Predators finally prepared to tackle most pressing problem

Tuesday, September 21, 2010 at 5:47pm

Following three days of scrimmages, which concluded with a spirited affair Tuesday, the Nashville Predators are set to move into the next phase of training camp.

“(Wednesday) is all special teams,” coach Barry Trotz said. “ … Right now, five days into camp, you’ve done your testing, you’ve had a practice in your concepts from a five-on-five standpoint, and then you’ve had two scrimmages and a practice where you’ve tried to bring your concepts and the scrimmage together. … Now we’re going into special teams.”

Some might argue that the power play and penalty kill should have been the first thing they tackled.

After all, each was among the worst in the NHL last season – the first time since the franchise’s inaugural campaign of 1998-99 that both were ranked worse than 20th in the league.

The power play was 24th with a success rate of 16.4 percent. That actually was an improvement of two spots over its ranking from 2008-09 and the first time in three seasons it hit on more than 16 percent of its chances. However, it converted just once in the final 11 games of the regular season and once more in the six playoff contests.

The penalty kill was 28th in the league (its worst ranking ever) as it killed off just 77.1 percent (also the worst in team history) of the shorthanded situations it faced. Nashville allowed 59 power-play goals, the same number as the previous season, despite the fact that it was a man or more short 80 times fewer than the previous season.

“Obviously, when we first got to camp and one of our biggest points is to be better on both special teams,” captain Shea Weber said. “… Those two things are going to make a huge difference for us this year.”

The Predators have spent the ensuing months since being eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs by eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago talking about how little difference they saw between themselves and the Blackhawks.

Nashville was shorthanded less than any other Western Conference team (258 times). Next was Chicago at 265, but the Blackhawks allowed 20 fewer goals. Similarly, the difference in power-play chances was minimal (286 for Nashville, 294 for Chicago) but the Blackhawks converted five more times.

That’s a difference of 25 goals from special teams, an average of one goal every three games. Given that nearly half of Nashville’s games (37) were decided by a single goal, every such score is meaningful.

There’s every reason to assume that the penalty kill can bounce back. After all, it ranked among the league’s top 10 in each of the four seasons that preceded the last one and six of the last nine overall.

The power play, on the other hand, never has finished higher than 10th and eight times has been worse than 20th.

“We’ve got to make those necessary adjustments to be better and to make it a game-changer,” Weber said. “I don’t think it’s personnel. We have enough skill and talent in here. It just comes down to executing. Maybe we do need to change a few things in the way we think on the power play.

“The good thing is that we start with the same percentage as everyone else. … We can start from scratch.”

Briefly

• Trotz called the day’s scrimmage “probably as good a scrimmage as we’ve had since I’ve been here, in terms of pace (and) execution of some of the concepts we’re trying to do here. … I thought those two teams had really good balance, and therefore it was a competitive game.”


• Management began the process of trimming the roster when six players, including this summer’s first-round draft pick Austin Watson, were reassigned to their junior teams Tuesday afternoon.

In addition to Watson, three other draft picks, defenseman Charles-Oliver Roussel (second round, 2009), forward Michael Latta (third round, 2009) and defenseman Taylor Aronson (third round, 2010) were sent back, and defensemen Jamie Doornbosch and Cameron Wind were released from their amateur tryout agreements.

• The Predators and Fox Sports announced the television broadcast schedule for 2010-11 will include 60 of the 81 games (36 road games and 24 at home). All 60 will be shown in high definition.