More than one correct answer can be offered up when trying to pinpoint the predominant reason for the Predators' excellent play over their past five contests.
They've picked up nine of a possible 10 points, but even outside of that, the improvement throughout the lineup has been apparent to even the casual observer. With a chance to go two-for-two on their current road trip with a victory over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Saturday afternoon, the Preds' increased comfort in their on-ice system and renewed focus within it appear to have them poised for long-term success.
Following Friday's practice, Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said he doesn't change the overall theme of how he wants his team to play from season to season, but that it took a couple of games for the Preds to realize their role within it.
"I think it's more acclimation after being away," Laviolette said. "A lot of it, early on, was just speed and competitiveness. I don't know if that's necessarily system, but we're in a different place come mid-June last [season] and you're really dialed in with everything you need to do to be successful and be in that spot, and then when it's over, there's a decompression that goes on. You have to remember how hard it was and how hard you worked to get to that point and win hockey games. So, I think we went through a little of that in the first couple games but every game for me has gotten better."
The point is, with the Preds' game plan receiving tweaks each night, anything but full commitment from each of the club's skaters results in a pedestrian-looking product. Something that was seen versus Boston and Pittsburgh to start the season but not since.
"I felt the first couple, especially, we were turning puck over," Preds winger Scott Hartnell said. "Just brain-dead plays where 99 out of 100 times you make the proper decision at the blue line, and we weren't doing that early on. Now we're playing a more consistent game in that respect. Guys are competing harder, making plays."
"It comes down to every player doing a good job of managing their own game, first of all," Nashville defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "The first two games we were on a bit of a cruise, thought it was going to be easy, with last year in mind. As of late, I think everyone has grabbed the rope and has really pulled together, and we're playing some good hockey. Not too high, not too low, we're looking to keep it going. For sure, it has looked a lot better lately and it's a lot more fun playing."
Good Morning Hockey:
The Predators' first matinee contest of the season comes Saturday at the world-famous Madison Square Garden (at 11:30 a.m. CT). A personal favorite of several Preds, Hartnell and Ekholm expressed their excitement at waking up and immediately heading to the rink for their final game of their current two-game trip.
"MSG is awesome no matter what time of day you play, but Saturday afternoon is great," Hartnell said. "[The Rangers] have been having struggles early on, so we want to jump on them early and not let up. They're thinking, 'What are we doing wrong? What do we need to do better?' and we're playing pretty good hockey right now, so we just need to get on them and play a full 60 minutes."
One of a dozen European-born players on the Predators' roster, Ekholm said he'd love to see more afternoon games on the schedule in order to help increase the popularity of the NHL overseas.
"We have a lot of European guys on our team, so tomorrow at lunch for us, the game will be staring at 6:30 p.m. back home in Sweden, it's going to be on one of the bigger channels," Ekholm explained. "So that's a lot of fun to have family and friends that can actually see a game instead of having to log on and just see the highlights. I think more [afternoon games], would be [my vote], personally. I love them. I think it's a great thing, and it helps to grow the game overseas as well."
Boats, Boats, Boats:
Light shimmering off the sea helped illuminate the Preds as they skated at Chelsea Piers' Sky Rink in New York City on Friday afternoon. A low-hanging roof framed the brightly painted local rink that boasted views of boats and the New York City skyline out the full-rink bay of windows.
The cozy - in an emotional sense only, of course - corner adjacent to the city even led Ekholm to think of growing up in Sweden and playing at similar rinks.
"There's a few places like this around the League where you almost go back to your roots where you used to play as a kid," Ekholm said. "It's exciting and fun to do that every once in a while."
Defenseman Yannick Weber joined the Predators at practice for the first time since being placed on Injured Reserve on Oct. 17. Weber was alongside d-man Matt Irwin for the majority of the team's drills; following the skate, Weber was activated from Injured Reserve while center Nick Bonino was added to Injured Reserve.