The sentiment in the Preds locker room after the session was a feeling of contentment toward the ability to have a day off and then return to the rink to work on a number of elements with 10 games left in the regular season.
For many of the Predators, it was a chance to get back to basics and do some fine-tuning, something that the club hasn’t had much time do at all over the past two months with a stretch of 27 games in 49 days.
“It was a good work day today,” forward Matt Cullen said. “We needed one of those, and we’ll get another one tomorrow too, which is good. We’ve had quite a few games in a short period of time here and it was really important for us to get back to work and work on some of the details of our game that we need to improve.”
“It feels like it’s long overdue,” forward Mike Fisher said. “Our schedule has been just crazy, and we’ve hardly had any days off in between for good practices like this, so it actually feels real good…To get a few days like this is just what we needed, and it’ll be good going into this next little stretch. [Heading into] the last 10 [games], we want to make sure we’re feeling good about ourselves.”
As the two veteran forwards and many others stated post-practice, the timing of the break couldn’t have come at a better juncture. Nashville’s record has been less than ideal over the past three weeks, and with the stretch drive toward the postseason having arrived, an opportunity to recharge and refocus was welcomed and embraced.
“I wish we could do it all the time,” goaltender Pekka Rinne said of the extended practice session. “We’ve had such a demanding schedule that we’ve had to take a lot of days off to rest. It’s nice to get out there as a team and really work on things…We have 10 more games to go and a lot of time to get our game ready for the playoffs.”
Combos & Pairings:
The Preds had a shakeup in their forward lines Thursday, with each of the four trios featuring at least one new addition than what was seen during Tuesday night’s loss to Minnesota. Coach Laviolette was quick to caution, however, that these aren’t necessarily what the Preds may go with come Saturday against Buffalo.
“We’re just looking at things right now,” Laviolette said of the lines. “We’re not sure where we are from a health point, so we’re just looking at things.”
Forward Colin Wilson left practice approximately halfway through and did not return. Wilson departed as a precaution and was evaluated for a lower-body injury.
Forward James Neal also missed practice with an upper-body injury. Neal has been out of the Preds lineup since Saturday with the ailment. Forward Eric Nystrom also remains out with a lower-body injury.
Thursday’s trios and pairings were as follows:
Wilson – Ribeiro – Bourque
Cullen – Fisher – Smith
Forsberg – Jarnkrok – Stalberg
Beck – Gaustad – Santorelli
Josi – Weber
Jones – Franson
Ekholm – Ellis
Bartley – Volchenkov
The annual NHL General Managers meetings took place earlier this week in Boca Raton, Florida, with the GM’s making a few recommendations for possible rule changes and tweaks to the game to be considered.
Perhaps most notable was the proposition to utilize a regular season 3-on-3 overtime format, beginning next season, in an attempt to cut down on the number of games that are decided in a shootout.
The GM’s aren’t yet certain as to whether they’d like to start with the current 4-on-4 overtime format and transition into 3-on-3, or start with 3-on-3 altogether, and they’ll wait to hear feedback from the NHL Players’ Association in the meantime.
So what’s the feeling in the Preds locker room on the potential change?
“I think it’s good, I like it,” Cullen said of 3-on-3 overtime. “I don’t have any issues with the shootout, I like the shootout fine, but to a certain extent, it seems like it has run its course a bit. To have the 3-on-3 following a 4-on-4 is good, and I like that a lot.”
“I like the idea,” Fisher said. “I’m not the biggest fan of shootouts, so anything that can reduce the shootouts, I think it’s a good idea. I think it’ll be better for the fans too; I know some people like the shootouts, but I prefer to settle it during the game. If it’s 3-on-3, I think you’re going to get more scoring opportunities, and I like it.”
Rookie forward Filip Forsberg, who has one overtime goal this season and another three in the shootout, has seen 3-on-3 play already, to a point.
“I’ve tried it at the [Predators] Rookie Tournament and we scored a goal basically right away,” Forsberg said. “They had a 2-on-1 and then two of our guys got the puck back, I jumped on the ice and we got our own 2-on-1 the other way. That’s just how it’s going to be, lots of back and forth.
“I don’t really agree with people that say the shootout is a lottery. There are players that practice and know how to score in it, and that’s fine. I think the fans like it too, there’s always excitement when the game goes to a shootout. But if the League wants to end the game, especially in OT, then 3-on-3 is for sure the right way to go.”
Players like Forsberg, Fisher and Cullen are among those who may be relied upon to try to end the game in that situation, but what about those that could be tasked with facing those odd-man rushes over and over again?
“I’m sure if it’s 3-on-3, it’ll create a lot more room, a lot more 2-on-1’s going back and forth,” Rinne said. “If one player goes down, it’s an odd man rush right away, so I think it would create more offense. Obviously as a player, you want as many games as possible to be decided during regulation or overtime playing hockey, not in the shootout.”
Hockey players with a missing tooth or two isn’t anything new. With pucks, sticks and other objects flying around the rink, the loss of an incisor at some point in any player’s career is a likely occurrence.
On Saturday in Los Angeles, it was forward Taylor Beck’s turn to part with a chiclet, thanks to a puck that caught him up high. After some dental work upon returning to Nashville, it was back to normal…kind of.
“I was eating dinner last night and I started chewing on my new tooth that they put in (after it fell out again), so I went back this morning and got it put back in,” Beck said with a laugh. “It’ll be a couple weeks until I get it [permanently in], but it’s part of the game.”
Beck’s unfortunate run-in with a biscuit paved the way for some friendly jabs from his teammates, including one who was disappointed that the forward elected to fix things up.
“For Becker, I think it cleans him up a bit,” defenseman Ryan Ellis quipped. “He’s a pretty scary looking guy and maybe it adds a little personality to him.”
“He didn’t rock it too long,” Rinne laughed. “He got it fixed pretty fast, and I guess he didn’t like it. I always like it, it makes guys look funny and I wish they would keep it out.”
Easy for a goaltender, who always wears a mask, to say.
“No, [I’ve never lost one],” Rinne said. “Knock on wood.”
Peter Laviolette on the feeling in the locker room headed into the final 10 games:
“It’s frustrating because nobody wants to lose games. You do a lot of things right and there’s things that you can do better, or you’re not getting the results that you want. It can be frustrating, but our group’s got a lot of confidence in the fact that we’ve won a lot of games this year. We got back to work on some things, and I think that’ll help with the confidence as well.”
Laviolette on working on different aspects as the playoffs approach:
“I don’t know if there’s one primary thing. I guess you could work on a lot of things, so we didn’t just focus on one thing on the ice today, nor will we tomorrow. We want to get back to good working habits in practice, a chance to work on specialty teams, a chance to work on your system and your game, chance to get fresh, chance to show some things on video; so the time down the stretch here allows us an opportunity to get back to work, back to business.”
Taylor Beck on being utilized as a net-front presence on the power play:
“Anytime you can get on the power play, you want to take advantage of it, and we’ve been working to get a net-front presence in front of their goalie. That’s how you’re going to score in this League on the power play. The goalies are too good if they’re seeing the puck, so I’m going to do everything I can to get to the front of the net and see what happens.”