Nashville D Shea Weber peaking with Sochi looming
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP)
Predators captain Shea Weber doesn't feel like he's doing anything differently this season. His teammates and coach beg to differ.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz says the two-time Norris Trophy finalist is having his best season yet - by far.
''It's not even close,'' Trotz said Tuesday after practice. ''His consistency and his play this year is unparalleled compared to the other years. I could even say those years that he was a finalist he had some stretches where he was a little inconsistent. This year he's been pretty darn good. He's leading us every night.
''I can tell you this. Every coach in the league when they see Shea Weber coming down their road, their best forwards are trying to avoid him all the time.''
Weber has scored more goals (13) than any other NHL defenseman, has skated 30 minutes or more in six different games and ranks seventh in the league for blocked shots. He ranks second on the Predators and sixth among all defensemen with 34 points. The Predators are 10-1-2 when he scores a goal, including a 4-1 win over Dallas on Monday night.
One of the league's hardest shots, Weber is so strong he ripped a puck through the net for a sizzling goal at the Vancouver Olympics counted only after they checked the replay. He was clocked at 106 mph at the 2012 All-Star game skills competition, losing out to Zdeno Chara of Boston each of the past two years.
Now Weber's also an alternate captain as Team Canada prepares to defend its gold medal at the Sochi Olympics, joining Jonathan Toews of Chicago with that honor behind captain Sidney Crosby of Pittsburgh.
''That tells how important he is and how big a star he is in the league, and we're pretty happy we got him,'' Trotz said.
The 6-foot-4, 233-pound Weber is humble enough that it's tough to get many words out of him when asked about himself. He called being an alternate captain a huge honor.
''You look at the guys in that room and how many captains there are on their own club team, so it's definitely a bunch of great leaders and definitely should be a bunch of fun,'' Weber said.
Weber's timing certainly is good. Nashville has won three of its last four with Weber scoring three of the Predators' last 15 goals, and he has 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in his last 22 games. No defenseman in the NHL has scored more points than Weber (14) since Dec. 28. He also has nine power-play goals, which is the most by any defenseman.
He also ranks fourth in the NHL averaging 26 minutes, 48 seconds of ice time per game.
Predators forward Mike Fisher said they all know guys don't like playing against Weber.
''It's really kind of a shame that he hasn't had a Norris so far in my opinion,'' Fisher said. ''I've played with a lot of great D, and he's the most well-rounded D I think that I've played with. Can do it all, and he's having a great year, doing a lot of good things. His name should definitely be, in my books, at the top.''
Weber said his key this season simply is trying to play the same way each night and trying to get the puck on net as much as possible. He helped out enough in the 2010 Olympics close to his home in Sicamous, British Columbia, tying for second among defenseman with 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) that he was named to the tournament's all-star team.
''That's probably the most pressure a lot of guys have been under I think on that Canadian team,'' Weber said. ''I know that playing at home in Canada everyone expects you to win being there in Vancouver.''
Weber and the Canadians will head to Sochi with similar expectations, though playing on Russia's home ice will add to the challenges.
''A lot of guys may not have even been to Russia before,'' Weber said. ''It's definitely not going to be the same as Vancouver. I think we're aware of that, and we know it's going to be a different thing all on its own.''
A lot like Weber himself.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker