After five days away from the rink for the NHL All-Star Break, the Nashville Predators got back to work on Monday afternoon in their first practice of the unofficial start of the second half of the 2014-15 season.
The team skated for approximately 45 minutes at Bridgestone Arena at an up-tempo pace, preparing to face the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night in the Music City. As has been the case all season, the Preds are sticking with the motto of taking things one game at a time, and that point was emphasized by the bench boss on Monday.
“Teams will always be fighting for something now,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “Once you get through January and you reach the halfway point of February, it starts to really narrow in on the playoff picture and what’s happening around the League, so it doesn’t get any easier. I think we need to go slow; we’ve gone slowly all year, we’ve lived in the day, and it would be a smart thing for us to live in the day tomorrow and not worry about too much more than that.”
After Colorado on Tuesday night, it’s on to St. Louis on Thursday, and back against the Avalanche, this time in Denver, on Friday, all Central Division contests. That fact boosts the importance of a solid start in an attempt to gain points against divisional foes.
“We’ve worked awfully hard the first half of the season to put ourselves in a good position,” forward Matt Cullen said. “We all feel that we owe it to ourselves to continue to maintain the level that were playing at and keep building on what we’ve worked hard to get going. It’s exciting, it’s a big challenge for us, but we’re all excited and ready to go.”
Prior to practice, the Preds recalled goaltender Marek Mazanec from Milwaukee of the AHL. Mazanec had also been recalled prior to the All-Star Break to join Carter Hutton with Pekka Rinne out with a lower-body injury.
Rinne skated prior to Monday’s practice and remains on a 3-5 week timetable from when he was originally diagnosed with a knee sprain on Jan. 15.
Defenseman Ryan Ellis, who is on injured reserve with a lower-body injury, is expected to be out two more weeks.
Defenseman Shea Weber was given the day off after arriving back from the All-Star Game.
Combos & Pairings:
Today’s lines looked like this:
Forsberg – Ribeiro – Smith
Wilson – Fisher – Neal
Cullen – Jarnkrok – Bourque
Nystrom – Gaustad – Jokinen
Josi, Ekholm, Jones, Bartley & Volchenkov all participated in today’s practice.
Surprised? Not Really:
When Preds Captain Shea Weber hit 108.5 mph to win the Hardest Shot Competition during Saturday’s NHL All-Star Skills Competition in Columbus, the reaction was impressive. Just barely missing the record of 108.8 mph, even Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette said he was “fired up.”
But many of Weber’s teammates get to see that speed firsthand every day. So were they shocked at the velocity with which the puck rocketed into the twine?
“I think a lot of guys were amazed,” Cullen said of Weber’s shot. “Everybody knows he shoots hard, but when you see the number and you see how the puck comes off his stick, it just doesn’t come off everyone’s stick like that. To see the number, that validates it.”
“I thought it was going to be harder to be honest,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm quipped. “I see it every day, and it’s a bomb, but we knew it from the start. It’s fun that he finally got the win there, so we’re happy for him.”
Matt Cullen on Filip Forsberg’s success at All-Star Weekend:
“What a great weekend for Fil and it’s been such a great year for him. He’s such a unique talent. It’s fun for the rest of the hockey world to see that. I don’t know if everybody realizes how good he is, so it’s kind of cool for him. It’s fun for us too because we all think a lot of Fil and care a lot about him. It’s nice to see him get a little recognition and see him do what he does on a big stage and get the recognition he deserves.”
Peter Laviolette on returning from the All-Star Break:
“I think the start is really important. We’ve seen a whole bunch of teams come out of a break and not win the way the want to, or not play the way that they want to. We addressed those things early before we went on the ice today. When we went out on the ice, we tried to get the guys moving and practice fast and play the game fast and do the drills fast. We tried to make it competitive in practice to get the competitive spirit [going and carry] that into tomorrow night at the game. The speed with which we play and the competitiveness with which we play really drives our team and drives our success, so those are two areas we tried to focus on today.”
Mike Ribeiro on his All-Star Break activities:
“I had a daddy-daughter dance, played paintball with the boys; did the daddy duties.”
Shot of the Day: