Fresh off a thrilling 4-3 win over the St. Louis Blues, the Nashville Predators held a 50-minute practice at Centennial Sportsplex on Friday. The win on Thursday gave the Preds a two-point lead in the Central Division, but the club faces another top rival in the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena.
“I watched [Chicago’s] game against St. Louis the other night and they’re a slick puck possession team that skates really well,” Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “They’re defense can move the puck well too. If you’re not skating or you’re not sharp defensively, they can burn you. I think we’ll have to be on our toes for tomorrow’s game.”
Surprising Participant at Practice:
Sunday will be a big day for the Nashville Predators. The problem is none of the players knew that on Friday at practice.
Maybe things would have gone a little smoother if the squad had been prepped.
“I had no idea what was going on,” said defensemen Mattias Ekholm.
“I didn’t know what was coming; that was weird,” said goaltender Pekka Rinne.
In their defense, what the Predators skaters saw as they took to the ice for the start of their practice at Centennial was pretty out of the ordinary. An “officially” unidentified female wearing a monkey costume, holding balloons reading “Happy Birthday” and touting other items bearing the No. 50 stood next to one of the Predators benches.
Perhaps even more shocking was that a chuckling Peter Laviolette blew his whistle and ordered a team photo - monkey and all. Many still bewildered, answers finally started to surface following the picture.
You see, Nashville’s bench boss hits the half-century mark on his birthday in two days. And apparently, he has some family members who aren’t afraid to play the revenge game.
“I’m still not sure [what just] happened at this point,” Laviolette said laughing. “I think my sisters might be behind it. Interesting...I think what this is, is payback. Payback for what I’ve done in the past.”
No other questions about possible past involvement with Laviolette and monkey suits were asked at that time. Still his players laughed at their first reactions to the surprise.
“I thought it was some kind of joke or a party or something,” said Ekholm. “I had no idea it was his birthday, so it was pretty funny.”
“I still don’t know why there’s was a monkey there,” Rinne said with a smile.
Like the netminder, we may never truly know the origins of the Preds mysterious addition to practice that quietly slipped away shortly after the photo, perhaps never to be seen again.
Preds forward Derek Roy has been cleared of his “day-to-day” status and is available for the team’s next game. Paul Gaustad remains day-to-day with a lower-body injury and did not participate in Friday’s practice. Viktor Stalberg is on the initial timetable set when the forward was first injured.
Power Play Work:
Despite a victory on Thursday over the St. Louis Blues and four goals scored by Nashville, the club failed to connect on two power play opportunities. The Preds man advantage unit has been unable to notch a power-play goal in Nashville since the team’s game against Ottawa on Opening Night.
The lack of success on the power play at home has remained partially in the background with the team’s 11-1-1 record at Bridgestone Arena, a number that is tied for the NHL lead. On Friday, however, the Preds began and concluded practice with focused work on the power play.
Assistant Coach Phil Housley watched over the preceding, encouraging the players to push the puck low in the zone for offensive opportunities whenever possible. After the practice, blueliner Ryan Ellis talked about the source of frustration for Nashville.
“We were trying some different looks and different guys on the power play today,” Ellis said. “We know we have the guys to make it work, we just have to start putting it together. That’s the main thing. We have to start scoring on it.”
The defenseman said the team’s overall success is encouraging, but that the Preds aren’t satisfied with any part of their game lacking. That’s why the group has continued to try new options in practices and game situations.
“I think [the power play] is becoming more of a concern,” Ellis said. “The first few games it was trying to get used to each other and finding the chemistry, and that’s what we’re still looking for. The deeper you go into the season, if nothing gets better then something has to change. But we’re working on it and we’re trying new things. As long as our 5-on-5 play stays strong, I think we’ll still be happy with our game.”
Laviolette on building off of a win over St. Louis:
“This whole month is filled with good challenges for our club and good hockey teams. I do think when you face a team like St. Louis, the Kings or the Penguins for example, they bring out the best in your club. And there’s a little bit more excitement in those games just based on what those teams have done in the League for the past few years. We’re excited to leave the St. Louis game with a win and move on to the next test.”
Rinne on beating Martin Brodeur and the Blues:
“It is always cool to play against one of the greatest goalies in the game and to beat him. I didn’t think that game was a goalie duel or anything like that. It was both teams scoring a lot of goals and we came out on top. Any time you beat St. Louis it’s cool and any when that happens and Marty is in net, it’s a little bit more special.”
Ekholm on beating the Blues and Blackhawks in two-straight games:
“It would be big. It would be a statement to beat them both in a row like that. We’ve beaten those teams before and made those kinds of statements previously, but those wins would [reiterate] that. It would also give us an even bigger boost and show we can really beat any team in this League.”