Philadelphia, PA – Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Three games isn't a large sample size by any means, but the Nashville Predators are already seeing results under new head coach Peter Laviolette.
If there was ever a team in need of an identity change, it was the Predators. For 15 seasons since its inception prior to the 1998-99 season, Nashville was guided behind the bench by Barry Trotz.
And to his credit, Trotz managed to do some great things with minimal resources. Nashville reached the playoffs seven times over an eight-season span from 2004-12, but missing out on the postseason in back-to-back years finally brought about the end of the Trotz era.
Under Trotz, the Predators were always known as a defensively strong team, with the likes of Kimmo Timonen and Ryan Suter making a name for themselves while with the Preds. In fact, it is a defenseman in Shea Weber who serves as captain and is the most recognizable face of the franchise.
Weber leads a still-strong unit that also contains the talented Roman Josi and a potential future blue line star in Seth Jones.
That's where Laviolette comes in. His job was to get Nashville more balanced on offense -- Weber's 23 goals last season ranked second on the club -- and so far he has been up to the task.
Nashville has scored nine goals through three games. Again, a small sample size but consider that the Predators averaged just 2.61 goals per game last season and 2.27 the campaign prior.
A telling sign that Laviolette's system is working is the fast start by Filip Forsberg. The 20-year-old Swede has a goal and three assists through three games after managing just five points total in 13 games last season with Nashville.
Forsberg was the 11th overall pick of the 2012 draft by Washington, which sent him to Nashville on April 3, 2013 for Martin Erat.
Forsberg has had offensive success in Sweden and the AHL, and broke out with four goals and 12 points in seven games for his country at the 2014 Winter Olympics, but has struggled to stick in the NHL. He may finally emerge as a scoring threat under Laviolette if this pace keeps up.
"I'm just trying to play as hard as I can every night; that's something I learned last year when I was starting out," Forsberg told Nashville's website. "I've been really trying to earn my ice time, and it feels good to get this chance. Hopefully I can continue to keeping playing good here."
While he never got a chance with the Capitals and played in only 18 games under Trotz in two seasons, Laviolette currently has Forsberg on his top line with Mike Ribeiro and James Neal.
Nashville also has been a tough team to play under Laviolette in the early going. The Preds posted three-goal third periods in winning their first two games of the season versus Ottawa and Dallas after needing 20 games last season to record a pair of three-goal final frames.
What makes the Predators' offense a potential force is the fact that Neal, the club's big offseason acquisition from Pittsburgh, has yet to get going. It's only a matter of time, though, as the winger has fired 12 shots in three games and is toping Nashville forwards with 17 minutes and 53 seconds of ice time.
"I'll get back to work here, and I've just got to keep shooting pucks. I felt like I had some good looks in the first two games and if I keep doing what I'm doing, they'll come," Neal told Nashville's website. "You just have to stay even keel, you can't get too high or too low. It's a long season, you stay in the game and your bounces will come as long as you keep working for them."
It is a long season and the Predators' offense will certainly have its ups and downs as it gets fully acclimated to Laviolette. But like a well-cooked meal, the early return has raised the excitement level.