Nashville, TN -- Four preseason games in, the Predators are beginning to click in certain areas that usually take a bit of time into the regular season to actually find chemistry. Now with a preseason record of 3-0-1 after a clean home-and-home sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Nashville is coming into the final two weeks and we could start seeing preliminary cuts very soon.
The Captain Is Alright
Prior to Wednesday night's game against the Lightning, Predators captain Shea Weber had yet to register playing time in any of Nashville's preseason contests.
Coming off a major knee injury sustained during the team's first round series against the Chicago Blackhawks, it was highly doubtful that Weber would have played much in the preseason anyways. If he were to, it would equate to Peyton Manning levels of preseason action.
With Weber in the lineup against Tampa Bay, he wasted no time getting right back to where he left off. 38 seconds into a Lightning minor penalty midway through the first period, Weber reared back and launched a puck past goaltender Adam Wilcox to stretch Nashville's lead to 2-0.
"It felt good," Weber said. "Whatever it's going to take, we're working at it together here. Obviously, you don't want to jump right into it and find out it's not quite ready. It feels good and we'll just keep warming it up and be ready for the season."
If there were any worries that Weber wasn't going to be 100 percent healed by the time the season were to start, those could probably be put to rest.
"It was fun to get back out there in a competitive setting," said Weber. "Battle out there, get some hits and some contact."
Is the Power Play for Real?
In their three preseason games so far, the Predators have collected a total of six power play goals. As Nashville finished last season ranked 25th in power play efficiency, it's one aspect of its game that obviously needs to be better this season.
"Last year we had a lot of new guys come in and didn't have chemistry with one another at the start," said Weber. "We were trying to change a bunch of things and get used to one another. I think now that there wasn't a lot of changes, we all kind of know each other's tendencies and it's kind of like we're clicking already."
Having a great power play won't take away from Nashville's problems up the middle, but it will address a gaping special teams issue that has been an annual problem since the Kariya-led teams nearly a decade ago.
"We're doing some good things," said Predators forward Craig Smith. "It's all a process, though, just as far as getting through camp and being familiar with guys again, being sharp, making good passes and reading plays. We haven't had too much time on special teams just yet, but I feel like we're taking a few of our opportunities and turning them into something good -- which is a good sign."
Yet, when all is said and done, there's no question that the Predators need their special teams clicking for the entire season -- not just the first few games. If Nashville has finally worked out that massive kink, then it's an added bonus.
Battle Heating Up for the Final Roster Spots
The Predators haven't really began to send players back to their respective junior and minor league teams yet, but starting tomorrow the clock will be ticking down to only two weeks until the start of the regular season. So, cuts are going to start very soon.
Looming like a rain cloud hanging over a Saturday afternoon picnic, the competition has started to swell to the point where clear distinctions between who could make the team and who won't make the team are starting to become evident.
"You see it in front of your face; there are a lot of great players out there," said Predators forward Austin Watson. "A lot of young guys competing for jobs. A lot of veteran guys that are just honing their trade at camp. You look around the room and there are going to be some tough decisions made and hopefully, individually, you're putting yourself ahead of the pack."
Just based on observations alone, players like Watson, Viktor Arvidsson, and Colton Sissons have had terrific camps. They've been head and shoulders among the best participants so far. You can't necessarily count out Kevin Fiala at this point, either. However, of the four aforementioned players, he's definitely trailing the former of the three.
"The younger guys are working hard," said Laviolette. "They're working real hard and trying to make an impression."
Which isn't a true shock, either. Fiala is only 19 years old and comes into camp with an Alexander Radulov-like determination to make the team from the get-go. However, just like Radulov, Fiala displays so much raw talent yet is still rough around the edges.
When you look at players like Arvidsson and Watson, though, you see two who are clearly ready for the NHL.
Arvidsson shoots the puck like he'll earn a trip to the whipping post if he doesn't get it off his stick. That's not outside the ordinary; he showed that type of prowess last season in his brief stint with the team. Not only that, but even veterans like Mike Fisher have noted his stellar play in camp so far.
Watson is a former first round draft pick who never got a chance under Barry Trotz while accumulating over 200 AHL games and being an annual 20-plus goal scorer over the last three seasons. He's shown that he has the ability to play minutes for Nashville on a consistent basis if he just earns a chance to do so. Maybe he'll finally get that.
What sucks for Watson in particular is that, after all this time, what an absolutely crushing blow it would be to not make the team after such a strong camp. However, that's how it is sometimes with deep training camp rosters.
"[It would be] extremely disappointing," said Watson. "It's what I worked all summer for, coming down here to train, get comfortable with the guys and develop some relationships. I'm not really even thinking about it at the moment, right now. I'm just taking it a game at a time."
And Sissons? Well, he's a very odd case. There's no question he can play at an NHL level, but I doubt he ever gets a serious shot on a Laviolette-coached roster. Just a hunch. That being said, Sissons could end up being the next version of Rich Peverley: eventually leave the Predators and be a solid 40 or 50 point scorer on another team. It's happened before.
Craig Smith -- Two goals for the Smith, who has always been a very consistent player for Nashville. I have no doubts that will continue this season just by how he's looked already during the preseason. The touch is still there and he displayed it tonight.
Roman Josi -- Even though Josi had two helpers, he was one of three players (Ribeiro and Wilson) to do so this evening. However, Josi's ability to transition without the usual partner of Weber beside him helped earn his case for second star. Bitetto -- who played with Josi for a good portion of the game -- had a good game of his own right, however he's not the same as Weber.
Pekka Rinne -- Fans received a real treat tonight as Rinne played a full preseason game without being removed halfway through it to give Juuse Saros some playing time. In doing so, Rinne was given the opportunity for a full night's work and made an equal amount of classic Rinne saves in the progress. While he officially stopped 30 of 32, he actually stopped 31 of 32. I don't buy that Tampa Bay's second goal would have counted if this were a regular season game.