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Preds Practice Report: Feb. 13

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
After a day off on Sunday, the Preds took the ice on Monday morning to prepare for Tuesday night's Central Division Showdown against the Chicago Blackhawks. It was a very fast paced up-tempo practice with most of the session focusing on full line drills --- a lot of five-on-five full ice drills and several forward line vs. forward line rushes.

It was clear the coaches were not happy with the team's level of execution on the recent road trip ... and just as clear that point was relayed to the players. The coaches kept a stern outlook on the session today; Coach Trotz interrupted drills on several occasions to voice his concern about the level of execution.

Today's Line Combinations:
      Grey - Fisher centering Erat and Kostitsyn
      White - Legwand centering Bourque and Hornqvist
      Green - Smith centering Halischuk and Yip
      Yellow - Spaling, Smithson, Tootoo, Wilson
Brian McGrattan -- who missed the recent road trip with an upper body injury -- skated on his own after the full team practice

Bourque Moving Up...
For much of the road trip Coach Trotz slid winger Gabriel Bourque up to a more prominent role along side David Legwand's line. While the coaches juggled lines around throughout the two games to try to find a spark of energy and consistency, Bourque was back on a line with Legwand and Patric Hornqvist for practice today. Legwand has been impressed with the rookie's play, noting Bourque's abilities to handle the intangibles --- stretch the defense with his speed, apply pressure on the forecheck, win battles along the boards, provide reliable coverage in the defensive zone. The trio are an interesting combination: Bourque and Legwand can use their speed to create opportunities in transition and are both dangerous on the forecheck winning battles along the boards or creating turnovers on the dump-and-chase. Additionally, Hornqvist draws so much attention around the front of the net and the Preds defensemen draw so much attention along the blueline that it opens up space in the seams in between for Legwand and Bourque. If Bourque and Legwand can utelize that space to get pucks on net, the line has a good chance to be productive; Hornqvist is most dangerous setting screens and cleaning up rebounds and both Legwand and Bourque like to crash the net for rebouds.

They Said It...
"If we can beat them we can really put some distance between us and them and make it difficult on them. And they know that and they're going to be ready. We have to be much better at the start than we've been the last couple of games."
--Mike Fisher, On tomorrow night's game against Chicago
Coach Speak...
Coach Trotz spent most of his media session taking subtle digs at the team, stating the old coaching cliche that the Preds need to focus on their game and fix the errors on their side and then the results will flow from that. He hinted that the team's focus may have waned a bit coming out of the All-Star Break and players may have "gotten too full of themselves" and "stopped doing the little things that brought wins." Those were clearly items he addressed during drills today. Trotz did soften at times stating that  the potential for this team is still high when they do focus on "Predators hockey" much like they were during January. And luckily for the coaching staff, both of the teams next two opponents -- Chicago and Detroit -- traditionally tend to grab the focus of the guys in the locker room. Look for a much more inspired effort on Tuesday night versus the Hawks.

...And the Players See The Same...
To their credit, after practice the players all voiced a similar recognition --- the level of play the past two weeks was not where they need it to be and they intend to change it. "We haven't really played great since the Break, so we need to get back to how we were playing in January," Mike Fisher said. "Play the way we know we can play. That's just outworking teams and being smart and being ready to play."

At the same time, the players expressed a confidence that the answers were in the locker room and by refocusing on "detail plays" the team would re-find the groove they were in through the month of January. "We feel we can still get first place. Detroit's playing well right now, but we have a couple games left against them and we've got a game at hand. We have to be ready. It's going to be a tough battle through the end. We can't get complaisant."

A Different Feel, But Similar Agenda...
The past few seasons the Preds have been see-sawing the playoff cutline for most of February, March and into April; this year the Preds find themselves in a slightly different situation with a five point lead over No. 6 seed Chicago and a 10 point cushion over the playoff cutline. However, David Legwand doesn't see much different in the team's approach, "In any year you want to get in and clinch a playoff spot as soon as possible. Obviously we played well before the break and we've been .500 after, but we haven't been very good (in these last six games). We have to get better. You don't want to go down to the final stretch of games and have to worry about the race night-in and night-out. "

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