Veteran forward Matt Cullen credited several of the Nashville Predators wins this season by virtue of the team outworking their opponents. Likewise, the Preds head coach has also alluded to a similar characteristic saying his team has come with a workman’s like attitude day after day since training camp, and it’s paid off with results.
On Wednesday, hard work was on display again with Cullen, Peter Laviolette and the rest of the Predators back on the ice for another fast-paced practice. The club ran through breakout drills, 2-on-0 transition plays and spent extensive time working on special teams. The session marked the first day on the ice for Nashville in the start of a unique period of practice uninterrupted with games.
Defenseman Victor Bartley said the team’s rare three-day break between contests is one that the Preds need to take advantage of - not only with some work on the power play and penalty kill - but with a chance for some important rest.
“It’s been really nice having these three or four days here to rest up and focus on certain elements of our game,” Bartley said. “It’s hard to work on team skills and activities during a normal part of the season because you’re playing every other day. This week has been good; we’ve been able to work on special teams, things that are going to win us games, and hopefully things will keep going well and we’ll go into the weekend strong.”
“Sunday has been the only day really that we’ve been able to give the guys off, otherwise it’s been every other day for about a month and a half,” Laviolette said. “This is the first time where we catch a few days in a row; we’ll use it for rest, we’ll use it for things we need to work on and try to continue to work on our game and prepare for the upcoming games.”
Even considering the hard work put in on the ice, the mood remained light with the team perhaps looking ahead to their holiday party later that evening. Filip Forsberg even said he thought he’d try to finish his Christmas shopping during the time before the Predators next game on Saturday against the Minnesota Wild.
“I think I’m pretty set on buying [all] of my gifts, but there’s always more you have to do,” Forsberg said. “The list can can seem pretty long sometimes.”
“Simpler” Approach on the Power Play:
Laviolette made good on his word earlier this week that extra special team’s work would be added into the practice routine. The Preds spent a good portion of Wednesday's session familiarizing themselves with their PP and PK systems.
The man-advantage unit has found some recent success, notching essentially three power-play goals in their last three games (James Neal’s goal in Arizona on Thursday entered the net one second after a Coyotes penalty expired). Assistant Coach Phil Housley said putting Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson in front of the net on their power play units has been an important change that’s led to recent results.
“With Colin Wilson and Mike Fisher, they’ve done a great job getting right in front, and then we just have to have that attitude of a shot mentality,” Housley said. “Everybody’s got to be in attack mode and trying to get as many pucks to the net [as possible]...There’s the chemistry within the players as well; just knowing where they’re going to be and having some structure so they can adlib off it.”
After a long stretch of less than desirable results while skating a man up, including a run of 67 days between power-play scores at home, Laviolette said the “simpler” structure on the PP has helped.
“I think it depends on setups that teams use,” Laviolette said. “If they roll into that 1-3-1, it’s a simple approach, simple mindset to it. You get it to the top or the flanks and bring the pucks to the net and hope for a screen, and the push from the layers from rebounds can bring offense and opportunity. There are different setups, and the screen is an important part of it though, and we continue to work at it.”
Getting shots through on net with a screen in front has worked recently for Nashville and Ryan Ellis said the shift was needed in order to try and boost confidence and chemistry on the units.
“We’ve just been simplifying things with easy puck movement and getting our shots through,” Ellis said. “I feel like we’ve been doing a better job of getting our shots on to the net. We’ve also been [better] at recovering pucks after shots, that was a big thing we needed to work on. We’ve been getting the puck back to the point for second or third chances more, and that’s been a huge boost.”
It’s far too soon to call the two recent power-play markers a complete breakthrough for the Preds, but the team has been encouraged by the return on investment from a new approach.
“The last couple games we seem to be moving the puck better and we got rewarded in Arizona, we should have had two there,” Ellis said. "It was great to get one at home on [Tuesday] for sure and kind of break that drought that we were in. Hopefully we can continue to get more each game.”
Combos & Pairings:
Forward James Neal took a maintenance day and was absent from Wednesday’s practice. Anton Volchenkov missed the session with a lower-body ailment and is considered day-to-day. The defensemen left Tuesday’s win over the Bruins in the first period after taking a shot off of his foot.
Viktor Stalberg skated in his second-straight practice, but his injury status remains the same; Paul Gaustad did not participate on Wednesday with a lower-body injury.
For those skating in the practice session, the team’s line rushes featured a few tweaks due to the changes in personnel.
Forsberg - Ribeiro - Smith
Wilson - Fisher - Roy
Cullen - Jarnkrok - Beck
Nystrom - Jokinen - Bourque
Josi - Weber
Ekholm - Ellis
Bartley - Jones
Laviolette on Pekka Rinne off the ice:
“He’s extremely even-keeled. He works hard every day, he’s professional in what he does, but he’s an even-keeled guy. He’s got such a great disposition about him as a person. Every day he comes in, he’s got a smile on his face, he works hard in practice and then he goes out and plays the way he does in games; from that sense, it’s a complete package.”
Forsberg on if the Preds success has surprised him:
“I knew we had a good team to begin with because of picking up some guys from free agency and trades and a new coach. The new staff has really helped some guys that were here and not playing their best by giving them a fresh start. A few guys have really picked up more offensive hockey this season and it’s been awesome to watch.”
Roman Josi on Rinne’s performance:
“We all knew how good he is, if he’s healthy and if he can play, but it seems like he has taken it to a higher level this year. You wouldn't think it was possible, but he’s keeping us in every game. I can’t remember a game that we were out of the game, even if we played bad. For example, that game in San Jose should've been about 5-0 after two periods, but he kept us in it. He’s been doing it every game consistently and it’s impressive.”
Shot of the Day: