Shea Weber

Pekka Rinne on Shea Weber’s shot; ‘It just hurts’

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Pekka Rinne (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

By Jim Diamond

Heading into Tuesday night’s matchup against the visiting Montreal Canadiens, many Nashville Predators will be facing former Predators captain Shea Weber for the first time in their NHL careers.

When asked about it following Monday’s practice at Ford Ice Center, they were all looking forward to the new challenge.

Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne has faced countless thousands of Weber shots in practice over the years. He was asked what sets Weber’s shot apart from other players who shoot the puck hard.

“It just hurts,” he said. “He’s a big body and he’s so strong. I guess shooting the puck is also about technique. He has all of those things. It does come hard. It is one of the better shots in the NHL, especially his one-timer. He’s still pretty accurate with it. It’s just so quick, so fast.”

Weber is the two-time defending champion of the NHL’s Hardest Shot Competition at the All-Star weekend’s skills competition. He won last year’s event in Nashville with a shot of 108.1 mph, which was just four-tenths of a mile per hour slower than his 2015 winner.

With eight power-play goals this season, Weber leads all NHL defensemen and is tied for second overall, one behind Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.

As much as a handful as Weber is in his team’s offensive zone, he is equally difficult on opponents in Montreal’s defensive zone. Weber leads the Canadiens and ranks eighth in the league, averaging 26:02 of ice time per game.

Like Rinne, many of Nashville’s forwards have battled Weber in practice for years. With the intensity that Weber brings to the practice ice, his former teammates know that they are in for a long evening Tuesday.

“It’s going to be very different,” said Colin Wilson. “In today’s game, a lot of the accolades go to the real offensive defensemen and Webby, his defensive play is unparalleled. He’s unbelievable down there. He’s so strong. Even in practice, 3-on-3s, his strength is pretty incredible.”

Filip Forsberg has been on an offensive tear lately, posting five goals in his last six games. He knows that battling against Weber will be tough, but he is looking forward to seeing how he measures up against him.

“You always want to match yourself up against the best, and he’s definitely one of them out there,” Forsberg said.

Throughout his NHL career, no one has had a better view of the work Weber does in the defensive zone than Rinne.

“A player like him, there’s no other player like him in the league,” Rinne said. “The things that he brings; his strength, his ability to move guys and stuff like that, I don’t think there’s another guy like him.”

David Poile sent Weber to Montreal in exchange for P.K. Subban in a late June blockbuster trade. Poile spoke with the media following Monday’s practice. A large number of Montreal scribes were there to hear Poile’s thoughts.

“I see now where Shea is probably getting the recognition that he deserved,” Poile said. “We’re a little under the radar here in Nashville media wise, not today. Shea was, I think, in the top three for the Norris Trophy three times. I think he should have won it at least once and he didn’t. I think that in Montreal, with all due respect to Nashville, that he might have already won a Norris Trophy. And maybe this year in Montreal and getting all of the recognition that he is, maybe this will be the year that he wins the Norris Trophy.”

Shea Weber impresses in return to game action

By Jim Diamond

Last week, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said that team captain Shea Weber “looked great” after the first two on-ice sessions of training camp, but they would proceed slowly with working him into the lineup for the preseason games. Wednesday marked Nashville’s fourth exhibition contest and also marked the first for Weber.

It was Weber’s first game action since sustaining a knee injury in Game 2 of the Predators’ Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Chicago Blackhawks on a hit by then Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad. The injury required surgery to correct. The Weber-less Predators fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in six games.

Wednesday night, Weber got back to doing Weber-like things pretty quickly. At 8:40 of the opening period and with Nashville on the power play, Weber let fly a half slap shot from the high slot that beat Tampa Bay goaltender Adam Wilcox high to the far side. No, it wasn’t one of his familiar one-time bombs from the point, but those will come with time.

During a second period Nashville power play, Weber saw some extended time and did get a chance to air out his one-timer. In the span of 25 seconds, Weber was credited with one shot on goal and another two that missed the target, one of which caused James Neal to duck out of the way. During 5-on-5 play, Weber played a lot with Anthony Bitetto as his defensive partner, but on the power play, he saw some time with his more familiar partner Roman Josi.

After the game, Weber said that more time is needed to work on getting his timing back on his one-timers.

