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Team chemistry coming together as preseason winds down for the Predators

CluneTBL

Sep 24, 2013


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Coming off their first preseason win against the New York Islanders on Sunday evening, the Nashville Predators didn’t hardly resemble the team that dropped the puck in a doubleheader against the Florida Panthers one week prior.

Instead, after three rounds of roster cuts and counting, Nashville has slowly started to formulate their opening night roster. Their on-ice product now resembling a team ready for next Thursday night’s opener in St. Louis, rather than a team that had been struggling to find its identity.

“There is a lot of positivity right now. I think that just comes from the camp we’ve had. We had an extremely hard first four days. I think it might have been a little bit evident in our play in Florida. We flew in in the morning, we were all dog tired. We battled, we played hard, we didn’t win. We pushed ourselves, we were pushed extremely hard the first four days. I think once we got over that hump, now we’re starting to come together,” said Predators forward Rich Clune.

At the start of last year’s lockout-shortened season, Nashville began with only two wins in their first seven games. While they won the next four, they couldn’t grab a firm grasp on the rest of the regular season, finding themselves near the bottom of the league and collecting a top five draft pick for the first time since their inception as a franchise.

It’s a place the Predators don’t want to find themselves again, knowing a hot start is what they’ll need to catapult them early in the season.

“It’s the time of the year you want to start building, because in this league you got to come out of the gates flying. You can’t be slow, you can’t rack up a bunch of losses early because it’s hard to get back. Once a month or two into the season and you’re behind a lot of games, it’s hard to make them up,” said Predators forward Matt Hendricks.

With new faces aplenty for Nashville, finding the right combination of lines for opening night could seem like a tall task with only one week remaining. Yet for the Predators, some lines already seem set and ready. Rich Clune, Paul Gaustad, and Matt Hendricks took the opening face-off for Nashville and drove the tempo of the game throughout the night, showing that their chemistry could quite possibly be in mid-season form already.

“They’re a pretty reliable line. They threw out their energy line and I just said, ‘Hey, let’s win the draw at the beginning and establish our forecheck a little bit. Let’s not trade chances with them. Let’s grind it out against them and wear their D down and get pucks to the net.’ We didn’t get rewarded the way we’d like to at that point, but I thought we forced them to really fight for the ice, which is a really hard way to play,” said head coach Barry Trotz. “It’s hard for them to play against, but it’s easy for us. When we play easy, it makes it hard on us. The Gaustad line does a great job of puck possession, they are going to wear people down and draw penalties. They’re going to create a lot of down low mismatches, because they’re all intelligent players who can battle.”

“We’re not looking to do anything stupid, we’re just trying to play hard and play well. Pound guys up against the glass and sustain offensive pressure. We all play hard down below the other team’s goal line. We wear teams down,” said Clune. “It was our first game together. We’ve practiced a lot together, but we put on a display of puck possession down low and what we’re capable of. It’s going to be hard to play against us. We keep coming and coming, most shifts we’re in the other teams end.”

With only two more preseason games remaining before the end of training camp, time is winding down for Nashville to make their final roster cuts and open the season next Thursday evening. When all is said and done, the Predators may already be primed to start on the right foot, regardless of how the next few days proceed.

“Line combinations are starting to take mold and we’re having fun. Pre-season is nothing, though. A team could win every game in preseason and it doesn’t mean anything,” said Clune. “What I’m encouraged about is the team unity that we’re starting to form. We’re working together.”

Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua