There were plenty of bright spots for the Nashville Predators last season. The group would also be the first ones to admit that their play in 3-on-3 overtime wasn't one of them.
So on their first full day of practice after the final round of assignments had been made from training camp, the Preds devoted plenty of time to 3-on-3 gameplay, working to find the right fit before the regular season arrives on Friday.
They won't need to utilize it in every game, but those extra points matter a great deal, especially in the ultra-competitive Central Division, and the Preds intend on collecting as many as they can whenever possible.
"When you look at the season, the last couple games get so intense and you really need the points," defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. "We weren't good in the 3-on-3, and we need to be better there. It's nice to get a foundation again for it, and then maybe put emphasis on it. We need to get better at it; that's just the bottom line."
Ekholm, who had one of Nashville's overtime game winners last season, is among those smooth skaters on the backend who could ultimately make a difference in the setting. Newcomer Yannick Weber is another, looking to help his new team find some answers.
"It was the first year and a lot of teams were trying what works and what doesn't," Weber said of 3-on-3 overtime. "It's definitely a good time to work on it, just to get to know what to do and what not to do, what are the risky zones, what are the plays you might want to make… It's just as important as power play and penalty kill is; it can get you the extra point that can make a difference at the end of the year. It was a good practice today. Guys really took it seriously, guys wanted to win and score goals and I hope it's going to help as the season comes."
With that much open ice, opportunities both ways are inevitable. According to Ekholm and Weber, it's a matter of finding ways to limit those chances, and in turn, going for it at the right time.
"You'll see a 2-on-1 this way, 2-on-1 the other way, and a lot of times, I think it is managing the risk," Weber said. "For us, today was just to be smart about it. We want to have a lot of puck possession. Last year that was one of the biggest issues, just the puck possession. If you have the puck possession, you can make the other team tired, force them to make mistakes and out of that, you create chances."
With three full days of practice, including Tuesday's session, before Opening Night on Friday, Head Coach Peter Laviolette and his group are reviewing as much as they can. And while they may not need to utilize their 3-on-3 work on Friday, it'll come up eventually over the next six months.
"We're just trying to cover all bases more than anything," Laviolette said. "We just want to make sure that we're prepared so we don't get into a situation on Friday night that we haven't covered. I think we'll be ready."
A morale boost doesn't hurt either, and the Preds wouldn't mind starting off the right way when they do get that first opportunity, whenever it does come.
"One thing that would probably help is to get that one goal in the beginning of the year and get that confidence," Ekholm said. "I wouldn't call it luck. If you have a good structure into it, you're better off, and that's what we're working on right now."
Preds Round Out Captains:
After naming Mike Fisher the seventh captain in franchise history last month, the Preds announced the appointment of forward James Neal and defenseman Roman Josi to alternate captains for the 2016-17 season.
Both have experience with the letter on their jersey; Neal has been an alternate in Nashville since joining the team for the 2014-15 season and Josi sported the 'A' at times last season.
"If we could have had three official alternates last season, we would have, and Roman would have been one of them," Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "Roman's a guy that works hard in the summer and practices hard every day. He's good with his teammates. He's a great addition to the team and our leadership group; the work ethic he brings to our team is top notch."
Head Coach Peter Laviolette on assigning forward Austin Watson to AHL Milwaukee to begin the season:
"I think the lineup got slotted out and players got put into positions, and as it were for Watson, I think he could've stayed here and been an extra player. We have room for one, but we just felt it was more important that he go down and play. He sat a lot last year and didn't play that much last year, so to do the same thing this year, I don't think it's going to help him as a player, help his career, help him be ready for us when we do need him. This will give him an opportunity to go down and play 18 to 20 minutes a night, be the best player down there, and then when we do need a player, we've got a player that's been playing a lot that's going to be able to come in and help us in the lineup."
Shot of the Day: