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Preds Early Season Success Sets Up For Better Late Season Finish

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators fans studying the team’s 2011-12 schedule during the offseason may have seen some cause for concern. In the club’s first 15 games, 10 scheduled on the road. And with the youngest roster in the NHL, things weren’t shaping up for a successful start.

Then the season started and injuries hit some of the Preds veterans. Immediately expectations waned among the Smashville faithful.

Predators coach Barry Trotz, however, saw the adversity as a positive.

“I don’t mind being on the road early in the season,” Trotz said. “It forces you to come together. With a young team, that’s good. It can be a remedy. We’ve actually been pretty good on the road, getting wins. I always say you have to get 20 wins on the road each year and then be good at home. (Reach those marks) And then you should get into the playoffs.”

Entering Friday night, Nashville was 4-2-1 on the road. Only two Western Conference teams had more wins away from home; Colorado (six) and San Jose (five). The Predators are 6-4-2 overall as they prepare to face San Jose on Saturday at 9:30 pm CT. Nashville is currently on a five-game road trip, which started with points in the first two stops, including a 3-0 shutout victory at Phoenix on Thursday.

“Every year we talk about wanting to be at least .500 on the road,” Predators Captain Shea Weber said. “You go into some hostile environments and there are some tough places to play. I think for us to be playing our game and getting on a role here, it will help us when we get back home.”

This year, it’s been a delicate dance for Nashville’s coaching staff. With some new faces coming in from other teams, and with some inexperienced players being relied on to produce, it has been a little bit of a work in progress. There's aThe good news for Nashville is that as the pieces are starting to come together, the Predators are proving to be one of the league’s best road teams.

It’s the totality of the first 15 games, however, that is most important. And after suffering through a four-game winless streak in mid-October, Nashville has turned it on, going 4-1-1 in its last six games. More importantly, the Preds sit inside the conference's top-eight; survive the opening of the season in a playoff seed and then the team sets itself up for a more prominent run later in the year.

“If you look at the bigger picture with the first 15 games, it’s a pretty big piece of the season,” Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne said. “You have to make sure you’re in a good spot after that and in the mix. I think that’s our goal. We feel pretty confident playing on road. There have been some great games and some not-so great games. But we’ll be fine.”

As those younger players gain more experience and more confidence, the Preds are well positioned to be a more dangerous team late in the season and through the playoffs than they are right now. Last year, the late season call-ups of Jonathon Blum and Blake Geoffrion, along with the added confidence from rookies Matt Halischuk and Nick Spaling, gave the team a boost down the back stretch of the schedule. This season it could be Blum, Geoffrion and Craig Smith benefitting like Halischuk and Spaling did last season with any number of guys in Milwaukee capable of the late-season call-up the role that Blum/Geoffrion provided last year.

“I think you need to grow,” Trotz said. “During that time you have to get results. If you can come out on the positive side - or on the even side after that - I think it lines up well for you. Hopefully the growth can lead to some production for the rest of the season so you can go forward with it.”

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