All of a sudden, there's only one week to go.
Next Friday night, the Nashville Predators will begin their 19th season in franchise history. Between now and then, they'll have a few practices, and one more preseason tune up.
The Preds head to Tampa Bay tomorrow to face the Lightning, the final opportunity for Head Coach Peter Laviolette and his staff to see their players in game action before the real thing. Although the roster has dwindled and the regular season is fast approaching, there is still work to be done.
"We're still evaluating; it'll probably be a bit of a mixed lineup," Laviolette said of his plans. "In training camp, you're dealing with some bumps and bruises going on - nothing serious. All of our guys are out here, but we want to make sure, more than anything, that we're ready for the home opener against Chicago. We're still evaluating, still implementing, still working on things in practice, but it'll probably still be a little bit of a mixed lineup down there."
This past week was a big one for the Preds. Not only did they participate in two exhibition games at home, featuring the first game action for players like P.K. Subban and Pekka Rinne of the preseason, but it also meant the return of defenseman Roman Josi to practice after rejoining the club from the World Cup of Hockey.
According to Laviolette, that addition made a big difference in his club's itinerary moving forward.
"When it comes to a big meeting or something big going on, you want to wait until all of your pieces get back in the locker room," Laviolette said. "So when Roman got back to us, I felt like we started getting on the ice as a team, as a group and working on things. It's not that we weren't before, but I think just the World Cup gives it a little bit of a different feel in training camp."
At this point in the preseason, players aren't necessarily worried about keeping up with the competition. Rather, many are honing in on nuances within the game, whatever they feel needs tweaking in the present.
"Just reading pressure, I think that's one of the big things is realizing how much time you have out there in certain areas," forward Craig Smith said. "There's an element to playing fast, but at the same time, realizing you have time to make a play and realizing when the plays are there are important. Your passes are on the tape and it's crisp and clean so that you're pumping at all cylinders when the first game starts."
The break between games - six days in total - is notable when it comes to hockey, and although Saturday doesn't count for anything in the standings, a win certainly wouldn't hurt the operation.
Video: Ryan Johansen talks about the final preseason game
"You can get a lot out of the last preseason game because it's all about confidence in professional sports," center Ryan Johansen said. "As a team, if we can go into Tampa, execute a good game plan, play a hard 60-minute game and be able to go the six days between the first game against the Blackhawks and feel good about ourselves, I think that's huge. We're going to go down there with the mindset to win a hockey game and hopefully we can do that."
On one hand, there's still a week to go before the 19th season in franchise history begins. On the contrary, there's only a week remaining.
"Are we there yet? No, I don't know that any team is there yet, but we don't have to be there today," Laviolette said. "We have to be there by next Friday."
Start Your Engines:
There's been plenty of pucks and sticks to go around over the past few weeks. Mixing in a steering wheel and some competitive spirit was a welcome addition.
After Thursday's practice, Captain Mike Fisher got the Preds away from the rink to test their luck on the go-kart track, just the thing to take their minds off the game for a few hours. While it's clear the participants are particularly adept on the ice, they apparently weren't all that bad on the track either - depending on who you consult.
"Overall, we were pretty good; the people working there, they were impressed with the skills," center Ryan Johansen laughed. "There was a little go-kart action when we were leaving the place too… No, we had a great time though, and it was fun."
"It was a lot of fun - Fish and Smitty were pretty good," forward Cody Bass said. "A couple of guys weren't so good, but I won't drop their names."
Video: Cody Bass talks about Nashville's preseason
Team bonding is always talked about as something that carries just as much importance as anything else in the course of a season, and if Thursday's outing was any indication, this Preds team is already quite close.
"It's amazing, and to build some team camaraderie and bring a group together like that," Bass said. "Camp is hard mentally and physically, and to kind of get away and have some fun like that, it's like hitting the reset button. Yesterday was a good day, today was a good day, and hopefully tomorrow for the last preseason game will be a good day, too."