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Preds Practice Report: Feb. 8

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
The Preds used Wednesday as "body maintenance day" holding meetings instead of on-ice practice. With a strenuous closing stretch to the season, the coaching staff will continue to look for ways to keep the team "fresh" and maintain energy; limiting on-ice practice time is one option down the stretch. Players were available after the team film sessions, so now on to the latest news and notes from today's meetings.

In Goal:
Coach Trotz hinted that Pekka Rinne would play both games on the road trip. When asked about finding time off for his goaltender, Trotz playfully responded with a quip about Rinne's near week off during the All-Star Break. And the Preds have a lighter two-game week on the horizon next week with two days off between Saturday's game at Boston and Tuesday night's match-up against Chicago and another two-day layoff before Detroit on Friday night. Still, Goalie Coach Mitch Korn and Strength and Conditioning Coach David Good do stay in constant communication with Rinne and monitor his body language/energy level and try to lighten his workload in practice down the backstretch of the season. The schedule right now just doesn't seem to warrant a game off, however the Preds play six games in 10 days to close out February, so look for Lindback to have an opportunity (or two) to get some playing time later in the month.

Tomorrow night's game in Ottawa will be a homecoming for Preds center Mike Fisher. After 11 seasons with the Senators, this will be his first game back in Ottawa as a member of the visiting team. Coach Trotz admitted the emotions of the game; it's something the players and coaches are aware of. Don't be too surprised if Trotz elects to let the Fisher line open the game --- give the fans in Ottawa a chance to recognize Fisher's time with the Senators and give Fisher a chance to get that opening shift out the way. "I've been looking forward to it for a long time, but I'm sure it is going to be a little strange going into the visiting locker room," Fisher said. "But that being said, as an athlete you get ready for playoff games and there are different emotions, excitement and you have to learn to just channel it. I'm sure (tomorrow night) will be a little like that. But you know what, when the puck drops it is all business and it is all the same." Still, Fisher has fond memories of his time up in Ottawa. "Those fans treated me so well for so long; I have a lot of good memories up there."

Depth Gives Coaches Options: Coach Trotz talked today about the benefits of the team's extra forward depth; he's been able to make lineup decisions based on match-ups instead of health.
They Said It...
"You're not going to value Smitty on points and assists, you're going to value him on faceoffs and defensive play and leadership and work-ethic and all those things," Coach Trotz said. "If you look at stats, that's not what Jerred Smithson's about. People who make that mistake (of focusing solely on goals and assists) really don't understand the fabric of the game and what you need to win."
--Barry Trotz, On Jerred Smithson's importance to the team
Brandon Yip has stepped in and provided key minutes and valuable game performances since being claimed on waivers. Similarly, Gabriel Bourque has provided a high-energy checking forward since his recall in late December. As a result the coaches have eight quality options for the final six forward slots. Jerred Smithson was an addition to the lineup last night in part because of Vancouver's power-play prowess and strength as a puck possession team. Smithson is one of the team's most reliable penalty kill forwards. Smithson is also one of the league's best faceoff specialists; gaining possession of the puck off the faceoff was one of the keys to preventing Vancouver from settling into their offensive flow. Smithson responded last night by winning 7 of his 8 faceoffs, including 5-of-6 in the defensive zone. Similarly, St. Louis's propensity for pugilism made Brian McGrattan a strong play for the game Thursday night against the Blues. Look for the coaches to mix-and-match the lineup on a game-by-game basis as they try to get the best match-ups.

Where It All Started:
Three current Preds players were selected at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft held in Ottawa, forward Colin Wilson was the 7th overall pick in that year's draft, defenseman Roman Josi was the 38th overall pick (2nd Round), and goaltender Anders Lindback was the 207th overall pick (7th Round). Wilson already made one appearance back in Ottawa, picking up his first career assist (second career point) in a wild 6-5 overtime win for the Preds back in 2009-10. This is the first career appearances for both Josi and Lindback in Ottawa. "That was a pretty special day and I'm excited to go back there," Josi said. "The draft weekend was a lot of fun. My family with me. We had a great time there. It was the first time I had been to an NHL rink so it was all new to me. We just had a good time that weekend, especially after I got drafted by Nashville. to go back there and play for the first time, it's going to be a special game for me."

Feel Of The Race:
The last few years Nashville has spent February and March chasing to make up ground on the playoff pack. This season the Preds enter February inside the playoff picture with a double-digit points lead over the No. 9 team in the Conference. "It's a little different feel," Coach Trotz said. "I think our team has grown to a little different level as we've gone along here. I believe that from our standpoint this is an important time for us. This is a dress rehersal for the long-haul. I have expectations.... We have certain goals. And we have goals that we focus on from a weekly standpoint as well. Good teams don't look back, they look forward."

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