The Nashville Predators entered the season anticipating a return to the playoffs but appeared to be very mediocre at the start of the season. After winning their first two games, they proceeded to lose the next six contests.
GM David Poile and Coach Barry Trotz never hit the panic button in spite of the concerns of fans and questions from the local media regarding the Predators chronic lack of scoring.
Since the slow 2-5-1 start the Predators have gone 7-3 and have improved in all areas of play, albeit goals still seem to come at a premium.
The most unexpected change has been the Predators complete reinvention as a team that fires shots from everywhere on the ice. The Preds have had a long history having a deliberate, passing before shooting offense but Coach Barry Trotz has either seen the light or convinced his team to start shooting the puck.
In Saturday's game against the Montreal Canadians, the Predators put a record setting 55 shots on net including 24 in the first period. An additional 23 shots either missed or blocked for a total of 78 attempts on net. In the prior game against St. Louis, the Preds attempted 68 shots.
After the game against the Canadians, in which Pekka Rinne picked up his second shutout of the season in a 2-0 win, he explained the Pred's change of personality, "I think it's just a mindset, we shoot from everywhere, the power play is shooting the puck. We're not trying to be too cute any more, everybody is just shooting the puck and crashing the net."
Steve Sullivan, who scored both Predator goals had his own take on the new look Preds, "It's been building for the last three games. We've been dominant in the other team's zone, created a lot of havoc, had a lot of puck possession time and threw a lot of pucks on net, created a lot of scoring chances, and put a lot of pressure on their defense."
Sully also gave credit to the return of J.P. Dumont for his own individual increase in production, "I really feel comfortable playing with J P. He really settles the play down for us in the offensive zone. He's so good at puck possession and nifty passes. When you are open, you are getting the puck. I feel so comfortable playing with him, so having him back is huge for me."
Barry Trotz was glowing like a proud father after watching the Predator's aggressive play against the Habs. He described the recent play, "We skated and played to our identity. If you look to our road trip I think we out shot everybody but maybe San Jose. We skated well. We were first to pucks."
Further Trotz said, "Their (the team's) buy in on how we have to play is really good. They are seeing results. We can play any team in the NHL and we don't waiver. This group knows we are going to throw a lot of pucks. It's hard to score on the rush, you have to go to the hard areas and score the greasy goals."
When questioned about the change in style Trotz echoed Rinne's comments, "It's just the mindset. You break down team's defense by putting shots on net. You don't need to make a pretty play. You put it on net and it breaks down a team's defense because they are scrambling for the puck. They are reaching instead of tracking the puck, so it's a mindset. Detroit has that mindset and they break you down by throwing a lot of pucks at the net."
Trotz feels he has the buy in by the team and hopes to continue on the same path, "What we want is to be a team that is hard to play against. Then you (opponents) come to this building every night and it's a tough place to play. We become Smashville."
The Predators will get their chance to be "Smashville" on Tuesday when they have a rematch with San Jose, the team with the best record in the Western Conference. On Thursday, they take on the New Jersey Devils, who have the best record in the East.
These two games will provide a strong test to see if the new look Predators will be able to sustain their aggressive style against the top two teams in the league at this point. These are not make or break contests, but successful outings would be something for the Predators to build on as the season progresses.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass