Wingers Scott Hartnell and Alexander Radulov clicked as linemates Wednesday, leading Group A to a 6-3 scrimmage win over Group B. The game was the highlight of Day Three of the Predators' 2005 Training Camp, currently underway at Centennial Sportsplex. The spirited affair was the first of three such round-robin matches that will continue on Thursday and Friday and pit all three training camp teams against each other.
"It was actually a pretty good pace," Predators Head Coach Barry Trotz said following Wednesday's scrimmage. "I love the aggressive mentality [the players] have in terms of” and when I say aggressive, I mean just a lot of pressure on the puck ”you had to make some quick decisions."
One of those aggressors was forward Darcy Hordichuk, who delivered some nice hits to his Group B opponents. "I was just telling one of the other guys it's probably the first time I ran around and hit a few guys in about a year," Hordichuk said. "So it's good just to get adjusted to the speed out there and get back with the new rules and hitting the guys."
The game, which featured two 30-minute, running-time periods and a five-minute four-on-four session before concluding with a shootout, incorporated the new rules and rink dimensions that the National Hockey League will be implementing this season. That included ignoring the red line to allow for longer up-ice passes and observing a much stricter policy against obstruction, hooking and holding.
"I like the way guys were understanding some of the new rules, in terms of stretching people and finding holes," Trotz said. "I also liked the fact that we were consciously ”we took a lot of penalties, but we were consciously not trying to obstruct people and trying to get body position and create separation offensively. So there were a lot of good things today."
The mix of NHL regulars, minor-league players, and training camp rookies made for some ragged plays as well as some interesting combinations. Radulov, for example, is in his first camp. He admitted to being nervous for his first two shifts Wednesday, but said he was fine after that. Seven minutes into the scrimmage, the 19-year-old ”Nashville's first-round selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft ”zipped a pass from behind the net to an open Hartnell in the slot. Hartnell's high shot over goaltender Chris Mason's shoulder gave Group A a 1-0 lead. Hartnell scored again roughly 15 minutes later, converting on a penalty shot to answer Libor Pivko's goal and give Group A a 2-1 lead.
The Hartnell-Radulov pairing was matched with different centers throughout the game, and the resulting lines managed to control play in the offensive zone on several occasions.
"I haven't seen him play before," Hartnell said of Radulov. "What I saw today was really good. He's a quick, skilled forward who likes to make plays, so it was kind of exciting to play with him and it seemed like we did really well together."
Trotz saw the connection too. "What you find is sometimes you can put some high-skill players together and nothing is really generated from that," he said. "Then you get a mix ”you get a guy that drives the net like Harts and a skill guy like Radulov who's got really good hands ”there's a chemistry there. That type of thing is what we're looking for and we'll see what best suits these rules."
The line combination of Steve Sullivan, Yanic Perreault and Scottie Upshall were also clicking for Group A. The trio created many good scoring chances, and along with defensive pairing Marek Zidlicky and Greg Zanon applied sustained offensive-zone pressure on Group B for a stretch near the end of the first 30-minute session. Zidlicky also hit Sullivan with a long breakaway pass that wasn't converted.
Defenseman Danny Markov and center Stanislav Balan each netted goals for Group A in the second session, and center Randy Robitaille tallied for Group B in the five-minute, four-on-four period. Friends Greg Johnson and Paul Kariya were paired together throughout the scrimmage for Group B, but were kept relatively quiet until the shootout.
"Paul's getting ready for the season and adjusting his game, and adjusting to his new situation," Trotz said of the Predators' early August free-agent acquisition. "He's dangerous. When he got the puck everybody tried to close his time and space down."
The shootout featured five shooters per side, with Scottie Upshall and Kris Beech scoring for Group A and Kariya beating goaltender Kyle Moir high to the far side for Group B. For this scrimmage, those goals were added to the regulation tallies to arrive at the 6-3 final in favor of Group A.