Predators getting up to speed
When time expired in regulation play for Thursday's training camp scrimmage at Centennial Sportsplex, Greg Johnson's Group B was on the losing side of a 4-1 result against Scott Walker's Group C. In the shootout session that followed, though, goals by four of the five Group B shooters and a strong performance by goaltender Chris Mason thrilled those in attendance and stole the spotlight back.
Forward Brandon Segal opened the scoring 20 minutes into the game, which consisted of two 30-minute periods, a five-minute four-on-four session, and a shootout. It was the second of three such matches scheduled for the first week of camp. The third pits groups A and C against each other at 10 a.m. Friday.
Segal's goal for Group B was set up by a pass from linemate Jeremy Stevenson. The two were among a number of players who caught Head Coach Barry Trotz eye.
"A lot of guys had a good showing," Trotz said. "The one group that seemed to have a lot of effect was the [Simon] Gamache, [Scott] Walker and [Scott] Nichol group [from Group C]. They had tons of chances ”didn't really produce a lot in terms of numbers, but boy they were effective in creating chances and being dangerous all [game]. I thought [Group B's Libor] Pivko and [Martin] Erat had a little chemistry between them. Stevenson and Segal were hard to play against. They made you pay for moving the puck and they made it hard on you."
Another player making it difficult for opponents was Jordin Tootoo. The hard-hitting forward for Group C delivered crunching checks to several players, including defenseman Scott Todd and center Vaclav Meidl. Tootoo also knotted the score at 1-1 when his bad-angle shot toward the slot banked in off the left pad of goaltender Pekka Rinne.
"It's obviously good to get back banging and crashing," Tootoo said. "It's going to be a pretty intense few days here. I'm trying to make a spot on the team here, so I'm using every time I'm out on the ice to try to make and create plays and definitely try to get my name out there again."
Trotz confirmed that Tootoo, who spent the locked-out 2004-05 NHL season with the Predators' top minor-league affiliate in Milwaukee, needs to re-establish himself in this training camp. "He's got to win a spot here," Trotz said of Tootoo. "He had a disappointing year in Milwaukee. Make no bones about it, I expected a lot more from him. He knows that."
Darren Haydar, another forward hoping to play his way into the Predators' lineup, gave Group C the lead by converting on a penalty shot opportunity with four minutes remaining in the first period. During the camp scrimmages, referees are awarding a penalty shot after every third penalty call.
Adam Hall increased Group C's lead to 3-1 four minutes into the second period. Standing in the slot, he redirected a low shot by defenseman Jamie Allison high over Mason, who replaced Rinne after the first 30 minutes as scheduled. Hall's goal came less than a minute after he had a score disallowed for kicking the puck into the net. He generated several other quality chances, splitting time at the center and wing positions.
"I've [played center] in the past, in the World Championships and last year in Finland," Hall said. "So I have some experience at it. I think I have more experience playing wing, but wherever the team needs me, I'd like to be able to help in any way I can. I definitely want to be prepared in both situations."
After Hall's goal, Mason shut the door. He stopped a flurry of chances by Haydar and Hall, a quick shot by a pinching Kimmo Timonen (set up by Haydar), a penalty shot by Tootoo and a breakaway chance by Scott Nichol. Group B's fourth goal ”an empty-netter by Nichol ”came in the four-on-four session, with Mason was pulled for an extra attacker.
Mason took center stage in the shootout that followed. As Group B teammates Libor Pivko, Jeremy Stevenson, Dan Hamhuis and Brandon Segal beat goalie Derek Yeomans at the other end, Mason foiled chances by Ryan Suter, Kimmo Timonen and Simon Gamache. Group C's first shooter, Scott Walker, missed the net on his opportunity, while Group B's last shooter, Shea Weber, was stopped by Yeomans. Group C's final shooter, Darren Haydar, was the only one to pierce Mason in the extra session. With each save and goal, the few hundred fans in attendance let out collective oohs and ahs.
Overall, the players were pleased with the game's pace, even at this early stage of camp.
"It's pretty good intensity, I think," Hall said. "Everybody really wants to make an impression and is trying to do everything they can to make themselves stand out. Having said that, I still think it's early. It looks kind of scrambly at times. You can tell that guys are still trying to jell and get in the system."
The speed on display even caught Trotz off guard. "I was sitting up there with a lot of the staff and I'm saying, ˜I don't remember it being this fast before,' " he said. "Maybe it's because we've been locked out, but I'll tell you what, I remember in '98 it wasn't that fast."