Practice makes perfect, right?
If the up-tempo, 90-minute session the Nashville Predators had on Monday is any indication, they certainly look like they'll be ready to go on Tuesday night when they host the Ottawa Senators at Bridgestone Arena.
After a day off on Sunday, the group looked refreshed and rejuvenated during the skate at Centennial Sportsplex, with the hope of extending their point streak as the home stand continues.
"It was a good work day for us," winger Austin Watson said. "That's what we have to do, we just have to keep moving forward and keep building on some of the positives and keep working. The pace was high out there today, the battle level was good, and that's what we need to continue to carry through a full 60 minutes."
Producing a full, 60-minute effort has been a point of emphasis for the Preds through their first 10 games. Head Coach Peter Laviolette and his players have been unsatisfied with a number of their outings, but at the same time, those in the locker room also continue to see signs that lead them to believe they'll start rattling off wins in due time.
"We just have to be in our game plan and play Predators hockey for 60 minutes, and I think we'll be happy with the results," defenseman Yannick Weber said. "Every game is new, and we know what we have to do. We weren't happy with the last two games. We had a lead, but we didn't play our game over 60 minutes. I think tomorrow gives us the opportunity to show the staff and the organization, as players, we can do that, and we're capable of winning those games."
And while the Preds know they have the ability to do so much more with the players on their roster, they also have points in three straight games and in four of their last five. There's always room for improvement, but there's still time to do so.
"At the end of the day, we're still getting some points right now," winger Cody Bass said. "We're not getting the results we want, but we're getting lots of scoring chances, we're just not having any luck. Our group, we have to stick together as a team. We have to be positive, I think we have to take the positives out of the game. We didn't get the two points, we still got a point, and we flip the script and we focus on tomorrow's game… It's a long year. It's a long, long year and we're only 10 games in. I don't think it's time to panic.
"If we put together 60 minutes of a complete effort, we're going to come in here feeling good, knowing that it's hard work, but we got the result we wanted, and then we flip the script and focus on the next game."
When the Predators sent Austin Watson to Milwaukee before the Opening Night roster was finalized, Head Coach Peter Laviolette stated he wanted the winger to continue playing top-line minutes in the AHL as opposed to being a scratch in the NHL. That way, when the Preds needed Watson, he'd be ready to jump right into the lineup without hesitation.
Watson returned to Nashville on Oct. 22 and hasn't missed a game since. And while he's yet to register a point through seven games this season, it's what he's doing on a nightly basis that has kept him in the lineup.
"The way he's playing the game, his speed and his attitude, he's physical, the puck is on his stick - [Matt Irwin's goal against Carolina], it happened because of Watson on the forecheck," Laviolette said. "His strides down the ice were fast, when he got there he forced things and that turned it over and allowed us to stay in the offensive zone. He's playing the game fast and hard right now, so he looks really good."
It's not just his head coach who has seen a change; Watson feels different, too. He's been in two fights this season, and his physicality has noticeably picked up. But it's also other parts of his game that are being recognized for the right reasons.
"For me, just coming back gave me confidence in my ability, just going out and playing the game and not being afraid to make mistakes," Watson said. "I'm very aware of being a two-way player out there, being responsible defensively, and sometimes I focus on that a little bit too much instead of just playing the game. So that's what I tried to do, when I went to Milwaukee and when I came back, just try to carry that through and it's been working out."
"I think he's more physical but, I think his game, it's like he's trying to play the game completely," Laviolette said. "It's not just about getting off the ice without making a mistake, it's about having an impact in the game and executing what we need to do on the ice, so it's been noticeable."
Like much of the Preds roster, Watson wouldn't mind chipping in on the scoresheet from time to time either, but he knows as the rest of his game falls in line, those elements are bound to come eventually.
"A lot of it is just coming with confidence; I'm playing with speed, I'm playing on instinct instead of thinking too much and being a step behind," Watson said. "This is probably the most comfortable I've felt at this level… just the confidence in my abilities to play and help this team."
Defenseman Anthony Bitetto (IR, upper-body) took to the ice in a non-contact jersey with the full team today for the first time since being injured on Opening Night as he continues his recovery process. Captain Mike Fisher (upper-body, day-to-day) did not practice on Monday.
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