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Preds Maintain Focus Against Eastern Conference Foes

by Bryan Mullen / Nashville Predators
Chicago. Detroit. St. Louis. Columbus.

It doesn’t take much for the Nashville Predators to get up for games against those teams. Rah-rah speeches from the coach are not needed when you’re facing a division foe.

But when a team from another conference comes in, sometimes there can be a lack of intensity. This week, however, that’s not the case with Nashville.

The Predators play two games against Eastern Conference clubs in the next three days. First up is Washington on Tuesday at Bridgestone Arena, followed by Toronto coming to town on Thursday. Entering Monday night, the Capitals and Maple Leafs were tied for third in the league in points (21).

“We know both teams are playing well right now,” Nashville forward Jerred Smithson said. “They have some real talented players and some of the best in the league. It’s fun to get up for those Central Division games, but to have an Eastern team coming in here, it gives us a fresh look and keeps us on our toes. It is a nice change.”

First up is Washington, which features superstar Alex Ovechkin.

“We have one of the best players in the world coming in with Ovechkin,” Preds Captain Shea Weber said. “They have a high-octane offense that can score a lot of goals and put some points on the board.”

Nashville coach Barry Trotz said he doesn’t expect a sluggish start from his team. And taking a bigger-picture approach, he wants this homestand to set a tone for the next several months. Nashville has played 10 of its first 16 games on the road, and the Predators began a four-game homestand this past Saturday when they hosted Montreal and earned a point. Nashville is 6-3-1 on the road but 2-2-2 at home.

“We have some big tests,” Trotz said. “We’ve been pretty good on the road, but what we have to do is start establishing a little bit of a home record here, and getting points. Getting points every night is key in this league. We’ve done that in seven of our eight last games. We just have to accumulate points because they’re worth just as much now as they are in March.”

Out of the shadows: Through 16 games, rookie forward Craig Smith is tied for the team lead in goals (seven) and points (14). And opponents are taking notice.

“He was flying under the radar a little bit,” Trotz said. “I think they’re paying attention to him a little bit more. He’s a little more in the spotlight now. He’s not going to get the third pair defensemen. He’s going to get the second pair and the first pair. Those are difficult challenges. He will learn and adjust. He’s a good player.”

Smith also received some high praise from the captain.

“He’s been great,” Weber said. “Obviously his play shows it. He’s adjusted to the pro game very well, and quickly. A lot of times it takes guys a while to adjust. But he’s fit in right away. I think his skill and speed have allowed him to do that.”

Net Presence: Goaltender Pekka Rinne enters this week leading the NHL with 431 saves this season, 16 ahead of Carolina's Cam Ward and 21 ahead of Dallas' Kari Lehtonen (the next highest Western Conference goaltender). Rinne's .929 save percentage and 2.28 goals against average rank among the league leaders (min 10 games played). Similarly, Preds AHL goaltender Jeremy Smith ranks among the AHL leaders with 1.98 goals against average and .925 save percentage for Milwaukee. Nashville and Pittsburgh are the only two organizations with goaltenders to rank in the top-five in wins at both the NHL and AHL levels; Rinne's eight wins are tied for third in the NHL, while Smith's seven are tied for third in the AHL (Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury is second in the NHL with nine wins, while Brad Thiessen is second in the AHL with nine wins).

Injury report: David Legwand (upper body) did not practice with the team on Monday and will not play on Tuesday, Trotz said. Teemu Laakso (upper body) in on Injured Reserved retroactive to Nov. 8. He is not eligible to be activated off IR until Nov. 16.

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