Preds getting in 'game shape'

Monday, September 17, 2001 at 1:00am

It was the end of the first week of training camp for the Nashville Predators, but Tom Fitzgerald, the only captain the team has had as it enters its fourth season, was still in a summer frame of mind.

"It felt to me like I was still playing summer hockey," said Fitzgerald after the veterans played the first half of a two-half scrimmage Saturday morning at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. "I was missing checks. I wasn't picking up my guy. I'd miss a guy and he would score. It was mentally a dead game for me personally.

"There were things that were correctable which is nice. That's what these games are for...to mentally get fresh and get ready positionwise by getting the kinks out. You don't just jump into game shape mentally or physically."

The public scrimmage, which also included autograph time with most of the veteran players, was held in place of the preseason game that was scheduled Saturday night with the Chicago Blackhawks. In a split squad situation another group of Predators had planned to travel to Atlanta to face the Thrashers. A game Sunday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio against the Blue Jackets was also canceled. All the games were canceled by the National Hockey League in the wake of the terrorist attacks Tuesday in New York City and Washington, D.C. Fans attending the scrimmage were asked to make donations to the American Red Cross. Members of the Predators camp staff and the players donated $20 each to the Red Cross Friday.

The Predators will travel to Atlanta tonight to face the Thrashers. Tuesday night they go to Columbus to play the Blue Jackets. The home game with the Blackhawks has been rescheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday at Gaylord.

Predators coach Barry Trotz agreed the veteran players could have played at a sharper level in some instances, but that he saw a lot of positives, especially in terms of offense.

"At times there were some good things," Trotz said. "We were slow getting started, but there is a respect factor in that first group. Those were guys, for the most part, who were on the team last year. It was more of a skill type of a game. The guys will turn it up a little more against Atlanta and Columbus and bring a little different attitude.

"Offensively, we scored a lot of goals. But we don't want to get away too far from our defensive game. That is our bread and butter."

Trotz stressed that there was a lot of creativity on offense. He singled out Cliff Ronning, Scott Walker, Greg Johnson and David Legwand for their scoring efforts.

Fitzgerald isn't offering any evaluations of the newcomers to the team at this point. His primary concern is where he is stacking up based on his own abilities.

"I don't evaluate people," Fitzgerald said. "In the scrimmages I worry about myself and how I'm looking. I'm not looking at making the team. I'm looking at getting my game in order."

Fitzgerald finds himself possibly making a move from the wing to center this season as coach Barry Trotz looks for a way to make the Predators a more rugged team on the ice. Fitzgerald, who played center with the New York Islanders and the Florida Panthers, where he played both center and on the wing, before being moved to the right wing with the Predators, is taking the change in assignment in stride.

"It doesn't matter where I play as long as I play," Fitzgerald said. "I'm a hockey player. I will play where they want me to play. It is definitely an adjustment positionwise and conditioningwise, but I have played center my whole life."

Fitzgerald said that the coaching staff talked with him this summer about the possibility of moving to center so the change was not a total surprise.

"There are a lot of different things that are done in camp," Fitzgerald said. "There are young guys they try to move around positionwise to see where they can play. It is like this every year in camp with every team. The bottom line is I just play and do my job."

Trotz and his staff are also doing their job. The players are already spacing themselves out in terms of their skills and efforts, making it a little easier for Trotz to put together different lineups for tonight and Tuesday.

"Some guys have sorted themselves out in the last couple of days," Trotz said. "We have to take so many veterans to each game according to NHL rules. The rest of the team will be based on what we feel the players have accomplished in camp.

"We did tentative lineups coming into camp and there have been a lot of changes. We thought some guys would be in certain positions and they are not and some guys we thought wouldn't be there have moved up. It's what you see every year in camp."

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