Offense has been the common theme during the first few days of Nashville Predators training camp.
First and foremost in Head Coach Peter Laviolette’s system, present in numerous drills and discussed at the closing of every day, the theme of increased goals and hard-pressing attack has been No. 1.
The prevailing focus on offense has been felt throughout the team, especially in Nashville’s defensive corps.
“I think the focus on offense this year will be great,” blueliner Victor Bartley said. “It’s going to open up a lot of new plays for the defense to get involved. Defensemen diving in, D down the wall, D-cycles and all sorts of plays like that. Any time you can get the defense running around and switching positions, it can cause mayhem in the defensive zone for the other team. That’s what we’re looking to do this year and running through all these systems now is going to pay off.”
Laviolette’s goal of increasing pressure in his opponent’s defensive zone relies on Predators defensemen adding support and seizing opportunities from the backend. Many of Nashville’s blueliners say they’re ready for that added responsibility.
“I think we’re all excited to help out offensively and to push the puck ahead,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “A lot of us on defense are more offensively-inclined guys, so we’ll fit right in to a more offensive role. If we can help push the puck through the neutral zone and toward the goal then that’s going to free up our forwards.”
Regularly adding defensemen into the offense creates a more dynamic attack around the opposition’s goal. That in turn can cause the opposing team’s D-men to make mistakes when repeatedly switching man coverage.
“When there’s space on the wall, we want our D to attack and be actively involved in that five-on-five play in the offensive zone,” Assistant Coach Phil Housley said. “Sometimes we can run our D into the middle of that zone to create options too. What you’re trying to do is confuse an opponent and make them make decisions they don’t want to. That confusion hopefully releases a player and creates a good scoring chance.”
Several of the offensive drills in camp are intended to retrain the way the Predators defensemen approach the game on the ice, and that requires repetition of the new system in practice. Second-year blueliner Seth Jones says he’s noticed the difference in style during the first few days of camp.
“This is only my second training camp, so it’s been pretty easy for me to see the difference between the coaching [styles],” Jones explained. “With guys like Weber, Josi and the others who have the skill to put the puck in the net, I think being able to help the offense as a defensemen is a good thing.”
On several occasions, Laviolette has used special drills focusing on offensive zone plays with defensemen involved and pitted blueliners trying to score against forwards.
“I think this year we’re working on a lot more offensive things and trying to push the pace,” Bartley said. “We’re also switching up our D zone and adding a little bit more offensive flare with our fourth man jumping up.”
Housley said Nashville is uniquely blessed with a group of defenders that can all skate excellently and jump into the play. Laviolette’s aim is to use that advantage to produce more goals.
So don’t think the Predators blueliners are being left out of the fun at Centennial Sportsplex; they’re actually in on the action more than ever before.
“Mostly, we’re introducing D-cycles in the offensive zone so we can add to our attack and create some options down there,” Housley said. “Certainly, it’s nice to get the defensemen involved; that’s the way the game is going.”