Photo: Doug Brumley
Forward Jordin Tootoo will add the role of penalty killer to his repertoire this season, according to head coach Barry Trotz.
While there have been entertaining team competitions during this week's training camp in Orlando, hard work has been underway on the ice and in team meetings. During the past few practices, for example, the team has been focusing on the power play and the penalty kill. With the stricter enforcement of penalties in the "new NHL," strong special teams play is now a necessity. Given the firepower the Predators have, the team's power play should be one of the most feared in the league. On the penalty kill, however, off-season transitions have seen a number of short-handed specialists depart Nashville. In fact, the four players who averaged the most short-handed ice time per game for Nashville last season are no longer in the Predators lineup.
"I think we're going to be OK," Trotz said of the coming season's PK units. "Penalty killing is hard work and understanding what the other team is trying to do to you. It's all about the other team trying to play 2-on-1's and you trying to prevent them from creating those situations. And also putting them in pressure situations where they've got to put the puck through people.
"We've got some good guys that have good qualities to do big penalty killing. They've got good instincts, they're quick, they've got quick sticks, and they read the play fairly well. There will be some guys doing it more than they did last year. I think it might be a guy like Jordin Tootoo. That might be something that he's got [as] another step in his development. Scottie Upshall as well. We're looking this year at [those two] doing a little more of that."
Both Tootoo and Upshall were among those working on the penalty kill during Thursday's practice session. "[Tootoo] looks real good," said Scott Nichol, one of last year's PK stalwarts who is returning. "You've got to get him on the ice. If he doesn't play penalty kill or power play--a lot of the game is special teams--then he sits on the bench a lot. He anticipates the puck really well and he skates well. He can be taught to be a penalty killer. All it is is hard work. All you've got to do is outwork the five guys that are out there and be good positionally. Everyone started raw. We lost a lot of key penalty killers last year. As a group we're really going to have to bear down and kill in numbers this year."
Having a speedy player like forward Steve Sullivan contributing to the penalty-kill efforts helps as well. Sullivan chipped in four short-handed goals in 2005-06, when the Predators finished in the top third of the league with a total of 12 short-handed tallies. Nichol sees that type of pressure continuing this season.
"We'll try and kill in their end," he said. "We have so much speed, we can get in on them. We'd rather kill in their end than in our end. There are a lot of great players in this league that will make you look silly. One good thing is we get to kill against our team [in practice] and we probably have one of the better power plays in the league. It'll really open our eyes up."
Team Nichol closes gap in team challenge
Photo: Doug Brumley
Defenseman Dan Hamhuis scores on goalie Chris Mason to give Team Nichol a much-needed win in Thursday's team challenge competition.
The standings in the team challenge tightened up on Thursday, as Team Nichol got a big win in a timed 3-on-0 event to draw within 3-2 of Team Mason. Wednesday's poker tournament, which was initially designed to be part of the weeklong series of competitive events, ultimately had no bearing on the team points.
"With poker, we changed it to individual," forward Scott Nichol said. "It would have been too hard to track. But we would have cleaned house. We had four of the top five left at the table. We would have done really well. We won today, so we're down 3-2 in points. Like I said last time, every competition has been right to the wire. Even today was right to the wire."
The poker tournament was won by rookie hopeful Alexander Radulov, who beat goaltender Tomas Vokoun. "The Russian Assassin," Predators head coach Barry Trotz dubbed Radulov Thursday. "He knocked out the more regular guys that play Texas Hold 'Em. That was good. 'Vokie' made it to second and he never plays. I guess there's a little bit of luck, a little bit of smarts in that, but the guys had a real fun time. It was a good team-builder yesterday."
As for Thursday's on-ice competition, which followed practice and had three-man lines trying to score on a defenseless goalie, it was entertaining for everyone but the netminders.
"We started at the red line and came in," Nichol said of the fast-break drill. "Everyone had to touch the puck at least once. We had 10 seconds for the first round to do it, then eight seconds, then like five seconds. You had to really pick it up a little bit. We had some real nice goals. The guys you thought would score didn't score, and guys who you didn't think would score did. The lines were all changed up and mixed and matched. It probably wasn't too fair on the goalies. 'Vokie' made a real nice save. I think that was the turning point there when he reached behind him and saved it with the paddle of his stick."
Defenseman Dan Hamhuis netted the deciding goal, and Team Nichol celebrated with hugs and exclamations before jokingly posing for a championship photo on the ice. Coaches have kept the teams in the dark with regard to the number of total competitions, but there is at least one more that will take place on Friday, according to Trotz.