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Preds Practice Ponderings: Jan. 15

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators took to the ice for practice on Thursday morning, but the surroundings were a bit different. The club skated at Ford Ice Center in Antioch, the first time the Preds have practiced at the facility, which opened in September.

The session was free and open to the public, and fans of the team certainly took advantage. The building was full for the hour-long session, adding an extra buzz to the practice.

“It was awesome,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said of practicing in front of the excited fans. “The energy in this building for a practice was great. [Our guys] were juiced up out there; they were flying. [The energy] was outstanding. It was a good day of practice.”

There was also a new participant in net for the Preds on Thursday in the form of Marek Mazanec. The club announced earlier in the day that goaltender Pekka Rinne will be out three to five weeks with a sprained knee that he suffered in the third period of Tuesday’s game against Vancouver. As a result, Carter Hutton and Mazanec will handle the team’s goaltending duties for the time being.

“I just have to play my game,” Hutton said. “Nothing really changes, it’s just hockey. Obviously you never want to see a guy like Pekka go down, but that's the way it goes. We’ve been through it last year and I’ll just focus on playing my game.”

“Now I know what to expect from this League, but I don’t know how long I’m going to be here, so I’ll try to give my best,” Mazanec said. “I’ll be a good teammate and learn from the big guys.”

With Friday night’s game against Washington on the horizon, Laviolette is looking forward to the test, even without his No. 1 goaltender available.

“I expect Carter to come in here and play well for us,” Laviolette said. “I expect our guys to go out tomorrow night on the ice and play an aggressive game. We’ve got to go out and do that, everybody’s got to go out and do their job.”


Combos and Pairings:

Forward Eric Nystrom (injured reserve, upper-body injury) joined the team again at practice after skating with the club on Tuesday during the morning skate. Nystrom skated with Viktor Stalberg as the extra forwards on Thursday.

The line combinations were as follows:

Forwards:

Forsberg – Ribeiro – Smith

Wilson – Fisher – Neal

Cullen – Jarnkrok – Jokinen

Bourque – Gaustad – Beck

Extra: Nystrom* – Stalberg

Defensemen:

Josi – Weber

Ekholm – Jones

Volchenkov – Bartley

Goaltenders:

Carter Hutton

Marek Mazanec


Rinne Out, Hutton In:

With Pekka Rinne to miss 3-5 weeks with a sprained knee, goaltender Carter Hutton is expected to take over the starting job in net for the Preds. While the situation with Rinne isn't ideal, the team still has plenty of confidence in Hutton to get the job done.

“Huts is arguably the hardest worker on this team,” forward Matt Cullen said. “He puts in a lot of time and he means a lot to our team. He came in [during the third period on Tuesday] when Peks went down and played outstanding, especially right away.

“He’s taken his game to a completely different level and he’s a big part of our team. We’re happy he gets an opportunity. Obviously we’re all thinking about Peks and hoping he gets back quickly, but in the meantime, we have a lot of confidence in Huts.”

The bench boss doesn’t expect anything differently with his No. 1 netminder on the shelf. Laviolette believes that it’s the team’s job to compete each and every night and the absence of one player shouldn’t affect what goes on during the course of the game.

“[Pekka’s injury] doesn’t change anything as far as we go,” Laviolette said. “It’s tough to lose players. You get a little streak here where we lose some players with Nystrom being out and [defenseman Ryan] Ellis being out, but nothing really changes as far as the game plan goes. It’s a chance for Carter to play some games. He’s been itching to play some games, but nothing changes.”

Hutton is equally anxious to get a chance to backstop the Preds for the next few contests. With a record of 0-3-2 on the season, Hutton hasn’t gotten the wins he’s hoped for thus far, but he’s taking this as a chance to turn things around.

“I feel like my game has been pretty solid all year,” Hutton said. “I’m not getting the results I need, but if you look at the individual games and the way the games went down, it’s not like I don’t believe in my play. There are certain situations where I’d like to do things differently, but at the same time, I feel good about my game. I know the guys are confident in me, so I’m excited to get in there.”


Inaugural Ford Ice Practice:

A lively atmosphere at Ford Ice Center Thursday morning translated into a lively practice on the ice for the Preds. There’s usually no shortage of competition in Coach Laviolette’s practices, but the ante was upped a bit thanks to the impressive number of patrons taking in the session.

“We do a lot of competition drills in practice; that’s one of the things Lavy does a lot of, but that was a little more competitive than normal,” Cullen said. “The crowd was getting into it and it was fun.”

For veterans like Cullen and Olli Jokinen, the chance to skate in front of the fans is one that was welcomed.

“The fans have been awesome this year and to come here in a nice, new arena, great ice, good atmosphere; it’s always fun to mix it up,” Cullen said. “Any time we get the fans going, and they were loud, it makes it a lot of fun.”

“It’s good for the fans to see what we do every day,” Jokinen said. “They’ve been very supportive all year, so it was good for them to see how we put the work in every day. It’s a nice rink, the ice was excellent and we had a good time.”


Quotables:

Olli Jokinen on Carter Hutton stepping up in Rinne’s absence:

“We have two good goalies and now with Mazanec coming up; he played some games last year and he’s been playing well down in the minors, so we’ve got confidence in anyone who plays in the net. Obviously Pekka is a big part of the team, and the bottom line is he’s been the best goalie in the League the whole year, so it’s not like anyone’s going to replace him, but Huts has been good. He’s working hard every day in practice and he’s going to get some playing time now.”

Matt Cullen on the team reacting when Hutton relieved Rinne on Tuesday night:

“I think it was important for our team too [to get the win in that situation]. We really haven’t faced a whole lot of adversity this year. We’ve been pretty healthy and things have gone pretty well, but to have that happen and deal with it and handle it well, that’s a good sign for our team.”

Carter Hutton on being prepared to play:

“I understand my job here… It’s one of those things we prepare for all the time, work really hard in practice and we prepare all the time like I’m going to play, so in situations like the other night, I can go in and make a difference.”


Shot of the Day

Photo credit: John Russell
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