Thursday may have been the official opening of 2015 Nashville Predators Training Camp, but when players and coaches hit the ice at Centennial Sportsplex on Friday for the first time as a cohesive unit, there was no denying hockey is back.
Two groups of skaters and goaltenders participated in on-ice activities for about 90 minutes each, picking up the tempo with each subsequent drill. As is the norm, the excitement and anticipation levels were heightened.
“It felt good to get back out there and have a competitive practice,” forward Mike Fisher said. “I think everyone’s excited, maybe a little bit nervous, but obviously it’s an exciting time to get rolling. We’re looking forward to a great season and we feel confident as a group. That obviously brings added excitement around the building.”
“I thought that the practices were good,” Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. “They’re kind of twofold; one is to push the pace and make sure we’re going to get our speed and conditioning up to where it needs to be and the other is to take the drills and implement our system and style and an identity that we want to play with. Those are the two main focuses are the speed of the game and the identity that we want to play. I think we accomplished that out there.”
Entering his second campaign behind the bench in Nashville, Laviolette didn’t see anything out of the ordinary for the start of a training camp from his players, after expecting there to be a small lag at times with everyone getting back into the grind that is an NHL season.
“Everybody, I think, shakes off a little bit of rust,” Laviolette said. “The first day back always provides jitters for some and shaking off the rust for others, but overall I thought it was a pretty good day.
“I know we’ve got to be a well-conditioned team. We got to be able to push the pace and play that type of style we’re looking for, so conditioning and systems are a few things we’re really going to hammer through training camp.”
For hockey players and fans alike, the summer is officially over. The Preds have less than three weeks to prepare for the regular season, and the club has high expectations for what’s ahead.
“This year, we expect to be better,” Fisher said. “We’re real confident in the group we have and we want to take that next step and be better. Our ultimate goal is winning that Cup and that starts today.”
Preds Begin Feeling Out 3-on-3 OT:
There will be plenty of open ice this season in the NHL when games go beyond regulation, and the Preds wasted no time on Friday preparing for the upcoming change.
Overtime will feature just three skaters per side in 2015-16, a tweak that will certainly present some new challenges to all involved, and the Predators finished both on-ice sessions on Day One of training camp with a full-ice, 3-on-3 drill.
“It’s going to be strange,” Captain Shea Weber said of the new overtime format. “It’s a whole different thing out there. You’re going to have to change your mindset. There’s going to be some feeling out at first, especially through exhibition I’m sure and the early season with overtime. Once you get halfway through the regular season or so, just like you get used to other rule changes, I think guys will get used to it.”
The Preds will get their first chance to become acclimated to the change this Sunday when they host the Florida Panthers in a preseason doubleheader. Regardless of the score at the end of regulation in the second game of the day, 3-on-3 overtime will follow, allowing both clubs an opportunity to test things out.
The concept may be new to the NHL, but those in the American Hockey League saw it in action throughout the 2014-15 season. Laviolette says the Preds have certainly surveyed those who have experienced it, as well as utilizing some film on the subject.
“We’ve talked about some certain strategies that we might be looking for and it’s going to be, I think, a feeling out process,” Laviolette said. “We went back and looked at a lot of videotape from the American Hockey League teams that were successful and how games ended and that sort of thing. We tried to put that on the table today and introduce it, so not only being a little bit of a conditioning skate at the end, but maybe working on something we’re going to have to work on early in the exhibition games.”
So who might the Predators want on the ice when they can only choose three skaters at once? There are plenty of options, but that too will also likely require ample experimentation.
“Honestly, I think it’s tough to tell, it’s too early,” Weber said. “I think some teams might even go with three forwards… If you’ve got a good defensive forward that can play offense, then maybe you’re willing to risk it and put him out there with two really offensive guys. Or maybe you just want one solid, stay-at-home defenseman with two really offensive guys. [The coaches] play around with it for sure. With preseason, I think it’ll be something of a feeling out process.”
“He’s quick and he scores goals. Everybody likes that.”
The analysis from Laviolette on Steve Moses’ first day on the ice at training camp was concise and poignant.
Inquiring minds have wondered if the 26-year-old rookie will be able to successfully transition to the NHL from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), where he set the league’s goal-scoring record in 2014-15 with 36 goals in 60 games. On Friday, Moses hushed at least some of the critics by demonstrating his two greatest attributes according to his new coach: speed and scoring.
“The KHL is still a great league; you put up 36 goals in  games, and you’ve got to have skill and ability to do that,” Laviolette said. “Talking about our top six [forwards], obviously he lends himself more to those top-six numbers and power-play time than the bottom six, so he’s got work to do in camp.”
Moses says he’s ready to prove his four seasons with Jokerit in Helsinki, Finland, and quartet of years at the University of New Hampshire before that, were the preparation he needed to achieve his dream of reaching the NHL, even if it comes a few years later than desired.
“As far as the competition, there were plenty of guys that have had success in the NHL, although you can’t necessarily say it translates, but there are guys like [Ilya] Kovalchuk who I played with and against regularly, so that kind of helps with being wide-eyed when you get here,” Moses said.
“The way the game is played now, it’s allowed some guys to show the skills and abilities they have. The rule changes after the lockout were a big help with not allowing guys to just be pulled down and interfered with. I think my abilities will translate well over here.”
Predators center Mike Ribeiro showed some early flashes of chemistry with Moses during the team’s first day on the ice at camp. Moses’ speed is evident even after watching him skate for just a few minutes, and on Friday, he was repeatedly one-timing pucks past Predators netminders as well.
“He’s a guy with a lot of speed, so that’s an advantage for him, when a winger can skate like that. He’s got good hands and a good shot,” Ribeiro said of Moses. “He’s a guy that works hard at tracking back and stuff, so now it comes down to a game situation and just seeing how he does. But I thought he did great today.”
A smaller-sized player himself, Ribeiro said the evolution of the game may be Moses’ most beneficial asset when trying to find his place in the NHL. Players all under six feet tall, such as Sidney Crosby, Claude Giroux and Tyler Johnson, now regularly rank as top scorers.
“Back then it was more about hooking and holding, and now it’s more about speed,” Ribeiro said. “The game is so fast now and team’s are getting faster. I think if you’re smaller than usually you’re faster, and it’s just a speed game now, everything has to be faster than it used to be.”
Still, things won’t be easy for Moses. But with two days of NHL training camp under his belt, he’s satisfied with the chance he’s being given. He’s passed the tests presented to him so far and with a little more quickness and goal scoring, he says he’s ready for what’s ahead.
“There are a lot of challenges; it usually doesn’t happen if you’re my age,” Moses said. “When you’re 24 or 25 and you haven’t made it, that’s usually it. I was in a position where I was able to have some success and put my name back out there, so I feel lucky to be here. I’m not going to look at things as negatives or a lot of challenges, so I’m excited to get going and there’s kind of nothing to lose.”
The Preds will be back at Centennial Sportsplex on Saturday morning for the second day of on-ice sessions, beginning with the White group at 9:35 a.m., followed by the Gold group at 12:35 p.m. The practices are free and open to the public.
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