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You'll recognize the familiar Preds this season — except when they start playing

The Brand-New Same Old



At some point — hopefully sooner than later — the Predators will score their first home goal of the season.

High above the ice, a clutch of men, clad head-to-toe in black, will swing their spotlights to the gleaming field of combat. In a darkened room above the press box, which looks suspiciously like the bridge of a submarine, Predators game operations czar Ron Zolkower will press a button, setting off a blast from the half-dozen boat horns that signal a home-team goal.

And then — with a click of a mouse — Zolkower, Kojak-bald with a constant smile half a foot wide, will send Tim McGraw to the big video screen.

After the drum-fill intro, Faith Hill's lucky husband will sing a send-up of his 1995 No. 1 hit "I Like It, I Love It." Except instead of proclaiming how he much he enjoys his "little gal's lovin'," McGraw will share his joy at "the Predators' scorin'." The song has played after every goal since the team's Nashville debut in 1998.

This year, though, it's just a little bit different.

The original video — a grainy film of McGraw in the studio — is gone. Now McGraw, wearing a new Preds gold home sweater, bobs and weaves in front of a futuristic background.

The old clip was a bit dated. It was very '90s, not unlike the 13-color logo the team simplified down to three over the summer.

But even though the optics have changed, the song remains the same. It's a Predators original, there from Day One — just like coach Barry Trotz, general manager David Poile, and forward David Legwand.

These may be the only remaining constants of Nashville fandom. McGraw sings, Trotz sells his team on the Predator Way, and Poile seeks deals on under-the-radar players, while Legwand scores empty-net goals.

But if the preseason and the first weekend of the season are any indication, Legwand, like the goal song, is getting a reboot.

Saddled with all the pressures of being the team's first draft pick — and the second pick overall — Legwand has rarely been more than a nearly-man in his time at Fifth and Broadway. A reliable two-way forward who can win face-offs and kill penalties and, yes, score when the net is open, but lacking the eye-popping offensive punch many people expect from a high-draft pick.

He leads Nashville in nearly every category imaginable — as well he should, being the original Predator. But he's cracked 50 points just once and never notched more than 27 goals.

What's more, he's been saddled, fairly or not, with a reputation for not contributing until late in the season — for not showing much fire, for not leading.

Now he's one of the few men in his 30s on the NHL's youngest team. And there's a sense Legwand is a new man. In the days after the funeral of Wade Belak, one of his best friends, Legwand reported to training camp and told the media gaggle his goal for the year: "Win the Stanley Cup."

It was a bold statement. Not just because Legwand isn't a man given to such pronouncements, but because the team, coming off its first-ever playoff series win, looked to still be in its forever search for goal scoring.

Fast-forward to opening weekend. Trotz slotted Legwand in the center of a line between Colin Wilson and Craig Smith. Wilson — a man whose nickname should be Holy Cow, given his propensity to be either frustratingly irresponsible or randomly brilliant — is 21 but entering his third year in the NHL. Craig Smith left the University of Wisconsin early after he led the USA in goals in this spring's World Championships and is but 22.

If goals were to come from inside the organization, Wilson and Smith seemed like a good place to look. But they needed a center — and as youngsters, a centering force.

And so far, they've found it with Legwand.

In the team's first two games, key back-to-back divisional road games against Columbus and St. Louis, this All-American line was more like Team America: World Police. Smith scored twice — in his first two NHL games, mind you. In St. Louis, Legwand put in two of his own (yes, one was an empty netter) and assisted on the other two. Combined, the line went for four goals and six assists in two games.

Playing between the youngsters, Legwand looked faster than he has in years.

Trotz acknowledged the difference.

"He's one of the graybeards," he said. "But Leggy feels young on that line."

If opening weekend is any indication, Legwand and his baby-faced retinue will be forcing Zolkower to click his mouse more than usual.

It'll be the same old song, sure. But getting more familiar with it, in this case, won't breed contempt.


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