If Shea Weber and Ryan Suter felt a little overworked Wednesday, they have no one to blame but themselves. And Nicklas Lidstrom, of course.
As Weber and Suter made it obvious in recent years that they were headed — individually and collectively — toward a place among the game’s best on defense, Nashville Predators coach Barry Trotz sought ways to enhance and ensure their development. So at the 2010 NHL awards ceremonies in Las Vegas, he seized an opportunity to ask Lidstrom, a seven-time Norris Trophy winner, about his approach to preseason games.
“He said, ‘… usually in training camp you’re playing 15-20 minutes a night and then all of a sudden you’re playing 27-30 [in the regular season] and you’re not prepared to do that. … It’s really not conditioning you do those minutes,’” Trotz said. “What we’ve been trying to do is ramp up everybody, especially our core players, [and] let them play a little bit more.”
For Weber and Suter, that meant roughly 24 minutes of ice time apiece in a 4-1 victory over the Washington Capitals before 13,437 at Bridgestone Arena in the first of three games in four nights to cap Nashville’s preseason schedule.
To be exact, Suter played 24:01 and Weber 23:54, which included time on both the power play and penalty kill. That was just shy of what they averaged during the 2010-11 regular season.
Only Washington’s Mike Green, an elite NHL blue liner in his own right, played more (24:09).
“We have a great [defense] core and we have some good young guys that are coming in,” Weber said. “A lot of guys are going to play, but we’re definitely not going to say ‘no’ to any more time.”
The fact that the Predators will be younger overall on defense this season is exactly why Weber and Suter can expect more ice time.
Behind Weber and Suter in this contest were veteran Kevin Klein and three others vying for the remaining spots on the Predators’ defense — free agent addition Jack Hillen and prospects Teemu Laakso and Mattias Ekholm.
That group helped limit Washington to just 10 shots through the first two periods, albeit with one noticeable misstep. Early in the contest, Ekholm lost his footing in the neutral zone, which created a two-on-one that the Capitals converted into an early 1-0 lead.
“Not too much work,” goalie Pekka Rinne, who played the entire contest, said. “As a team, you can be happy with that. We played pretty well, and we’re a solid defensive team so that was good.”
The Predators overcame the early deficit with a goal by Colin Wilson (his third in four appearances) in the first, one each by Weber and Matt Halischuk in the second and a power-play tally by Cal O’Reilly in the third. Weber added an assist on O’Reilly’s goal, and rookie center Craig Smith had assists on each of the last two.
The victory was Nashville’s fourth straight and fifth in six contests this preseason.
“There’s still some battles that are pretty close,” Trotz said. “… Each night it’s a different guy. To me, I’ve got my four guys [on defense] — it’s Suter, Weber, [Jonathon] Blum and Klein. After that, we’re trying to sort it out a bit.
“… Ekholm had the one stumble on the [Washington] goal when he got his legs crossed up. Other than that, they’re doing pretty good.”
Not as much as Weber and Suter, though.
• Goalie Jeremy Smith was reassigned to Milwaukee following the contest. Coming into the night, he led Nashville netminders in appearances (three) and minutes (80). He also had one of the four victories.
His departure leaves 31 players on the current roster.
• Former Predator Joel Ward, who signed a four-year contract with Washington in July, had one shot and a minus-1 rating in his return.
“It’s a little different for sure,” he said. “It takes a while to get used to. I saw a lot of familiar faces and it’s a place that is definitely close to me. I was a little nervous there at the start of the game.”