NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Predators captain Shea Weber always puts team goals before individual ones.
But with less than 10 games remaining in the season and the Predators a long shot to make the playoffs, at best, Weber still has some individual milestones that are within reach.
"Obviously, (I) want to contribute and chip in any way I can offensively," Weber said, "but defense first, obviously, then try to help the team out after that."
He scored twice on Thursday in a 5-1 win against Buffalo, giving him 20 goals, which ties him with Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for the league lead among defensemen.
For a defenseman, scoring 20 goals is almost equivalent to a forward scoring 50. In his ninth season, Weber has hit the 20-goal mark just once — 23 in 2008-09.
Over the past seven seasons, Weber ranks among only five defensemen to have reached that mark. The others are Washington’s Mike Green (31 in 2008-09), Edmonton’s Sheldon Souray (23 in 2008-09), Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien (20 in 2010-11) and Karlsson this season.
"I think it’s a pretty good mark," said Predators coach Barry Trotz. "It just means that you’re a constant contributor for your team offensively. I think it also says you’ve got some unique qualities, either to get up in the play and make plays and score some goals and joining the attack or you got a special quality, which he does in terms of the big shots.
"If you can get 20 goals in this league more than once in your career … you’re a pretty special defenseman."
As Trotz alluded, Weber possesses a special slap shot. He has 11 power-play goals, which ties him for sixth in the league among all players.
A player like Karlsson is one of the game’s great skaters. He gets many of his goals from joining the rush, often the result of the Senators’ up-tempo style.
With the Predators, that is not the case.
"I wouldn’t say we’re an opportunistic team off the rush," Weber said. "We grind teams and find ways to score by beating them in their own end and cycling them. When you can, you jump in and help out but it’s maybe not as frequent."
Playing in the Western Conference also curtails Weber’s frequency of legitimate goal chances. Six of the top eight clubs, record-wise, reside in the West, where teams generally employ a more tight-checking style than in the Eastern Conference.
"Especially in the West, teams play so tight and you don’t get that space," Weber said. "You’ve got to find different ways to score, especially teams are changing the way they kill penalties and the way they cover guys and stuff. So, I think that’s why Karlsson’s been so consistent. He’s been able to jump in the rush and he’s a big part of the attack off the rush and gets his opportunities then."
Weber speaks with a lot of respect for Karlsson, who edged him out for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman in 2012, which seemed like an injustice by the voters.
For that season, Karlsson ranked seventh among his team’s defensemen (most teams dress only six per night) in short-handed time on ice. How a player could be the top defenseman in the league and spend so little time killing penalties defies credulity.
But that is the past. Prior to Nashville’s game on Thursday in which Weber scored twice, he said he thought it would be hard to catch Karlsson for the league lead.
"It’s tough with a guy like that who is so good offensively," Weber said of Karlsson. "Obviously, he has a chance to score every night. It’s hard to catch him, but if it helps us win games and obviously helps our power play get going, it would be a nice thing to do. Even to be close to him, I think it’s a good accolade to have."
Weber acknowledged that his primary goal — team success — will likely fall short for a second straight season. One issue for Nashville has been the lack of experience among its defense corps. With the trade of Kevin Klein, the Predators’ five regular defensemen, other than Weber, are 23 or younger.
Weber did not want to use that inexperience as an excuse.
"We had a lot of changeover at the start of the year and I don’t know," he said. "There’s ups and downs. There are times we’ve played really well and solid and then there’s times where we didn’t even look like ourselves. I don’t know if that’s due to any inexperience or what, but there’s definitely signs of a lot of good things in here and even the way we’re playing lately.
"We’re playing very hard and finally getting some results offensively, so that’s making guys happy. Just need to make sure we’re sticking to our defensive game and doing that first."
Maybe in the final few games, Trotz will give Weber the green light to jump in the rush and try to score a little more.