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Nashville Predators find their groove, red-hot at 7-1-2 in November

The Nashville Predators aren't complying with the pre-season script handed to them.

When Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya, Scott Hartnell, Kimmo Timonen and Tomas Vokoun left the Music City after last season, the pundits looked at what was left and weren't impressed.

"I really think our team took that as a little bit of a slap in the face," Predators head coach Barry Trotz told The Canadian Press on Friday. "Because we felt we still had a pretty good team. I think our leadership felt, 'We're better than what people think we're going to be and let's go out and show them."'

Seven weeks into the NHL season, the Predators are nowhere near the NHL cellar, sitting in a playoff spot in the Western Conference at 11-8-2 despite having the league's lowest payroll.

"Surprising? I don't know why we're surprising," said forward Radek Bonk. "I know we had a tough start, but before the season we didn't think we were going to be bad. So I don't think we're surprising ourselves.

"Obviously when you lose players like Forsberg and Kariya and Timonen, they were stars on this team. But we have good team chemistry here and a good bunch of guys. And lately that's been showing."

Bonk and the Predators are 7-1-2 in November.

"It was a good rebound for us, we really needed that," said Trotz. "October was a forgetful month, that's for sure."

After beginning the season with a pair of victories, the Predators lost six straight.

"We put ourselves in a hole and had to dig out of it," said Bonk. "But since then we've been on the same page and everyone has had their head on straight and we've been doing much better."

Trotz says rock bottom was a 6-0 loss at Los Angeles on Oct. 23. It was the team's sixth straight defeat.

"But we regrouped, guys started buying in," said Trotz. "We chipped away and got a couple of wins and started forging our own identity with this group rather than an identity from last season. I think now our team realizes this is how you have to play and if we play this way we'll be successful.

"Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can grow. It's no different than a young player."

The Predators realized they weren't last year's high-flying, offensive team.

"We still have an aggressive forechecking base, I think we're a lot harder as a team, a lot grittier, we have more grind to our game," said Trotz. "We do it with numbers, speed and position versus skill and creativity."

Word may begin to spread.

Even though the Predators aren't the goal machine they were last season, they've become tougher to play against.

"We haven't played everybody yet but I'm hoping that after 40 games, every other team or just the casual fan says 'This is how Nashville plays,"' said Trotz. "To me when the casual fan or people in the know can really describe your team, on how you play, and the style, then you've done a good job."

Bonk, who signed a US$2.95-million, two-year deal July 2, is one of the many good stories on a Nashville team that's still finding ways to win despite their off-season defections.

The former Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators centre leads the Predators with nine goals.

"Obviously the pucks are going in for me," said Bonk. "It seems like every shot I take it goes in. It's great to be contributing when we're winning. That's all you want to do."

Bonk centres a checking line between Jerred Smithson and Jed Ortmeyer. He also gets some power-play time.

"Whatever you want him to do, he'll do it. He's a real good team guy," said Trotz. "He's been a really good fit.

"He's got a lot of responsibility on both sides the puck and he's been really good."

Bonk was an unrestricted free agent after spending two seasons in Montreal. He liked playing for the Canadiens but the Habs moved in a different direction.

Then Nashville called.

"They showed interest," said Bonk. "I talked to a bunch of guys and everybody who had played here before loved it here. It's been a good decision."


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