In the midst of their second, three-day stretch without a game over the past three weeks, the Preds are eager to replicate the results achieved after two lengthy practices back on March 19 and 20. Coming out of that time off, Nashville rattled off four consecutive victories.
“We were able to play some good hockey games [after that time off],” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “Practice time is vital. It was at a minimum through that stretch of 27 games in 49 days and we can use that time right now to get better. The guys worked really hard out here today, so that’s a good, positive sign as well. It was a good day, good day of work today.”
A chance to get in two days of practice time this close to the postseason is welcomed by the team, especially with only four games remaining in the regular season. For the Predators, it’s a chance to once again fine-tune systems and special teams before the intensity ramps up less than two weeks from now.
“Any time you get to practice at this point in the season, it’s really a good thing,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “There’s not a lot of time for practices and you just use these couple of days to your advantage. You work hard on the ice, and I think it always helps your game and helps build your foundation a little bit as a team.”
“It’s good for our team to get some days to practice and just go over systems,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “Last time was kind of like a reset button because you’re in a bit of a rut there, but I think this time, it’s good to solidify things before we go on to this playoff stretch where we won’t have a lot of days to have this time to go over everything.”
And while they’ve already clinched a spot in the postseason, there’s still plenty to play for. The Central Division title is still up for grabs, and if the Preds have it their way, they’ll be raising at least one banner to the Bridgestone Arena rafters for the first time next fall.
“We still have goals that we want to achieve,” forward Mike Ribeiro said. “I’ve never really been in that position too often in my career, I’m usually trying to battle for the eighth spot or trying to get in…It’s important to keep momentum. We’re trying to win the division, trying to finish on top and I think that’s a good reason to stay motivated.”
Combos & Pairings:
Preds Captain Shea Weber (lower-body) practiced with the team today after missing the past three games. Forwards James Neal (upper-body) and Matt Cullen (lower-body) also attended the on-ice session, but Laviolette wasn’t sure as to when they might be available for game action.
“There’s a chance we might have an update tomorrow, but after just leaving the practice, I’ve got to see what the reports are and where we go from there,” Laviolette said concerning Weber, Neal and Cullen. “They made it through the practice; practice was physical, and so those were all positive signs.”
Forward Paul Gaustad did not practice Thursday and is day-to-day with an upper-body injury, but will not play Saturday against Dallas. Gaustad left Tuesday’s game against Vancouver after a hit in the third period.
Forward Eric Nystrom (lower-body) did not practice on Thursday.
Thursday’s lines at practice looked like this:
Forsberg – Ribeiro – Neal
Wilson – Fisher – Smith
Stalberg – Cullen – Beck
Bourque – Jarnkrok – Santorelli
All eight defensemen, Weber, Roman Josi, Seth Jones, Cody Franson, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Anton Volchenkov and Victor Bartley were all on the ice, as were goaltenders Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton.
With Preds Captain Shea Weber missing Nashville’s past three contests with a lower-body injury, defenseman Roman Josi has taken on more than just added responsibility on the backend.
Josi was named an alternate captain with Weber out, sporting an ‘A’ on his jersey, and joining forwards Mike Fisher and Mike Ribeiro for the time being. For Head Coach Peter Laviolette, naming Josi a third alternate wasn’t a difficult decision.
“I like his leadership in the locker room, and I like his presence on the ice,” Laviolette said of Josi. “He handles himself with a lot of class and character with regard to our team and certainly his play on the ice, he’s proven to be an elite defenseman and he’s had a terrific year. There are lots of reasons why, not just his on-ice play, but his presence and leadership in the locker room as well, which is nice to see. He’s a young player, and I think he’s done a really good job on and off the ice.”
Having played alongside him throughout the campaign, Josi says there are an unlimited number of things to learn from Weber as far as leadership is concerned.
“Shea is a great leader, and as a young guy, you definitely want to have guys like him as an example,” Josi said. “We’ve got a lot of great leaders, but you definitely watch Shea, how he leads on the ice, how he leads off the ice and just the things he does every day.”
After practice on Thursday, Weber made sure to compliment Josi, but still keep things in perspective with the young d-man sitting in the stall next to him.
“He knows he’s growing into more of a leadership role; other than the rumors floating around the room that he’s getting a little comfortable with [the ‘A’] on,” Weber quipped, “I don’t think it changed him at all.”
Peter Laviolette on Gabriel Bourque seeing time on the power play:
“I like the fact that he goes to the hard areas, and he’ll stand right in front of anybody’s shot and do his best to create a problem down there with regard to vision and tips and rebounds. [When a forward and defenseman go] to the net and stand there, now you’ve got two bodies, four legs, two sticks, and a better chance of something good happening. I think sometimes you get into that hard area, a guy like Bourque has no problem doing his best to try and fight for that spot and stay in that spot.”
Craig Smith on having three days between games for the second time in three weeks:
“I think we’ve done a good job of managing our days off and practice days and we can accomplish what we need to. It’s a good time to run through a few fundamentals throughout our structure, and I think that’s always good to get a little refresher and get back to what we were doing from day one.”
Pekka Rinne on still having plenty to play for with just four games remaining in the regular season:
“There’s a lot on the table, so the division is something that we’re looking at right now. It’s only four more games to go, so physically, that’s not anything too demanding or anything like that. There’s lots on the table, and it’s nice to play for something. It’s not like we just wasted these last four games to get ready for playoffs. At the same time, going into playoffs, you want to be playing your best game.”