The team skated at a brisk pace for 30 minutes before leaving for the Windy City in advance of their upcoming battle with the Blackhawks and first place in the Central Division on the line.
“This is a huge game for us,” forward Eric Nystrom said. “[Chicago] has been playing really well, we’ve been playing well all season long, and we’ve had some good matchups so far this year. We didn’t like our performance as much the last time we played them, so we’re going to give them our best this time in their building and see what happens.”
“We know how big both of these games are; we’ve got a chance to climb into first place [Monday] and with a couple of games in hand,” winger Taylor Beck said. “We know what’s at stake then and right after that we have St. Louis at home. We want to worry about Chicago first, but looking at both games, those are certainly two great hockey teams.”
Sunday’s session marked the informal beginning of the Preds annual Fathers' Trip, featured lineup moves and praise for center Paul Gaustad following his return to the Nashville lineup on Saturday.
The Preds will have some extra company on their one-game trip to Chicago, as many of the players and coaches are bringing their fathers along for the excursion. It’s become an annual occurrence for many NHL clubs to host such a trip, but as those in the organization stated, the chance to spend some quality time with your dad never loses its luster.
“Nobody wants to play bad in front of their dad, right?” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said with a laugh. “Our guys have been terrific all year and to bring your dad on a trip like this is special… It’s certainly a more common thing in the NHL [to host a fathers' trip], but I still think it’s a great experience to share with your dad. He’s probably the guy who got you onto skates back 20...or 40 years ago.”
For Eric Nystrom, the experience with his dad, former NHLer Bob Nystrom, is a special one for both father and son.
“He’s a legend back home,” Nystrom said of his father. “He still can’t believe that his son is playing in the NHL. He’s so proud and he’s got great advice all the time. It’s a lot of fun to have him around.”
The Preds and their dads, who flew to Chicago on Sunday afternoon, will enjoy a special team dinner Sunday evening before attending Nashville’s game against the Blackhawks on Monday night.
“It’s great to have the dads on the trip and it’s always a game you definitely want to win,” forward Mike Fisher said. “We know the significance of the game [against Chicago] in the standings and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Goose Gives a Boost:
Predators center Paul Gaustad returned to the lineup on Saturday after missing the club’s previous six games with a lower-body injury. Taking his familiar position between Nystrom and Beck on Nashville’s “shutdown” line, Gaustad’s presence made an immediate impact in many facets of the Preds game.
Not only is “Goose” the Predators face-off ace, but the forward also logs special teams’ time and goes toe-to-toe with the opposition’s top offensive threats.
“We thrive with the opportunity to play against other team’s top lines and we rely a lot on defensive zone faceoffs from [Gaustad],” Nystrom said. “Goose is key in those situations and with frustrating other team’s top lines, and that’s why it’s so good to have him back. He adds an element to this team that’s really important.”
Gaustad finished with 15:17 of ice time and went 12-for-19 in the face-off circle against the Flyers and Laviolette mentioned that a lot of his draws were against a formidable competitor in Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux.
“We missed [Gaustad taking faceoffs] a lot; you think about the job he did last night, he drew a lot of Claude Giroux, who is an excellent face-off man,” Laviolette said. “When you get possession against a line like that, the shift starts off in the right direction. I thought he had a really strong performance in the face-off dot last night, and he did it against some of their best competition.”
As important as possession and subsequent shot volume is for Nashville’s style of play, Gaustad’s talent at the face-off dot and ability to force the opposition back into their own zone are vital to the team’s success according to his linemate.
“In the face-off circle, he’s irreplaceable,” Beck said. “He wins a lot of those key-moment draws too...He plays so hard and gets in on the forecheck with a lot of power. I thought we did a really good job of shutting down [the Flyers] top line, we were up against them pretty much the entire game.
“Any time you can start with the puck you have the advantage. We work so hard the entire time to get it and create offense, that when you can just start with it off a draw it’s a huge lift.”
Lineup News and Combos:
On Sunday, the Predators announced two roster moves following the conclusion of the Christmas-break roster freeze. Derek Roy was placed on waivers while Viktor Stalberg was assigned to the American Hockey League’s Milwaukee Admirals.
At practice, the team was also short a few additional bodies with Mike Ribeiro and Matt Cullen taking maintenance days and not participating in the half-hour session. Due to the low number of players, the Preds showed just two forward line combinations, but all seven defensemen skated.
Wilson - Fisher - Neal
Nystrom - Gaustad - Beck
Forsberg, Smith, Jokinen and Bourque rotated through.
Josi - Weber
Ekholm - Ellis
Bartley - Jones
Eric Nystrom on Paul Gaustad returning to the lineup:
“I’ve been playing with him all year, so it’s nice to have that familiarity. He’s a big body, he’s really reliable, good on the draws and we can play against other team’s top lines which is something that we take a lot of pride in. It’s just great to have him back.”
Nystrom on having the dads along for the trip:
“It’s going to be great. It’s nice to get the dads in town and have them see a game on the road in a great building in Chicago. It’s going to be a lot of fun to have them aboard and hopefully we have a good showing.”
Peter Laviolette on Victor Bartley’s performance as of late:
“He’s been terrific. He’s really come in here and made a mark that has warranted him to stay in the lineup. He’s been fast, he’s been physical, he’s moved the puck well, he’s been a nice pair with Seth [Jones], and he’s done a really good job.”
Shot of the Day:Photo Credit: John Russell