The first Blue v Gold scrimmage is coming up tonight. Here’s what I’ve been seeing and here’s what to look for when the team takes the ice.
Practices So Far
The Nashville Predators have been back on the ice at Bridgestone Arena over the past week for training camp as they quickly head into a shortened and compressed season next week. Team meetings took place on Sunday, followed by practice and other team activities Monday through Wednesday. Thursday was a day off for the team in order to reset before a full “game day” schedule today. The team will have an intersquad scrimmage tonight at 7 pm (central) using the “Blue” vs. “Gold” format. The team has spent each practice this week divided into these two groups and have been competing against one another in this fashion all week.
I had the opportunity to attend practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, as well as talk to several players and Head Coach John Hynes afterwards. Here’s are my main takeaways from those experiences:
1. Practice has been focused on two main drills and these drills should explain the focus of the team this season. The first drill, as seen in the tweet below, takes away the neutral zone and finds the players engaging in very aggressive physical play all around the net. It appears this give the attackers the chance to play against strong defense, while allowing the defenders to practice covering the attackers in order to gain possession of the puck.
The second drill, as seen in the tweet below, finds the players going into the corners to dig out the puck from an opposing player, then feed the puck to a teammate, who quickly leads the team down the ice, working on quick move to transitioning through the neutral zone.
Justin was able to capture the first instance of the team trying this out immediately after Head Coach John Hynes instructed them in his expectations for the drill. Notice the hesitance to receive the pass after possession is gained. After a few rounds of this, Hynes retaught the concept and further attempts were much more successful.
2. Practices have been interesting, but line combination, which I did enjoy tweeting out, shouldn’t be taken too seriously. There are several players missing from the ice for a variety of reasons. I would expect many of these players (such as Matt Duchene, Rocco Grimaldi, Mikael Granlund, and Erik Haula) to shuffle the lines up and shift some of the other players into different spots.
In fact, Coach Hynes has suggested that practice is just practice and focused on drills and skills. He feels that tonight’s (and Sunday’s) scrimmage will go much further in determining who makes the line up and taxi squad, and who moves back to play in the AHL, ECHL, or is loaned elsewhere.
3. In practice, there hasn’t been very much emphasis on offense. Part of this can probably be explained away because the most glaring needs of the team are being addressed by the drills listed above. The assumption may be that more takeaways and quick transitions lead to more scoring chances. However, what we all want to see are more high danger scoring chances. I’ll let Bryan explain:
Bryan: One of the main factors that determines the quality of the shot is location, and that’s fairly obvious - the closer the shooter is to the net, the greater chance of a score. However, there are other factors, and those include events happening in the other zones, most importantly steals, shots that lead to quick transition plays and even hits. A shot gets upgraded in quality if those events happened in the prior 4 seconds to the shot, and as you would expect, increases the chance of a goal by quite a bit - so this is definitely a good set of drills to help reinforce that.
What To Watch For
Based on what I’ve seen in practice, I would fully expect to see a scrimmage that is much more physical than normal. During the return to play camp, scrimmage play seemed more physical than I would have normally expected, but they were dealing with a quick return to a playoff scenario and only had one “tune-up” game before the playoffs. The season starts in less than a week and there are no exhibition games. These scrimmages will be the team’s only chance to see game speed. Expect them to bring it the moment the puck drops.
This will also be a chance to see if the drills they are covering in practice translate well into a game setting. The transition drill is similar to what they used in the return to play camp and I believe we started seeing the benefits of that in the series versus Arizona. I am cautiously optimistic about the new look of the team and their willingness to go hard into the corners. Watch for those battles tonight.
No matter how long you’ve been following the team, you will be familiar with the struggles the team has faced on the 3rd pairing. You will be impressed and amazed at what you’re getting in Mark Borowiecki and Matt Benning. Mark. My. Words.
Of course, this is the first opportunity to see if those high danger scoring chances will manifest as a result of implementing the strategies from practice this week, so look for those as well. I’ll be tweeting from media row tonight, so follow along on Twitter (@SCSOTF). You can catch the scrimmage at www.nashvillepredators.com