A day removed from their three-game winning streak being snapped, the Nashville Predators practiced at Bridgestone Arena on Friday.
The mood remained light during the half-hour session, a fixture that’s been present the past few weeks while the team has been collecting hard-fought points against elite Western Conference foes. Despite the 4-3 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday, the Preds remain one of the NHL’s top clubs and have seen success against Stanley Cup favorites such as the Chicago Blackhawks (1-0-1) or the aforementioned Blues (1-1).
“It’s nice to know that you can play any team on any given night and compete with them,” Nashville blueliner Mattias Ekholm said. “We go for it a little more this year. We have offensive guys that can change games and outcomes in games. Plus, Peks is playing great in net, and I think the whole D-corps is trying to help out offensively and defensively. St. Louis has a great team of course, but so do we, and that’s why we can play with them this year.”
What might be most impressive about the Preds success through the first 16 games is that the team has collected wins while still in the adjustment process of adding a new head coach, system and more than a half dozen players.
Preds winger Eric Nystrom said he considers the team to be past the training wheels phase at this point, however.
“We’ve got a pretty good feel of what’s going on now,” Nystrom said. “Systematically, I feel like we’ve adjusted to the structure really well, and it’s nice when everybody is on the same page and guys know exactly what to do. That’s what makes a good team. We’ve really gelled in that regard. Our compete level has always been there, but maybe we were just a little off timing wise. The way we’ve been playing our game plan is spot on and that’s been a huge part of our success.”
Like dozens of practices before it, today’s sessions contained many of the same drills and elements, but the Preds forward lines did feature a different look than seen in recent days.
The Preds line combinations looked like this:
Forsberg – Ribeiro – Neal
Cullen – Roy – Jokinen
Beck – Jarnkrok – Smith
Nystrom – Gaustad – Bourque
Josi – Weber
Volchenkov – Jones
Ekholm – Ellis
Forwards Viktor Stalberg (4-6 weeks, lower-body injury) and Colin Wilson (day-to-day, lower-body injury) were absent from practice on Friday. Wilson skated alone prior to the session.
After 30 minutes of line rushes and deflection drills, today’s practice had a unique conclusion in the midst of an ordinary activity. The Preds were circled at center ice with forward Olli Jokinen acting as the leader for the warm down stretches (when a Preds player has played for the club’s upcoming opponent, he is usually asked to go to the center of the circle). Following Jokinen direction, the team stopped to wave at a quartet of people seated across the ice in the lower bowl. The problem was they didn’t notice. This caused the Preds efforts of salutation to only increase until the roughly two dozen players were banging their sticks on the ice and yelling.
Jokinen said after the skated that he thought the special group of fans were related to Mike Fisher.
“Yeah that was funny, wasn’t it?” said Jokinen.
Mattias Ekholm on the power play starting to find results:
“We’ve had a little different mindset going into a power play opportunity. We tried to increase the number of shots we take and making even more traffic in front of the net. A lot our power-play goals have just been wristers with a net front presence and that’s been the way it is. It’s small details most times - get a guy in front of the net and shoot more and the good things will happen. If we keep shooting more like we want to, then we’ll get where we want to be; we’re not quite there yet, but we will be soon.”
Eric Nystrom on the team’s success against top opponents:
“They’re skating against the Predators and that’s all the matters. We have to have that mindset, we know every night that going into games we can beat any team. It’s all about your attitude and I think having a good start is really key to that. Getting that confidence and knowing you can win, like we have, is huge. You can’t forget that any team can beat you on any night so you have to focus on bringing your game, and ours is pretty good.”
Head Coach Peter Laviolette on the Preds past success against the Jets:
“We caught them in their home opener and I really liked the way they played. I think they were going through some things, trying to figure out their game and their systems, and since then, they’ve been on a terrific roll. I think they’ve only got one [regulation] loss in their last 10 games. Defensively, the last time we played them, they won the specialty teams battle that night and that was the difference. It was very difficult to generate offense; they were tight defensively, the gaps were good and it just made it difficult for us to get the looks offensively that we were looking for. I like the way we played in the second game, but they played a real competitive game and it was close.”
Shot of Day: