It was just the second day of training camp when coach Peter Laviolette got a good look at Pekka Rinne’s second effort.
The Nashville Predators goalie slid to his right to make a save then immediately dove back to his left to make another. Laviolette, the new coach, banged his stick on the ice in admiration.
“Everything for him is second effort,” Laviolette said later. “He never quits on the puck or a play. Some of the ones that he actually gets back and he grabs where you think they’re tapping it into an empty net, it’s worthy of recognition.”
Local fans get their first look at the Predators under Laviolette on Thursday when Nashville hosts Tampa Bay (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena) in a preseason contest.
The same teams met two nights earlier in Tampa and the Lightning won 4-2. This time, though, the lineups will be different, and Nashville’s clearly is designed to make a good first impression. Among those in uniform for the Predators will be their top defense pairing (Shea Weber and Roman Josi), the two newcomers expected to play on the first line (James Neal and Mike Ribeiro) and a couple of recent first-round draft picks (Austin Watson and Kevin Fiala).
And Rinne will be the starting goalie and play the first half of the game.
Goalies: Pekka Rinne, Marek Mazanec
Defensemen: Shea Weber, Romas Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Anton Volchenkov, Joe Piskula, Johan Alm
Forwards: James Neal, Mike Ribeiro, Eric Nystrom, Olli Jokinen, Gabriel Bourque, Paul Gaustad, Taylor Beck, Rich Clune, Filip Forsberg, Calle Jarnkrok, Austin Watson, Kevin Fiala
As Nashville transitions to a different style of play under Laviolette, Rinne’s ability to erase mistakes made in front of him will be critical.
“We want to play an up-tempo, fast game and now I feel like we have tools to do that,” Rinne said. “I feel like we have more skill. We have more speed. We have more scoring this year. Obviously it’s easy to say all these things but we need to show that on the ice.”
On the other hand, Laviolette and everyone else in the organization hopes to see the same, old Rinne, the one who was a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist. Post-surgical complications limited him to 24 games played last season and his extended absence undeniably was a factor in the franchise’s failure to make the playoffs for the second straight year.
“It’s one of those positions that you need to make sure you’re set in and Pekka looks like he’s back in form,” Laviolette said. “There’s certain positions in sports where you have to have it, it’s got to be there in order for you to be successful. You can talk about a quarterback or you can talk about a starting pitcher in baseball, whatever it is, and goaltending is one of those positions that is a make or break thing.
“It’s good that he looks like he’s back and on top of his form.”
Peter Laviolette already has done something Barry Trotz did not.
He lost his first preseason game as Nashville Predators head coach.
The Predators led after two periods Tuesday, but goalie Marek Mazanec allowed three third-period goals and they fell 4-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Tampa. That was the same score in Trotz’s first competitive situation, but the result was different. Nashville won its 1998 preseason opener 4-2 over Florida at Huntsville, Ala.
Filip Forsberg scored started the scoring 1:02 into the second period, and Craig Smith put Nashville up 2-1 at 7:40 of the second. Colin Wilson and free agent forward Derek Roy, respectively, assisted on the goals.
Mazanec played the final 26:56 and allowed three goals on 15 shots. Carter Hutton started in the nets and made 19 saves on 20 shots.
The Predators failed to convert on any of their five power play chances.
Of course, preseason games don't count in standings or records, etc. And for the record, the Predators lost their first regular-season game under Trotz.
Laviolette, no doubt, would like things to go differently in that regard as well.
Taylor Beck knows it won’t be as easy for the Nashville Predators to send him to Milwaukee this season even though the franchise once again has made it difficult for him to make the NHL roster.
“I’m out of my entry-level deal now,” he told the Nashville Post. “If they want to send me down, I’ll have to go through waivers. So we’ll see what happens.”
The 23-year-old forward was one of the bright spots of the disastrous, lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. He stood out among a host of young players who got NHL opportunities due to a rash of injuries with seven points (three goals, four assists) in 16 games.
Rather than make room for the 2009 third-round pick (70th overall) last season, though, management did just the opposite. They signed four veteran free agent forwards and basically guaranteed Beck would play another year in the American Hockey League.
He was recalled (briefly) twice and appeared in just seven games.
This season, another round of veteran forwards (Olli Jokinen, Mike Ribeiro and Derek Roy) was added, which has clouded Beck’s future with the organization. If Nashville wants him to go to back to Milwaukee, where he was the team’s second-leading scorer last season, every other team will have a chance to claim him first.
“I feel like I belong here,” he said. “A couple years ago, I felt like I played really good. Last year, I’m not sure I got the same opportunity that I got the year before. But I was happy with the way I played. Obviously, I want to contribute more offensively than I did last year and just show that I can play at the top level.”
During the early days of training camp, he is one of several young players who has worked on a line with Ribeiro and James Neal, who figure to comprise two-thirds of the Predators’ top line.
That suggests he at least has an opportunity. Others who have done the same are Gabriel Bourque and Filip Forsberg. Of the three, only Forsberg can go to Milwaukee without going through waivers.
The decision likely will come down to performance in preseason games, the first of which is Tuesday at Tampa Bay (6:30 p.m.).
“I’m an offensive guy,” Beck said. “So I want to do that every time I’m on the ice. It doesn’t matter what line I’m playing on, I want to contribute offensively but also be very responsible defensively and handling all aspects of the game away from the puck too.
“… It’s been a journey. So hopefully, it’s this year. We’ll see what happens the next couple weeks.”
And we’ll see where he ends up.
For once, it is not Ryan Ellis’ size that is the primary issue.
It is the size of his contract.
Ellis has missed the first four days of Nashville Predators training camp because he has refused to sign the qualifying offer the team made in order to retain his rights. With the first preseason game a day away at Tampa, the regular season opener two and a half weeks out and a new coaching staff in place, there impact of the 5-foot-10, 179-pound defenseman’s absence grows by the day.
“These things are happening through the course of the league, players not in camp,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “There’s nothing we can do about that here. I’ve got my team on the ice and we’re working hard to prepare. Those are things that are out of my control.”
The 11th overall pick in 2009, Ellis completed his entry-level contract last season when he appeared in 80 games for Nashville. He had six goals and 21 assists playing on the second or third defense pairing and as a part of the second power play unit.
Even without him, the Predators have six veteran defensemen, Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Seth Jones, Victor Bartley and free agent Anton Volchenkov. That means there is not necessarily a spot waiting for Ellis when he does come to terms on a new contract.
It’s clear that he wants more than the qualifying offer but because he is a restricted free agent, the Predators retain his rights and his options are limited.
“[We’ve had] conversations with nothing resolved,” general manager David Poile said, according to the Predators’ website. “It’s a typical negotiation that unfortunately has gone past the time of when you’d like to have something done and have [Ellis] here for training camp. There’s nothing really much to go into. It’s very simple: there’s a difference in dollars.
“We’ve talked shorter-term contracts and we’ve talked longer-term contracts and unfortunately at this time, we have not agreed yet on what they think and what we think is fair compensation. What we [both have] realized is the sooner we get it done, the better for us and better for Ryan.”
James Neal does not want to hear that he was in the right place at the right time.
Sure, as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins he was part of one of the NHL’s best offensive teams and played centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, each a league scoring champion and Hart Trophy winner within the last three seasons. In three full seasons with that franchise, Neal was basically a point-per-game performer (178 points, 179 games).
From his perspective, though, he was right where he should be.
“It takes a certain player to play with those guys,” Neal told the Nashville Post on Saturday. “It’s not the easiest job to play with those guys. They expect a lot out of you and you need to produce for them or you’re not going to be there. So I think it goes both ways.
“Obviously, it was fun to be able to play with (Crosby) and (Malkin) — (Malkin), for the most part. It was a whole lot of fun.”
In other words, he is confident he can be just as productive as a member of the Nashville Predators, who opened training camp Friday.
Nashville gave up a lot when it traded for the 27-year-old left wing in June. The deal included left wing Patric Hornqvist, the only Predators draft pick ever to score 30 goals for the team and one of only two players in franchise history (Jason Arnott was the other) to score 27 or more goals in more than one season.
Neal had 27 goals last season, just as he did for Dallas in 2009-10, his second full NHL season. His career-high was 40 with Pittsburgh in 2011-12, the year Malkin led the league in scoring. The challenge now is not for him to fit into the Predators’ attack but to elevate it.
“I don’t want to put all the pressure on James,” first-year coach Peter Laviolette said. “We brought him here for a reason. It was for his offensive talents. He’s a big, young strong winger that can create offense and that’s why we brought him here. But I truly think it will be a team concept that drives this team in the end.”
That his current team lacks the star power of his former one matters little to Neal.
“I came into the league and played with Mike Modano and Mike Ribeiro and then played with Brad Richards,” he said. “They’re all good centermen but each guy is different so you have to adjust your game to them.
“Lots of guys have played with great players and have not been able to produce.”
Fox Sports regional networks will televise 75 of the Nashville Predators’ 82 games, including the final 27, during the 2014-15 season, the Predators announced Tuesday.
The package includes all 41 road games (39 on Fox Sports-Tennessee, two on SportSouth) and 34 homes games (all on Fox Sports-Tennessee).
NBC Sports Network will provide national television coverage of one of the seven games not in the local Fox package, Feb. 26 vs. Minnesota.
The only games that won’t televised, therefore, are those on Oct. 14 vs. Calgary, Nov. 11 vs. Edmonton, Nov. 22 vs. Florida, Jan. 13 vs. Vancouver, and back-to-back contests Feb. 10 vs. Tampa Bay and Feb, 12 vs. Winnipeg.
Predators broadcasts on Fox networks this season will include a 30-minute pregame show for all home games and select road contests and a 30-minute postgame show for all contests. Both shows will feature Mark Howard and former color analyst Terry Crisp.
Stu Grimson will be the new television color analyst opposite play-by-play man Pete Weber.
If things continue as they did through the first two days of games at the Nashville Predators rookie tournament, Tuesday will produce the best action yet.
Teams of prospects from the Predators, Boston Bruins, Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning conclude the round-robin event with games at 10 a.m. (Florida vs. Tampa Bay) and 1 p.m. (Nashville vs. Boston) at the new Ford Ice Center in Antioch.
The Predators opened with a 2-1 victory Saturday against Tampa Bay and lost 3-1 to Florida on Sunday, but some of Nashville’s top performers said the overall level of play was better on the second day.
“I felt a lot better (Sunday),” center Colton Sissons said. “I felt a little bit weird and awkward getting back into top game shape (Saturday). I was really happy how I played (Sunday). We had some good chemistry.”
Sissons, serving as captain, scored the Predators’ only goal Sunday with an assist from Filip Forsberg, who has had a hand in all three goals. Forsberg scored the game-winner and had an assist on the first goal by in the victory over Tampa Bay.
“It was a little rusty (Saturday), but I think everyone is getting into gear,” Forsberg said. “It was looking way better (Sunday). … That’s probably what happens for a couple of guys. I think everyone played well (Sunday).”
The teams conducted practices Monday, which should only enhance the play on Tuesday.
There will be almost no such thing as a normal night at Nashville Predators’ games in 2014-15.
Between promotional items, special events and discount packages virtually all of the 41 home contests will feature something beyond just the hockey game.
The Predators released their promotional schedule Monday. It includes six Bobble Head giveaways, although only three of the players to be ‘honored’ in that fashion were released. There also are multiple opportunities to purchase tickets at a reduced rate.
PREDATORS PROMOTIONAL DATES
Saturday, Oct. 11 vs. Dallas: Magnetic schedule
Saturday, Oct. 25 vs. Pittsburgh: James Neal Bobble Head
Saturday, Nov. 15 vs. Winnipeg: Pekka Rinne Bobble Head
Saturday, Nov. 29 vs. Columbus: Marvel super hero gold capes (first 4,000 kids)
Saturday, Dec. 27 vs. Philadelphia: Shea Weber Bobble Head
Tuesday, Jan. 6 vs. Carolina: Growth Chart
Friday, Jan. 16 vs. Washington: Bobble Head (Player TBA)
Saturday, Feb. 7 vs. New York Rangers: Bobble Head (Player TBA)
Sunday, March 29 vs. Calgary: Bobble Head (Player TBA)
Saturday, April 4 vs. Dallas: Team Poster
Thursday, April 9 vs. Minnesota: Special Fan Appreciation Night Giveaway
Other highlights from the 2014-15 promotional package:
• McDonald’s Family Four Packs (four upper bowl tickets and four McDonald’s coupons for $99) are available for all Saturday games.
• Nissan Two for Tuesday (two lower bowl tickets, two hot dogs, two Pepsi products and one Predators car flag for $99) is available for all Tuesday contests.
• Jack in the Box Student Rush Nights packages (high school or college students get a lower level ticket, a special T-shirt and a Jack in the Box coupon for $35) will be available every Thursday.
• Toys for Tots will conduct toy drives at the Dec. 4 and 6 contests.
• Hockey Fights Cancer nights will be Nov. 15 and March 7.
• A Predators alumni game featuring former Nashville and Detroit players will take place following the Feb. 28 contest against the Red Wings.
• Active duty and retired military, and first responders can purchase tickets at a reduced rate ($55 lower bowl, $25 upper bowl) for all games. Purchases must be made at Bridgestone Arena ticket office.
Many people go to the desert to retire.
For Steve Sullivan, it is a place to start a new career.
The former Nashville Predators forward, whose playing career ended a year ago, will be the Phoenix Coyotes’ development coach. In that role he will work with players at all levels of the organization regarding matters on and off the ice.
The Coyotes announced the hiring of Sullivan of Monday.
The Predators were one of six NHL teams for which he played during a 16-year career. He played 317 games for Nashville, including the 1,000th of his career (March 28, 2013). The only team for which he appeared more often was Chicago (370).
After Nashville, he played one season with Pittsburgh (2011-12) then appeared in 33 contests for Phoenix in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season before he finished up with New Jersey.
Apparently, that brief time with the Coyotes created a connection both sides wanted to foster.
Sullivan was never the biggest, fastest or most skilled guy in the league but he found a way to hang around and be productive for a long time. Now Phoenix hopes to tap into that wisdom for the benefit of all of their players.
In a figurative sense, it is difficult to know just how far hockey has come in Middle Tennessee in the 16 years since the Nashville Predators played their first game.
In a literal sense, you could say the game has come 684 miles.
That’s the exact distance between Traverse City, Mich., where the franchise took part in its first rookie showcase prior to its first training camp and Middle Tennessee, where the Predators will host a rookie showcase of their own next month.
The Predators announced Friday afternoon that the Ford Ice Center, the new skating facility in Antioch, would host a four-team rookie tournament. In addition to a team of Predators prospects, the field will include teams from Boston, Florida and Tampa Bay.
The event runs from Sept. 13-16 and includes three days of round-robin play with one day of practice sessions. Nashville’s prospects also will conduct an on-ice workout there at 1 p.m., Sept. 12, the day prior to the first games.
Saturday, Sept. 13
Florida vs. Boston, 1 p.m.
Nashville vs. Tampa Bay, 4:30 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 14
Tampa Bay vs. Boston, 4 p.m.
Nashville vs. Florida, 7 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 15
Tampa Bay practice, 10 a.m.
Boston practice, 10:30 a.m.
Nashville practice, noon
Florida practice, 12:30 p.m.
Tuesday, Sept. 16
Tampa Bay vs. Florida, 10 a.m.
Nashville vs. Boston, 1 p.m.
Nashville opens its full training camp on Sept. 18 with the first on-ice session scheduled for Sept. 19 at Centennial Sportsplex.
Predators rookies played at Traverse City from 1998 through 2001, competed in two-game sets at Florida, Columbus and Atlanta in recent years and hosted a two-game set with Atlanta in 2008.
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