Predators hope prolific preseason has them primed for success

Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 11:05pm

Barry Trotz knows what he wants from the Nashville Predators in 2011-12.

“I want to be hard to play against and even harder to beat,” the only coach in the franchise's history said.

If the preseason, which ended with Saturday’s 2-1 overtime victory is any indication, the former is true. The Predators won seven of eight games — in a variety of fashions — averaged more than three goals per game and gave up more than three just once.

Following a split of a doubleheader with Florida four days into training camp, Nashville reeled off six straight victories. As of right now, only one other NHL team, Dallas, has as many as six victories this preseason.

“Obviously, we have to remember that it’s preparation for the season and experience,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “It doesn’t count, but for confidence … we have a young team and I think it’s a great thing looking forward to the season. It’s a good thing that we’ve been winning games.

“I think it’s easier when you win games to create and to build up the atmosphere and team chemistry.”

It’s not just that they won games either.

Saturday’s victory was a dramatic finish and it came one night after the Predators got the better of Winnipeg in their only shootout among the eight contests. Along the way, they won by as many as three goals and won when they trailed by two. They also had one shutout.

“We have been winning and that’s always a good sign,” right wing Patric Hornqvist said. “Sometimes we controlled the game and were up a couple of goals. Sometimes we had to come back. We won in a shootout [Friday] and in overtime [Saturday].

“All those kind of things are good to know when the regular season starts.”

Beyond the results, Trotz is equally optimistic about what he has seen in terms of execution and structure.

“We’re sort of playing Predator hockey,” he said. “Everybody fits all over the place. We don’t have a whole lot of things set and halfway through the game, I’ll move people around. So you haven’t seen a true combination … of lines.

“It will be hard to match up against us in a lot of ways with the guys we have.”

When he got the game-winner with 10.3 seconds remaining in overtime against the Hurricanes, Craig Smith became the 19th different player to score a goal for Nashville in the preseason. The rookie center had three assists in five appearances prior to his goal.

That kind of balanced scoring was a hallmark of the team late last season, when it charged to fifth place in the final Western Conference standings and won a playoff series for the first time in franchise history.

Colin Wilson and Chris Mueller topped the Predators with three goals each — and Mueller was reassigned to Milwaukee over the weekend.

“Nobody really counts preseason, but it’s a fact that all the guys came together and played really a team-like game,” defenseman Kevin Klein said. “You have good young guys stepping in and playing well.

“That’s always good for confidence for a team and individually.”

Any benefits of the preseason performance will start to show Friday, when Nashville opens the regular season on the road against division rival Columbus. A second road game in as many days follows Saturday at St. Louis.

The Predators’ home opener is Oct. 13 against Phoenix.

“The Western Conference is so tough,” Trotz said. “Everybody’s gotten better in terms of adding some pieces and personnel. We’ve gotten better. We’ve just done it in a more quiet way than some teams. … We’re ready for the long haul.

“Our strength is our numbers. We’re sort of a little bit of a pack of wolves. That’s how we operate. We’re going to swarm you, we’re going to come at you and we’re going to play Predator hockey. We don’t care a whole lot what you do. We just have to play a certain way and if we do, we’re going to be hard to play against.”

Not to mention hard to beat, if Trotz has his way.