Nashville Predators coach Peter Laviolette has found early success in his first season in Nashville, leading them to the best record in the NHL through the first half of the season.
Laviolette has given the Predators a new identity. They had been known as a tough defensive team since they came into the NHL in 1998-99 under coach Barry Trotz, but Laviolette has added a more aggressive offense.
"I think it's just a bit of a different style of game," Predators forward Colin Wilson said. "I think there are a lot of people here who needed a fresh start, and at the same time we signed a few people who needed fresh starts. I think the combination of all of that has been perfect. He (Laviolette) has done a great job, and I just love the mood he keeps in the dressing room. He keeps us all really focused and in-tune."
Laviolette is quick to point out that the success is a direct reflection of the work ethic of the players. He knows how important that character trait can be.
"I think all teams probably rest a lot on that," he said. "If your team works hard in practice and works hard in games, they have the opportunity to find success. I think without it you probably don't have much opportunity. I think there is a lot of balance in the League and a lot of parity in the League. I think work ethic sometimes makes the deciding difference."
That hard-working mentality has been instilled in Laviolette's players since long before he arrived. Nashville historically hasn't had the most talented teams, so they have relied on outworking opponents to achieve success.
"He wants us to work hard every day in practice and in games," Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. "I think it's the mentality of our team; that's our game. We've got to work hard; otherwise we're not going to be successful. He's put a lot of emphasis on that, and we try to work as hard as we can in practices and games."
Nashville appears to have the talent to go along with that work ethic this season, led by dynamic forwards Filip Forsberg, Mike Ribeiro and James Neal, plus arguably the most talented defense in the NHL.
"We're at the halfway point," Laviolette said. "We know that there is a lot of work. Our guys know there is a lot of work. They know what they've put into it to get to this point. We've got to continue to press. It's probably going to get harder if anything, so we've got to be ready to play. That being said, given the choice to be at the top of standings or at the bottom of the standings, everybody in the room would rather be at the top."
Laviolette said he believes the Predators can be better as the season progresses.
"We're still a work in progress, I think," Laviolette said. "There are still things that are getting better. The power play is getting better; the penalty kill is much improved. Our 5-on-5 play, I think, needs to play with more consistency right now than what we're doing, so I still think there is room for us to get better and to do things to get better. We talk about that more than we talk about being at the top of the standings at the halfway mark. I think our guys know we can be better."
Nashville doesn't have much margin for error in the competitive Western Conference. Even a slight losing streak could mean a drop in the standings.
"There are 10 teams that are right there, so if you have a bad weekend you might fall to 12th," Laviolette said. "You've got to keep winning all the time, but that motivates you too. Given the choice, you'd rather stay near the top or on top, so that motivates teams to always bring their best and make sure they're staying where they've fought to be."
Laviolette is known as one of the more passionate coaches in the League. His speeches and ability to motivate his players have resonated with the Predators. There is one word that's used to describe Laviolette's coaching style.
"Fiery," Wilson said. "He's passionate. He still hasn't fully snapped on us. I know it will happen at some point, but he's just a passionate individual. I think when you have somebody like that in the dressing room who's leading the team, it trickles down. He's got great speeches that fire us up, and he's a good person."
Laviolette's passion shouldn't be misunderstood for anger. He constantly is giving a positive message to try to bring the best out of his players, and he uses that positivity to their advantage while he's behind the bench.
"He's pretty calm," Josi said. "Obviously if he doesn't like the way we're playing he can get a little bit louder, but he's always really positive. He's great before games just to talk to the guys and to get us motivated."
Nashville will be well represented at the 2015 Honda NHL All-Star Game in Columbus, with Laviolette and his staff coaching Team Jonathan Toews. Laviolette's selection to the game was because of the record Nashville had through the first half.
"I really like that the whole staff is going," Laviolette said. "There is a lot of work that goes into it, and to recognize the assistant coaches and the goalie coach and the video coach, I think that is a good thing. They do a tremendous amount of work.
"As far as the coaches going, I think it really has a lot more to do with the reflection of your organization, or the guys in the room that are going out and doing the work and playing the game and giving you an opportunity to be up in the standings. The credit goes to them."
Nashville has bigger goals in mind in its pursuit of the Stanley Cup. The confidence of the Predators is different from the past few seasons.
"I think with that being our backbone, our work ethic, and staying within our system, working is what has built our confidence," Wilson said. "[Peter] says, 'If you get pucks behind them, you forecheck, you're taking care of pucks, you're playing as a team, we're going to beat anybody any given night.' I think once we bought into that we've been a great team."
Author: Robby Stanley | NHL.com Correspondent