We have to find ways to be better and better offensively. Defensively, I think we’ve battled and played hard, there’s just that one area we’re not clicking as good as we need to be to create some of that offense.”

Lines and Notes:

All 23 of Nashville’s skaters participated in practice in Newark, which featured an adjustment in the team’s first and second line centers. Forward Mike Fisher skated on the first line between James Neal and Filip Forsberg, while Mike Ribeiro lined up with Colin Wilson and Craig Smith.

Filip Forsberg Mike Fisher james neal
Colin Wilson Mike Ribeiro Craig Smith
Gabriel bourque Cody Hodgson calle jarnkrok
Eric Nystrom Paul Gaustad A. watson/v. arvidsson
Roman Josi Shea Weber
Barret Jackman Seth Jones
Mattias Ekholm Ryan Ellis
Victor Bartley Anthony Bitetto


Gaustad, Fisher Discuss New Faceoff Rule:

The implementation of 3-on-3 overtime and a coach’s challenge have stolen the spotlight on rule changes for the 2015-16 season, but an adjustment to the regulations on faceoffs - in an effort to create more offense - is actually affecting the Predators most regularly on a game-by-game basis.

In the past, the visiting team forward (usually a center) was required to place his stick on the ice prior to any faceoff; a position that allows the home team to more easily read the positioning of the visitor and also generate better leverage. Face-off advantage is now primarily based on zone positioning for the 2015-16 season, with the defending player required to place his stick on the ice (the road team puts their blade on the ice initially for faceoffs at center ice). Interacting with the new rule has gone differently for Paul Gaustad and Mike Fisher, two forwards who generally face different zone starts. For Fisher, who started 53.2 percent of his zone starts on the offensive end of the ice in 2014-15 according to Hockey Abstract, the rule alteration has made creating offense a little bit easier.

“I think it’s been good offensively, as far as when we’re on the power play for example; I feel like it’s helped me. I think anything they can do to create more offense and chances, I don’t mind it,” Fisher said following Wednesday's practice. “Especially being on the road, you can down go down last [in the offensive zone] to adjust to what he is doing.”

Beginning in the Predators offensive zone less than 12 percent of the time last season, Gaustad, usually considered Nashville’s face-off specialist, has only seen his job become more difficult.

“In the d-zone, you basically have to set up first, so the opponent can see what my kind of game plan is, then they get to come in as the puck drops so I don’t get much notice of what they’re doing. So pre-scouting becomes a big thing and then adjusting as quickly as I can,” Gaustad said. “It’s something where you do lose a little bit of the home-ice advantage, but I understand that they [change the rules] sometimes and you have to adapt and adjust to it.”

Gaustad says the emphasis on puck possession in the NHL has only increased the importance of winning faceoffs and that’s why he spends time before every game analyzing the tendencies and strengths of opposing centermen through video.

“You take a look at guys before the game and you study their tendencies a bit and find out what they like to do and their strengths and weaknesses,” Gaustad said. “Then during the game as well, you watch them take faceoffs and see how they’re adjusting so you can stay ahead of what they’re doing.
“It’s something where faceoffs are a niche for me, but overall it helps the team to get possession of the puck. It’s been a key thing for teams and we take pride in that, not just the centermen, but everyone that we try to get the puck first.”

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