Predators Coach Peter Laviolette goes after the Penguins bench in a late season game in 2012
Current Predators Coach Peter Laviolette goes after the Penguins bench in a late season game in 2012

VandyRadio Sports Director Max Herz is a credentialed media member for the Nashville Predators. He’ll be covering the team all season long, producing The Home Ice Advantage, an all-hockey radio show, every Friday at 5 PM on VandyRadio, and writing about the team’s performance in his series of Fang Features. Follow him on Twitter @MaxHerzVU for Preds updates and inside access.

Current Nashville Predators Coach Peter Laviolette was hired as the Philadelphia Flyers’ bench boss on December 5, 2009. Laviolette took over a team that had been knocked out of the playoffs by the rival Pittsburgh Penguins in each of the two previous seasons, as the Penguins reached the Stanley Cup Finals both times. Within two weeks of his hiring, Laviolette’s club was swept by Pittsburgh in a home-and-home series. Soon afterward, the Flyers would quickly turn the tide in a previously lopsided rivalry.

Laviolette guided Philly to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals after taking over mid-season. In the 2010-11 season, the Flyers went 4-1-1 against the Penguins. That domination continued into the next campaign as well, when the two teams met in the playoffs. The Flyers won the first three games of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, ultimately taking the series in six games.

Peter Laviolette will face Pittsburgh again tonight as the most successful head coach against the Sidney Crosby-era Penguins. For the first time, he’ll do so as the Predators’ leader.

Looking back, Laviolette drew upon the physical nature of the rivalry. “It was a great rivalry,” he said. “Great games, they were terrific.” His Flyers were notorious for their physical play, and used that approach to dominate puck possession and exploit Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Penguins veteran forward Craig Adams knows that Laviolette’s new club plays a similar style to his previous team. “We’ve looked a little bit at their system and he’s brought his system that he’s used over the past few years [to Nashville]. Without having watched them play, I know what it’s like to play against. It can be tough coming through the neutral zone against them. I know they’re gonna be aggressive.”

Although both Adams and defenseman Kris Letang acknowledged that they hadn’t watched any games featuring Laviolette’s Predators, the Penguins know a system similar to that of Lavy’s Flyers awaits them.

Letang noted the impact of a difference in personnel between the Preds and Flyers. “It’s not the same guys, so it’s a different set of skills,” Letang said. “But at the end of the day he brings an aggressive style, forecheck, two guys on the puck at a time, guys that jump into the rush.”

Laviolette knows that his new group in Nashville differs greatly from his old Flyer teams and cannot perfectly replicate the strengths of those squads, but employing a similar system is a great start. “Our team’s gotta find our own way,” said the Preds Coach on beating Pittsburgh. “We know the challenge at hand tonight, we know what we’re up against. We know it’s gonna be a really difficult game for us and we’re preparing for that.”

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, the primary target of relentless pressure by Laviolette’s Flyers, has a hunch on how to beat the fast-paced system now employed by Nashville. “They like to have their defensemen join the rush and play a pretty quick game. When teams play quick like that, they have to make sure they execute it or else you end up having turnovers.”

Predators defensemen have successfully joined the rush throughout the team’s 5-0-2 start. Seth Jones joined the play and fed James Neal Thursday night for his first of three goals against the Blackhawks. Ryan Ellis had a goal and two assists Tuesday against the Coyotes, setting up a Mike Ribeiro goal by joining the rush to create a 4-on-1 break. The Penguins are just as fast as the Predators, though, and will look to catch the Preds getting too eager and counter-attack.

The Penguins have plenty of experience playing against Peter Laviolette’s teams, but they have very little experience defeating him. Nashville and Pittsburgh face off at 7 PM tonight.

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