Shea Weber’s first season as captain of the Nashville Predators was not exactly smooth sailing.
The team pitched and rolled through streaks both good and bad, endured injuries to some of its top players and found itself in the heat of one of the most competitive playoff races in recent NHL history.
Through it all, Weber remained a consistent presence in the lineup and a kept a consistent approach that helped guide the Predators to where they are right now, in need of one point either Friday against Columbus (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena) or Saturday at St. Louis to secure the franchise's sixth playoff berth in the past seven seasons.
“Even though he’s not an old guy by any means, he already has so much experience from the NHL, from the international game, from all kinds of different tournaments,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “He’s a great influence for everybody else here, reminding guys that you can’t get too high or too low.
“He’s a great example on the ice and off the ice.”
On the ice, Weber has put together one of the finest seasons of his already noteworthy career.
Most important, he is in position to play all 82 games for the first time as the only Nashville defenseman and one of three Predators overall who have played in each of the first 80 contests. His 47 points are third on the team and the most among the blue liners and include a career-high 31 assists as well as a nine-game point streak — a franchise record for a defenseman.
“I’ve tried to play the same,” he said. “I’ve tried to play hard and lead by example. I didn’t change in the locker room. Hopefully that’s good.”
Off the ice, he has been a quiet, calm presence on a team that has relied on more 20-something players than ever to pursue a spot in the playoffs.
The first Nashville draft pick ever to wear the 'C' for the franchise more often than not let his actions speak as loud as his words was the leading figure in a leadership group that included three other draft picks — Rinne, defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Martin Erat — as well as veteran forward Steve Sullivan. When necessary, he relied on his eyes, which unleash a glare that says more than most words.
“I don’t know if he’s at that point where he’s grabbed guys and done all that, but he gives you that death stare, and he doesn’t have to say anything," coach Barry Trotz said. “I think it’s sort of the strength of the group, not just [Weber]. But [Weber] is a good role model for that. He’s the strong, silent type, and then when he blows a gasket everybody takes cover.”
The Predators’ pursuit of a spot in the postseason was extended at least one more day Thursday when the Dallas Stars beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-2 and kept alive their slim playoff hopes.
Hours earlier, Weber already had it in his mind that the Stars would win and that it would be up to him and his teammates to win a game — or at least earn a point — on their own. After all, little else has come easily this season.
“It’s equally rewarding for everyone,” Weber said. “It’s a tight group in here, there’s a lot of chemistry for us to come together and put ourselves in this position … it’s rewarding for sure.
“I never wished [being named captain] it hadn’t happened, but definitely at the start of the year when I didn’t know what to expect there were times I was like, ‘Boy, this is challenging.’ It makes it that much better at this point in the year because of how hard it was early on.”