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Preds Practice Ponderings: Jan. 9

by Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators took to the ice for a competitive, 25-minute practice on Friday morning at Bridgestone Arena before jetting off to Minnesota, and they did so while sitting first in the NHL standings.

Thanks to their 3-2 overtime victory on Thursday night over Dallas, the Preds possess 58 points, putting them for the time being, atop the Central Division, the Western Conference and the League.

Those within the locker room are well aware of the seeding, and while it’s a nice accomplishment, they know that the contests won’t get any easier over the remaining three months of the campaign.

“We’re No. 1 in the League and we’ve got to fight for it every day,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “Everyone’s going to want to beat us now that we’re the first place team. It’s going to be a challenge every game and we’ve just got to stay with it and keep doing what we’ve been doing all year.”

The Preds have an afternoon tilt on Saturday against a team that currently sits at the bottom of the ultra-competitive Central Division, even though they possess an 18-16-5 record. The Wild have lost three straight contests and are just 2-4-4 in their last 10 outings, but Nashville had their hands full in Minnesota just a few weeks ago, pulling out a 6-5 OT win.

“[Minnesota] is playing really good hockey,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “They’re a good hockey team that is trying to find their place and trying to scrape and crawl for their points. That makes it scary sometimes and we’re going to have to be sharp.”

“We’re really good so far, but we’re only halfway through the season, so we’ve still got to stay with it,” Ekholm said. “It’s going to be a tough opponent tomorrow; [the Wild are] a little desperate right now and it’s going to be a tough game.”


Roster Moves, Combos & Pairings:

The Preds made some adjustments to their roster earlier on Friday, reassigning forward Miikka Salomaki to Milwaukee of the AHL and activating forwards Taylor Beck and Matt Cullen off of Injured Reserve. Both Beck and Cullen practiced with the team on Friday and could return Saturday against Minnesota. Forward James Neal (lower-body injury, IR) also participated in Friday’s practice but remains on the injured list.

Defenseman Ryan Ellis, who left Thursday’s game in the second period with a lower-body injury, did not practice with the team on Friday. He is being evaluated and there is currently no timetable for his return. Forward Eric Nystrom (upper-body injury, IR) was also absent from practice.

Today’s line combinations looked like this:

Forwards:

Forsberg – Ribeiro – Smith

Wilson – Fisher – Beck

Cullen – Jarnkrok – Jokinen

Bourque – Gaustad – Stalberg

Defensemen:

Josi – Weber

Ekholm – Jones

Volchenkov – Bartley


Laviolette & Co Headed to All-Star Weekend:

The NHL announced on Friday that Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette and his staff will be behind the bench in Columbus for the 2015 NHL All-Star Game. It’ll be Laviolette’s second experience at All-Star Weekend, and the bench boss is excited about the opportunity, not only for him, but the team as a whole.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Laviolette said of the experience. “Having been there before, there’s just no stress as far as coaching goes; it’s no stress and a lot of fun.

“I think when a coach gets appointed to an All-Star Game, it’s a true reflection of your team… Coaches get the reward for [organizational success], and I’m happy for the assistant coaches that get to come with me, because I think it really reflects their work as well. We’re excited to be a part of it and it should be a lot of fun.”


Shake It Off:

With less than five minutes remaining in the third period of a 2-2 hockey game on Thursday night against the Stars, Preds forward Filip Forsberg deposited a puck into the Dallas net for a 3-2 lead. However, after all four officials on the ice got together, it was ruled that Craig Smith created incidental contact with Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen, leading referee Paul Devorski to wave off the tiebreaker.

After experiencing elation to frustration in a matter of minutes, the jubilation returned just 17 seconds into overtime when Shea Weber sent everyone home.

The Predators are becoming accustomed to this sort of thing, after going through similar instances of having goals called off, only to respond minutes or seconds later to rectify the situation. It’s just one more way that the team continues to find success, no matter the hand that’s dealt.

“I’m starting to get used to that now,” Forsberg joked. “It proves that we have a really strong team, both physically and especially mentally.”

“Stuff has happened, and we’ve responded right way and I think that’s a strength of our team,” Ekholm said. “We just go out there and play, and that’s been a big factor for us this year. We come back from every situation, it seems. We just take from it and then we go just forget about it and play.”

Veteran forward Matt Cullen believes that the resiliency shown throughout the first 40 games of the season is something that is not only unique, but is being received in a way that will lead to further success.

“It’s been a pretty special first half of the year,” Cullen said. “I don’t know if many people would’ve expected it to go as well as it has. It’s a testament to what we have in this room. Guys have fun, we work really hard in practice, and guys enjoy it and are enjoying being around each other. It doesn’t get any better than this right now, but I think guys are keeping good perspective on the fact that we got here by working hard. That hasn’t changed, and we continue to work.”


Quotables:

Taylor Beck on the Preds success:

“I’ve been a part of good teams, but you can just feel it. When we’re in close games, we know that we have a chance to win every game. We’ve been in every game this season and good teams find ways to win. That’s what we’re doing right now.”

Mattias Ekholm on slotting into first in the NHL:

“That’s what we’ve got to look at, it’s obviously nice, we can enjoy it for a bit, but every game is still going to be a challenge for us. We’ve got to fight for first place now. everyone wants to be there, so it’s obviously really cool that we are but it’s a long season. We’ve got to keep battling and show that we’re worth [a No. 1 seed].”

Peter Laviolette on seeing his team at the top of the League:

“It’s really all you can do right now; you can’t qualify for a playoff spot, you can’t play in the first round, the only thing you can do right now is fight for position, fight for your place in life, and our guys have done an amazing job… I think just staying on point, whether we’re dealing with travel or injuries or back-to-back games, big games, they’ve done a terrific job of going out, working hard, competing and getting the job done. Given the choice, it’s a good place to be. There’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s good.”


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