The Nashville Predators skated for an hour at Centennial Sportsplex on Friday in their last practice during a three-day break between games. The club left for California following their skate and will face last season’s Stanley Cup Champions, the Los Angeles Kings, in an afternoon tilt on Saturday and the Western Conference leading Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night.
New Year, New Bartley:
With a few of the Predators forwards absent from practice the last two sessions, Nashville defenseman Victor Bartley has found himself in a brand new position. Not only has the 26-year-old blueliner skated as a forward in rushes and a few drills, he’s done so as a member of the Predators top-six forward group.
After practice on Friday, Bartley joked that he’s found some chemistry with Mike Fisher and Colin Wilson while playing with them on the second line.
“I’ve been inserted onto the second line and I think me, Willy and Fish have shown some real chemistry out there,” Bartley said. “Things are feeling good and hopefully they keep me there.”
Having logged all of 2015 as a forward, Bartley said perhaps this is a new beginning he should get used to quickly.
“They’re really putting a lot of trust in me putting me on the second line, that’s a lot of responsibility,” Batley said with a laugh. “It definitely feels good, and I’m excited to be there.”
Veteran forward Eric Nystrom wasn’t so easily impressed, however.
“When he was playing forward [on Thursday], he couldn’t have looked more like a defensemen,” Nystrom joked. “He had no clue what he was doing. In one drill I called him out because he was lost since the defense never pays attention to what we’re doing.”
While we’re unlikely to see Bartley again join the forward line rushes during warmup skate in Los Angeles on Saturday, the defenseman’s willingness to fill in during the last pair of practices shows the team-first attitude that’s prevalent in Nashville’s locker room, and that’s something anyone can appreciate.
“Bartley has done a great job of staying ready and playing well when he’s gotten the opportunity,” Nystrom said. “He can have a tough role with having to be ready at a moment’s notice, but he’s handled that excellently.”
Working on the Little Things:
Toward the end of their hour-long session on Friday, the Preds debuted a new face-off drill. After the center drew the puck off the dot, a winger would fire the biscuit on the net while another forward drove the crease looking for a rebound.
Nothing earth-shattering by any means, but Nystrom said that working on the little dynamics of the game helps to keep everything running smoothly.
“We were trying to work on faceoff plays in general [today],” Nystrom said. “It’s like a football game; you want to know your routes on certain plays and it’s the same thing on faceoffs for us too. We want to be ready to execute plays off of faceoffs in the offensive zone and maybe we create some more chances and score a goal here and there off the dot. It’s a refresher to get it in our minds and execute a little better of the draw.”
A three-day stretch without games has given Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette a chance to work on some of the finite aspects of his team’s game, but the coach said he wishes there was even more time to expand the current regiment.
“To be honest, we probably don’t work on those parts of our game enough,” Laviolette said. “There’s only so much time in the day. One of the things we want to do is make sure we’re getting to a high pace and skating hard out there. I feel like if we don’t play hard in a game then we won’t succeed, so we try to push the pace in practice, even if it’s just for 20 minutes.
“Then once you start to unwind and go down the checklist, with like 6-on-5, faceoffs, special teams, it can seem pretty long with the time you have left. I still have a list of two or three things I’d like for us to work on, but you have to balance the time you’re practicing with the fact that three games in four nights is coming up, plus travel, then sometimes you just have to say it’s time to get off the ice, which is what we did today.”
Matt Cullen and Taylor Beck each missed their second-straight practice on Friday and the forwards’ injury status remains unchanged from Thursday. James Neal also missed most of the session after he skated for a few minutes before leaving the ice.
Lines at the practice were as follows:
Forsberg - Ribeiro - Smith
Wilson - Fisher - Neal/Bartley
Nystrom - Jarnkrok - Arcobello
Bourque - Gaustad - Jokinen
Josi - Weber
Ekholm - Ellis
Volchenkov - Jones
Pekka Rinne on an afternoon game changing the normal routine:
“There’s no time for morning skate and no time for a nap like normal. You have to try and get a good night’s sleep and then instead of breakfast you try and hammer down some pasta and try to force down some carbs. But other than that [it’s not that different]. Personally, I like the afternoon games. It’s a lot of fun once the game is done you still have time for dinner out and stuff. Of course we have a back-to-back so we won’t be able to do that this time.”
Nystrom on facing a “heavy” teams like L.A. and Anaheim
“They’ve got some big strong guys and they play a physical game. But that’s no different from us. I think how we matchup well against teams that play that style. I think we have a really strong team with guys that are willing to get in there and play a hard game and go to the hard areas. They’ll both be good matchups.”
Mark Arcobello on learning the Preds system:
“The systems between [Edmonton and Nashville] are a lot different, so it’s a pretty big change for me. The coaches have been good, they’ve shown me a lot of video and walked me through a lot of stuff already, so I’m starting to feel comfortable with it and starting to have a grasp on what we do here.”