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Morning Skate Report: Preparing For the Leafs

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
The Canadian media descended on Bridgestone Arena on Thursday following the morning skates of Nashville and Toronto. The teams drop the puck at 7 p.m. today for a rare matchup. This will be Toronto’s fourth trip of all time to Nashville, the fewest of any of the NHL’s other 29 teams.

One game after beating the Capitals and facing former Pred Joel Ward, Nashville will see another see two more familiar faces: defenseman Cody Franson and forward Matthew Lombardi. On July3, Nashville acquired defenseman Brett Lebda and forward Robert Slaney from Toronto for Franson and Lombardi.

Lombardi played only two games in Nashville last season before suffering a season-ending concussion. This season, he has played in 18 games for the Maple Leafs and has two goals and four assists.

Franson, meanwhile, has struggled in Toronto. He has played in only four games, has one assist and a +/- rating of -5.
“Cody is a good young player who was with our organization for a long time,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “To see him struggle, you pay attention. I feel for him a little bit. At the same time, it’s pro hockey and you have to work your way through that. He will.”

Trotz doesn’t believe the issue has to do with Franson’s skills.

“Cody has great hands,” Trotz said. “He’s a large player. He defends better than you think. I think a lot of people think that he’s a pure offensive defenseman. For us, he defended a lot better than he gets credit for. It’s a different animal, Toronto and Nashville. If you’re wired a certain way, it’s not always the best fit. But at the same time, there’s growth in Cody, and some of that growth may be in that mental side of fighting through adversity right now. That will make him a better player.”

As for Lombardi, the Preds players and coaching staff are happy to see him return to the ice, even if it’s not with Nashville. Lombardi was a good locker room presence and highly respected.

“It was a little bit surprising (to see him play this year) because he was struggling so much,” Trotz said. “In the spring, it didn’t look like it was getting much better. At that point, the deal was made. But I’m really happy he came back, and to come back and play pretty well and contribute quickly. From that standpoint, I’m really happy for Matthew. There’s good and bad. We made the deal for Mike Fisher because Matthew wasn’t able to come back. For every negative, there’s a positive.”

Nashville could benefit if Lombardi keeps playing. The Preds will acquire Toronto’s fourth-round pick in 2013 if Lombardi plays 60 or more regular season games over the course of 2011-12 and 2012-13. But Toronto will get Nashville’s fourth-round pick in 2013 if Lombardi does not play 60 games over the next two regular seasons.

Home sweet home:
After a grueling, but successful, five-game road trip, the Preds find themselves in the middle of a nice home stretch. They picked up a point against Montreal to start a four-game home stand on Saturday, then defeated Washington 3-1 on Tuesday. After today’s game against Toronto, Nashville will host Columbus on Saturday.

“We’ve had a lot of road games,” Nashville defenseman Jonathon Blum said. “We have to really establish ourselves at home. This crowd gives us an advantage every night and we have to take advantage of it. In the week and a half here, there are a couple of games that can really make a difference in the long run.”

Another unfamiliar foe: Nashville will face an Eastern Conference team for the third consecutive game. And once again, there isn’t much familiarity.

“When you play teams from another conference, you don’t get a good feel for what their DNA is,” Trotz said. “You see it from the outside. We play Detroit a lot. We know how they play, we know their tendencies. But the thing that impresses me the most with the Leafs is their speed. They’re a high risk, high reward type of team. They remind me of the Colorado Avalanche, a lot of skilled players, a lot of speed, they’re all in on the attack. It’s a dangerous animal to defend sometimes.”

New addition: Trotz hears the talk all the time. He was born and raised in Canada, has countless ties there, but still hears people talking about Nashville struggling as a hockey town. He said that perception could not be further from the truth. Further bolstering his point was news Wednesday that Canadian entrepreneur W. Brett Wilson had joined the Preds ownership group. Wilson has clearly stated through the media that he has no intention of trying to move the team to Canada. He owns a home in Nashville and has other business interests in the area.

“There’s always talk about Nashville having struggles,” Trotz said. “It’s a misnomer. We’re not struggling. We’re pretty stabilized. I think playing Vancouver in the playoffs last season, people saw that. It’s been said for a number of years, and people think that’s the truth. The truth is we’re a stable franchise. We’re not just going to be around. We’re going to be around and try to win the Stanley Cup.”

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