Thank goodness the Predators' practice lines are color-coded by jersey. Otherwise it could get pretty confusing for the forwards, who are aligned with different teammates on an almost daily basis at this year's training camp. Tuesday morning, as the team continued its preseason preparation at the RDV Sportsplex in Orlando, Fla., there was not one trio of players who stuck together from Monday's on-ice session. It's all part of Predators head coach Barry Trotz's plan to explore a wide array of combinations.
Trotz, who said Monday that no lines are set yet, shed a little more light on his evaluation methods Tuesday. He indicated the selection process is less like a sprint and more like a marathon. Rather than settling on a seemingly successful combination early on, Trotz notes each line's performance then moves on to new trios.
"Over the course of the preseason we had sort of different tweaks to different groups, and you either like it or you don't like it," he said. "If you like it, you probably say, 'I'll come back to it a little later,' and try something else."
The fact that some players, like Jerred Smithson, Vernon Fiddler and Scottie Upshall, are capable of shifting from the center position to a wing is an asset that Trotz values.
"We're seeing that we have some flexibility," Trotz said. "Like today, I wanted Jerred Smithson to play the wing versus center, so we switched the lines around a little bit. We're trying different things. I can't make too many bad decisions because guys seem to have good chemistry and good instincts. They find who they play best with very early and go from there."
Tuesday Smithson skated on the right wing of the "burgundy" line, with Fiddler and Upshall. On Monday, it was Fiddler's turn on a wing, playing on the left side of David Legwand
and Alexander Radulov
. Fiddler and Smithson both spent time away from their familiar center-ice roles when necessary during Nashville's 2005-06 campaign.
"Last year I was a little bit all over the place," Smithson said Tuesday, "playing center and right wing, being out there for draws or when there were injuries or wherever. It's good to know how to play both positions. It gives you more opportunity."
"I think with some of those guys, what you need to do is give them the flexibility to get in the lineup all the time," Trotz said. "If a center goes down, a guy can move from the wing to center instead of bringing up maybe a lesser player from, say, [Nashville's minor-league affiliate] Milwaukee. You still have a high-caliber, quality player who is a little bit of a utility guy who can play all three positions."
Team Nichol secures first win
Photo: Doug Brumley
Scott Nichol scores on Chris Mason during Tuesday's on-ice competition en route to Team Nichol's first victory of the week.
Team Nichol defeated Team Mason in a frenetic two-on-two drill at the conclusion of practice Tuesday, earning its first point in the weeklong series of competitions and cutting Team Mason's lead in half.
"We needed that one," Nichol said Tuesday. "It was pretty important getting to 2-1 rather than going down 3-0. It's been so close, every competition. Ping pong was tied and we had a playoff and we lost the playoff. It just shows how competitive we are. If it's not on the ice we're competitive in everything else."
Tuesday morning's competition was a drill that had each goal cage centered on a blue line facing center ice. Each team's skaters lined up along the boards at the right edge of their own blue line, while the team's goaltenders manned the net nearest his team. Each squad gets one puck at the blue line and when the whistle blows, two skaters for each team head into the neutral zone. At that point, both teammates can decide to work together on offense, defense, or split up. The first team to score on the opposing goal and return to cross their blue line wins that round.
"There is a little bit of a thought process," Trotz said about the drill. "You can make it a 2-on-1 or you can go 2-on-0 and just hope for the best if you feel your goalie is going to be strong. It's a little bit of awareness, and as you saw they bought in."
It didn't take long for the action to heat up in Tuesday's competition, which saw Team Mason grab an early lead before having it wrested away by Nichol's side. Taunts and exaggerated cheers reverberated throughout the rink with each round, until Team Nichol potted the winning tally and formed a dogpile on the ice.
"I think [the celebration] is more about the skating afterward," Vokoun said, referring to the relay laps the losing squad has to skate. "You don't want to skate if you don't have to."
Defenseman Henry tests injured foot
While the Predators skated as a group on the RDV Sportplex's NHL-sized rink, injured defenseman Alex Henry took a skate on the Olympic rink to test out his ailing foot. Henry took two shots on the boot against Columbus on Sept. 17 and has skated with the group only one time since. His solo session Tuesday was designed to see how painful the injury is when performing various skating motions required to play hockey. Unfortunately, the test didn't go well for Henry.
"It was OK for most things," a dejected Henry said. "It still bothered me pivoting and anything quick, so we're going to give it another week. We'll see how it is next week.
"Guys are out there working on things and I want to be there too, so it is frustrating. I want to get ready for the season. All I played is one exhibition game. It would have been great to play [next] weekend before the season started, but that's not going to happen."