Much has been made about the number of pucks the Nashville Predators have been putting into the nets of their opposition - and rightfully so.
After all, through their first six games to start the 2019-20 NHL season, the Preds are tied for the League lead in goals scored with 28. And their mark of 4.67 goals-per-game? That's the best out of all 31 challengers.
It's a small sample size, but it's worth celebrating too. It's led the Preds to a 4-2-0 record through two weeks, a period of time that has seen the group score at least five goals in four of their six outings.
On the contrary, the numbers on the defensive side of the puck haven't been up to Nashville's standards just yet, and while it's early, it's not a trait the Predators want lingering much longer.
But they're getting better, and Tuesday night's effort in Nevada against the Golden Knights - a 5-2 bounce-back win in a hostile environment - was arguably the best showing of the season from the Preds.
When asked about Nashville's offensive prowess following the victory over Vegas, Head Coach Peter Laviolette said the topic hasn't been much of a discussion point in the locker room to date. Rather, it's the other side of the ice they've been focused on, and things are looking up.
"The goals are great, but to me, it was nice to see things really ratchet down in the second period and the third period against a team that's high-octane," Laviolette said Tuesday night. "The goals are great, but I was happy about the second and the third and the way we were able to just shut it down a little bit."
"It's coming," Preds Associate Captain Ryan Ellis said of the defensive efforts. "[Goaltender Pekka Rinne] had to make some big saves [on Tuesday] that we try not to put on our goalies, but all in all… it's coming along."
As the Predators reflected on the previous night during Wednesday's optional practice and off-ice workouts in Arizona, defenseman Mattias Ekholm agreed that Tuesday's win in Vegas was something to be proud of moivng forward.
The blueliner believes the Preds were sharper in their own end than they have been in any other outing this season, and a couple of things stood out. For one, Nashville's defense off the rush. Ellis mentioned it following Tuesday's win as well, and Ekholm described why that aspect of the game can sometimes be difficult to handle.
Video: Rinne stops 33 shots in Predators' 5-2 win
"Rush defense is really hard these days because there's a lot of spinoffs, delays, and then their fourth and fifth man is coming up in the zone, and maybe our forward is a little bit behind him," Ekholm said of handling the attack of the opposition. "So, maybe a little more communication and working together… and maybe we can play more of a team game to keep them on the outside until our fifth guy gets back. It's about communication, and it's about knowing what the situation is like, because every situation is obviously different."
The Predators aren't making excuses, but there's also an adjustment period that just about every player on every team goes through in the early going. Now six games in, Nashville can see the improvement coming, and while it won't be flawless every night, they know they have the personnel to uphold their standard of being one of the stingier teams in the NHL.
"We would like it to be great tomorrow again and then just hit it off from there the rest of the season, but we know it's a long year and it's going to have its ups and downs," Ekholm said of the defense. "I'm sure we'll have stretches when we're going to do great for 10 games, and then it's going to come two, three, four games where maybe aren't as happy with it. That's just the long year and 82 games. It's hard to be playing perfect hockey in this League."
But as long as they do so more often than not, the Preds are going to be just fine. Laviolette also expounded upon what he's looking for from his team on a consistent basis, and he too knows things will continue coming together in time.
"There's been structure in the offensive zone that we've broken, and because of that there's numbers coming back the other way," Laviolette, a former defenseman himself, said. "There's puck decisions where we didn't manage the puck properly in the neutral zone or offensive zone, and it comes back quickly the other way. There are defensive things that I think we can do better, defensive things off the rush that we can do better, so there's a bunch of things that we're talking about and trying to crack down.
"But that's defense. It doesn't matter what zone you're in, whether it's the forecheck or neutral zone defense or defensive zone coverage, that's defense. If you're competing and working in those battles and playing the game with some purpose, then good things will happen."
With their three-game trip set to conclude tomorrow night in Arizona, the Preds have a chance to return home with four out of a possible six points on the season's first excursion. Nashville still feels like they let at least one point slip away Saturday in Los Angeles, but there's nothing they can do about it now.
What they can control is the present, and that includes those early-season lessons on keeping the puck out of their own net - and they've certainly figured things out on the other side of the ice thus far.
"The offense has shown up every game," Ekholm said. "I feel like we can score goals, we can score three goals in a minute if that's what's needed, but I really feel like if we can keep their scoring and their scoring chances to a low number, we have a greater chance obviously to win the game. That's got to be the focus, and that's got to be probably the number one thing that we want to build off of."
Filip Forsberg Update:
The Nashville forward left Tuesday's game in Las Vegas during the third period and did not return. On Wednesday in Arizona, Laviolette had this to say on the status of his star winger: "We'll see where he's at tomorrow. He's probably a game-time decision with a lower-body injury."