— Eric Stromgren (@estromgren) December 17, 2014
SAN JOSE, Calif. â€“ The Predators were a team in transition when training camp opened in September.
Since then, they have established a new identity under new head coach Peter Laviolette in the first third of the season. The Predators are at their best playing aggressive offense balanced with defensive responsibility.
“I certainly feel like there’s times when we’ve gone out and done a good job of playing it and those are the games we like,” Laviolette said. “There’s been games we don’t like and it’s not necessarily based on the score.”
The offensive approach is based on shooting often over scoring with style, finishing rebounds over scoring the more fashionable goals at the end of picture-perfect passes.
Building that style began at training camp, where special attention was put on skating skills and endurance â€” both necessary keys to pushing the pace on offense.
“The coaches are demanding that we do everything at a high speed and put the work in everyday,” forward Olli Jokinen said. “We’ve got everyone believing we are a good team.”
Laviolette’s brand is a contrast from former head coach Barry Trotz’s defensive style, but the defense, starting with goalie Pekka Rinne, is a big reason why the Predators are a factor in the Central Division race through the first two months of the season.
Rinne leads the league in wins (19), save percentage (.937) and goals against average (1.75).
The season started with a point in the first seven games and continued with a four-game winning streak in November.
“Getting wins early in the season helps a team’s confidence,” forward Eric Nystrom said. “You know what it feels like to win, as opposed to slow starts where you question yourself.”
Along the way, Bridgestone Arena has become a tough place for opponents. The Predators are 11-2-1 at home and they have yet to lose back-to-back games.
That streak that will be put to the test Tuesday against Boston. The Predators capped off a three-game road trip Saturday with a 2-0 loss to the Sharks.
“We’ve had a really good start,” forward Matt Cullen said. “We can all agree on that. Now we’re into that crucial part of the season â€” that middle 40 games. This is where things shake out. It’s important for us to keep our foot on the gas and realistically find another level in our game.”