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Morning Skate Report: Feb. 25 vs. San Jose

by Doug Brumley / Nashville Predators

Hornqvist Ready: Patric Hornqvist, who has missed five games with an upper-body injury, participated in the Nashville Predators’ morning skate ahead of Saturday night’s game against the San Jose Sharks at Bridgestone Arena. Hornqvist told Preds radio play-by-play man Tom Callahan afterward that he feels good and is ready to return to the lineup. Ultimately that decision is head coach Barry Trotz’s, but with Friday’s trade of Jerred Smithson to the Florida Panthers for a sixth-round pick, another forward needs to be added to the roster. Officially, Hornqvist and teammate Brian McGrattan, who has missed eight games with an upper body injury, are listed as day-to-day, although Hornqvist has been activated off of Injured Reserve.

Slow out of the Gate: Sluggish starts have been a problem for the Nashville Predators in recent games. Thursday night against the St. Louis Blues, for example, the Preds were outshot 13-8 in the opening frame. Breakout passes in the first minutes haven’t been crisp in Nashville’s own end, and even getting the puck out of the defensive zone has been a struggle at times. The fact that the Predators have corrected the issues after they get their legs under them in the first or second period is somewhat reassuring, but the team realizes they need to get out of the gate faster.

“We’re kind of shooting ourselves in the foot,” forward Brandon Yip said after practice Friday. “If we get a better start we’ll start wining more games [in regulation] and not having to go to overtime or shootouts.”

When asked if the issue of slow starts has become a concern for the team, alternate captain Mike Fisher responded, “I don’t know if we’re overly concerned. We feel we can shore that up and we need to. Last couple games we’ve been a little slow for sure, and then after that kind of shored things up and played well. So that’s a good sign, but we know we’ve got to be better and a little bit more focused and ramped up to go right away.”

Smithson’s Departure: When trades happen, players and coaches always remind others and themselves that hockey is a business. Still, the departure of Jerred Smithson in Friday’s trade with Florida was difficult for Predators head coach Barry Trotz. Nashville’s coach spent a significant amount of time after Saturday’s morning skate praising Smithson’s role in defining the culture of the Nashville Predators.

“That was difficult in the sense that Jerred brought a lot to the locker room,” Trotz said after Saturday’s morning skate. “If you look at stats, they’re really for losers. He brings a lot of intangibles to the room. Character guy. Real pro. Worked at his game. One of the better face-off guys in the game. But also with him, he probably hasn’t had the year that he was expecting and maybe we were expecting. Not to diminish anything he’s done; he’s done a lot for us. He scored the biggest goal in Predator history for us, really, in Anaheim in that Game 5 [of the 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals] to sort of tilt it our way. And he’s one of my favorites. He’s just one of those guys that you love having around.

“But I think our team has evolved and therefore his role’s getting a little bit more diminished. And more guys are taking on that role a little bit. ... Some of the younger guys have come to the forefront, be it a Brandon Yip off waivers, Gabriel Bourque, or Craig Smith. ... Matt Halischuk. All of those factors lead to the evolution of a team, getting a lot better in some areas and sort of taking more of that role on.”

Trotz likes the move for Smithson, whom the coach says will be a welcome complement to a young Panthers team. Trotz believes the move could ultimately help lengthen Smithson’s playing career.

Around the room:
Earlier this week Kevin Klein shaved his head—as he usually does—but left a mohawk. It remains to be seen how long it will last. … Martin Erat and wife Vera welcomed their first child into the world Friday—a boy. Erat missed practice Friday as a result but the new dad was back on the ice for Saturday’s morning skate.

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