The Nashville Predators come into PNC Arena on Tuesday to face the Canes, but it's not the Preds of old.
Barry Trotz no longer is behind the bench. The leading scorer is a rookie. The pace is faster, more up-tempo.
Peter Laviolette, in his first season as coach, has the Preds 16-5-2 and in first place in the Central Division with 34 points, the same total as the St. Louis Blues but with a game in hand. Rookie forward Filip Forsberg has 10 goals and 13 assists, and a plus-20 rating.
"I think a lot of our success comes from our work ethic," Laviolette said. "From Day One the guys have worked extremely hard. They've worked hard in practice, they work hard in games, they worked hard in training camp. It's a real good group of guys that enjoys going out and working together."
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Forsberg, 20, was named the NHL's rookie of the month for November after scoring nine goals and adding six assists as the Preds were 10-3-0 in the month. Three of his goals were game-winners including an overtime score Thursday against Edmonton in a 1-0 victory.
Forsberg's plus-20 rating is the best in the NHL.
"He's been impressive," Laviolette said. "Last year was a good learning process for him, getting over into North America hockey and trying to figure out the game. Now he comes back and he's stronger, he's a year older and a year wiser. I've seen him since development camp when I was hired and he was the most impressive player on the ice in the rookie tournament. In our training camp he did the same thing."
Goaltender Pekka Rinne has arguably been the Preds' best player and will be the starter against the Canes. Rinne has played in 20 games, with a 16-3-1 record, 1.82 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. His 16 wins lead the NHL.
"They're a deep team," Canes coach Bill Peters said. "They're 8-2 in their last 10 and won four of the last five, so they're rolling right along."
The Canes will have Cam Ward back in net. Ward will be making his 17th appearance and coming off the 4-2 road win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.
Peters said the Canes will dress 12 forwards and six defensemen after going with seven D against the Pens in the back-to-back games. In the morning skate, the Canes had Eric Staal centering Jiri Tlusty and Elias Lindholm, who turned 20 Tuesday; Riley Nash with Nathan Gerbe and Alex Semin; Victor Rask centering Jeff Skinner and Andrej Nestrasil, and Jay McClement with Zach Boychuk and Pat Dwyer. Brad Malone is the extra forward.
The defensive pairs were Justin Faulk-Andrej Sekera, Tim Gleason-John-Michael Liles, and Ron Hainsey-Michal Jordan. Jay Harrison is the extra defenseman.
At 7-13-3, the Canes need to start winning games to stay within shouting range of third place -- and playoff position -- in the Metropolitan Division.
"You don't want to fall much further behind, believe me," Peters said. "It's already a big enough hole. We'll just take this four-game home stand and reassess things after that and go from there."