The Nashville Predators had been a pretty consistent playoff team, despite the fact the franchise rarely had an elite forward in the lineup. But that dearth of scoring seemed to catch up to them the past two seasons and the Preds found themselves on the outside looking in.
This year, Nashville has a new coach in Peter Laviolette and to outsiders, it seemed like a good choice based on style: Laviolette is known as a coach who can coax goals out of his team. But according to the Predators, they don't want to get too far away from their bread and butter; the staunch defensive club created by former bench boss Barry Trotz.
"We have to be harder to play against," said star captain Shea Weber. "Everyone talks about offense and we do need to score goals, but we also need to be better defensively."
That reputation as a defensive club has been more of a legacy than a reality lately. In 2010-11, Nashville finished third overall in team defense. A year later they were ninth, then 20th, then 23rd overall last season (losing star netminder Pekka Rinne for most of the year due to hip issues didn't help either). And when you only finish 19th in goals for, the problem is obvious.
"We had a lot of ups and downs," said goalie Carter Hutton. "We had some games where we just washed away. We need to win those games."
Last night's season opener was a good omen. Taking on what, on paper, seems to be a weak Ottawa team, the Preds overcame a one-goal deficit and then held on late for the 3-2 victory. It may be disingenuous to say they were the Harlem Globetrotters on ice, but Nashville did outshoot Ottawa 37-20, while players such as Weber and young center Filip Forsberg had some nifty moves in the offensive end.
There are still 81 games to go and the Preds do play in the toughest division in the league right now, but the positive vibes from Laviolette's first training camp seem to have carried over so far.
"It brought out the best in a lot of the guys," Weber said. "It (was) a competitive camp."
And while it's still a bit strange to see Trotz coaching Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the skilled Washington Capitals forwards, folks in Nashville are surely happy with Laviolette's crew after the season opener.