“Jos and I talked about it in between periods,” he said. “Practices have been pretty long where we haven’t had time to stay out there afterwards and work on that kind of stuff, so that will come.”

Weber and Josi finished fourth and fifth respectively in the voting for the Norris Trophy last season. While Weber has finished a close second for the award on multiple occasions, Josi has emerged as another elite blueliner to come through Nashville’s pipeline.

“For the whole team, it’s about getting that chemistry back and getting used to the players next to you again,” Josi said. “That’s what preseason is here for, to get back in game shape.”

Laviolette didn’t tax Weber too much in the game, playing him 19:23, with none coming on the penalty kill.

“He looked great,” Laviolette said. “We kept him off the penalty kill. We got him 5-on-5 time and power play time. We will increase that from here and work him in a little bit more, but I thought for his first game back since last spring, I thought he looked really good.”

Weber recorded three shots on goal in the game along with four that missed the target and another four that were blocked.

After four games played in the span of just four days, the Predators do not play another preseason game until next Tuesday, when former Central Division foe the Columbus Blue Jackets pay a visit to Bridgestone Arena.

Shea Weber a beneficiary of Taylor Beck’s good listening skills

By Jim Diamond

Jumping over the boards late in the second period, Nashville Predators forward Taylor Beck saw a puck drifting towards him as he headed for the defensive zone of the Rangers.

Less than a minute after Roman Josi tied the game 1-1, the Predators were riding some momentum and looking to take their first lead of the game. With a good look at the net minded by Rangers goaltender Cam Talbot, no one could blame Beck if he took a rip at the puck. But something happened as the puck drifted toward the top of the right faceoff circle.

Beck’s eyes became cartoonishly wide, but he turned and peeled away, and before anyone could blink, Shea Weber stepped in and blasted the puck by Talbot on the far side. Talbot didn’t move as the puck went flying by him. The net was stretched to its absolute limit, so it looked like Beck made the right call on that one.

“I think I heard Webs yell, ‘Leave it,’” Beck said. “He’s got a harder shot than I do, so fortunate enough for him to put it in. I wanted it for a second, but I thought I would leave it for him.

“He’s the best shooter probably in the world, so I want to leave it for him for sure.”

On-ice communication can be difficult sometimes, especially in a full building like Bridgestone was Saturday afternoon. But Beck’s close proximity to Weber helped in that situation.

Weber confirmed that he did yell to Beck.

“I actually said, ‘Leave it,’ as I was winding up,” Weber said. “I didn’t know who it was, I just saw a right-handed shot coming off the bench. I thought I was in pretty good position to shoot it so I decided I would.”

The goal was Weber’s 12th of the season.

As hard as Weber’s slap shot looked in winning the Hardest Shot Contest at last month’s Skills Competition during the All-Star Game weekend in Columbus, Saturday afternoon’s blast looked even harder.

After a tough start to the second period, the goals by Josi and Weber sent the team into the third period up by one.

“I think that was a really important moment in the game because I thought we played a really strong first period and we weren’t quite at our best in the next 15 minutes or so,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said. “We end up going down a goal, and in the last five minutes to be able to pump in two, I think changes the complexion of the game, puts some life in the building, puts some life back in us.”

Despite giving up a goal to Ryan McDonagh early in the third, Mike Ribeiro wired one home at 12:46 of the third, and that one proved to be the game-winner for the Predators.

Shea Weber relegated to the second power play unit? It appears so.

By Jim Diamond

With their power play struggling mightily a month into the 2014-15 season, it’s no great surprise that the Predators are tinkering with their man advantage units in an attempt to inject some life into a power play unit that is clicking at just 11.1% through 12 games, ranking them 25th in the NHL entering Wednesday night’s action.

Last season, the Predators finished the season with the league’s 12th best power play at 19.2%. Even better, they did not allow a shorthanded goal against all season, the first time a team accomplished that in a full 82-game regular season.

For a team that in recent years has relied heavily on its power play to generate offense, the fact that the Predators currently sit with an impressive 7-3-2 record to this point reflects improved 5-on-5 scoring.

On their current six-game road trip, the Predators have shuffled the deck on their power play units, most evident in the players used on the points. Early on in the trip, they had just one opportunity on the man advantage in each of the first two games. They failed to score on their one in Edmonton last Wednesday, but cashed in on their one chance in Calgary Halloween night.

In their most recent two games, they had four opportunities in each game, scoring on one of the eight.

The most curious deployment of players on the point came in Nashville’s final power play Tuesday night in Winnipeg against the Jets. At 14:53 of the third and the Predators trailing 2-1 at the time, Winnipeg’s Toby Enstrom was sent off for delay of game as a result of directing the puck over the glass.

On the ensuing faceoff, Matt Cullen and Roman Josi were deployed to the points, leaving team captain Shea Weber on the bench. He did get on the ice at the end of the power play, but just three seconds before it expired though.

Despite being a forward, Cullen is not new to playing the point on the power play, but having him play 1:57 of 2:00 while keeping one of the most dangerous players in the league on the bench trailing by a goal late in the third period is odd to say the very least. The Predators were credited with one shot on goal and another three that missed the target during that power play.

After sustaining an upper-body injury in the Predators first preseason game, Cullen returned to game action at the start of the current road trip. Cullen played for and won a Stanley Cup with Laviolette when they were with the Carolina Hurricanes together.

Granted, it is a small sample size, but it appears that Weber has been dropped to the second power play unit with Ryan Ellis on the other point. Josi and Cullen were on the ice to start three of the four power plays Tuesday night, including the pivotal final one late in the third. Something is off when in eight minutes of power plays; Cullen finishes with 4:33 of ice time and Weber just 3:27. The game’s official score sheet had the Predators with just two shots on goal in their eight minutes of power play time.

In Sunday night’s win in Vancouver, Nashville had four power plays, again three of which started with Josi and Cullen on the points.

Following Tuesday’s game, Illegal Curve posted audio of Predators head coach Peter Laviolette from his post game press conference. Laviolette was asked about having Weber and Ellis together on the power play and he said, “They play power play together, it depends on where we are at with the rotation, but they are all capable, Roman, Elly, Shea, they are all capable offensively.”

Capable? Sure. But only one of those players had 12 power-play goals to lead all NHL defensemen last season – Weber, a guy most would think should be on the ice for more than three seconds of a late-game power play with his team trailing by a goal.

Many factors can contribute to what players are put out on the ice for any given situation. Who was on the ice when the penalty was called and for how long, as examples. With Nashville being the road team these last four games, they have to put their players out onto the ice before the home team, so the matchup advantage goes to the home coach. But even if you are the road team, if you have Weber at hand for a power play, that is one matchup you dictate as a coach no matter where the game is being played.

Weber: Josi has ‘a fire to win’

By Jim Diamond

After Monday’s surprise on-ice altercation between Craig Smith and Roman Josi, team captain Shea Weber was asked about his defensive partner uncharacteristically dropping his gloves and fighting.

“He’s a real thumping machine out there,” Weber joked.

But then Weber continued his thought, switching from humorous to serious.

“He’s competitive,” he said. “As much as he doesn’t take penalties or do anything stupid, he’s got a fire to win and he’s going to battle out there in any situation.”

Weber is right about Josi’s discipline. In 72 games played in 2013-14, the Swiss-born blueliner was whistled for just 18 penalty minutes. In 172 career NHL games, Josi has only 40 PIMs.

Josi, 24, missed 10 games last season but was still 22nd overall in the NHL in 2013-14 in total time on ice, playing just over 1,902 minutes. Josi was fifth in the NHL in average time on ice per game last season at 26:25, trailing Weber by 29 seconds.

Weber is the person most qualified to speak about Josi’s effectiveness since when one is on the ice, the other is almost always just a few feet away from him. Last season, when Josi was on the ice, Weber was right there with him 83.8% of the time.

With a lot of the other Predators defensemen playing sheltered minutes last season, Josi and Weber drew the tough assignments, often playing against opponents’ top-offensive lines as evidenced by being the only two Nashville defensemen with positive Quality of Competition numbers.

The team’s top defensive pairing also began a lot of their shifts in the shadow of their own goal. Josi started in the offensive zone just 44.2% of the time, while Weber was even lower at 43.7%.

As surprising as it was for Josi to drop the gloves with a teammate in practice, perhaps it was a sign that the still young defenseman is developing more of a physical edge to his game.