When Shea Weber hammered home 10 goals in the first 20 games of the season, he became the first NHL defenseman to do so in more than two decades.
The problem was that those numbers drew the attention of opponents and media around the league, which were two of the bigger reasons Weber's goal production stalled over the next few months.
Rival coaches concentrated their efforts on finding ways to stop Weber's feared one-timer, and journalists immediately turned him into a trendy pick for the next Norris Trophy winner.
Fortunately for the Predators, the 6-foot-4, 230-pound Weber maintained a high level of defensive play even as the goal pace slowed. And his game-winning overtime score against St. Louis on Saturday might Weber's first goal in 15 games might just be a sign that portion of his game is ready to heat up once again.
"I think the fact that he got off to a great start attracted a lot of attention and rightfully so,'' Predators Coach Barry Trotz said. "But that's good, because it's something any top player making the transition has to deal with. You have to deal with everything from more media to opponents checking you and being more aware of you on the ice.
"Do you get frustrated or do you play your game? Do you find ways to counter some of the things they're doing? That's all part of the process.''
Most of Weber's first 10 goals came via his punishing slapshot, the one that was timed at 103.4 mph at the All-Star game. In the Predators' 5-2 win over Carolina, for instance, Weber twice scored from long range despite the fact goalie Cam Ward got clean looks at the puck.
Opponents' solutions? Make it harder for Weber to get the puck in a shooting position, and when he does, put bodies in his way to block the screamers from getting through.
"That's what makes it hard for defensemen, because they're easier for teams to cover than a forward,'' Predators captain Jason Arnott said. "You know when he's on the ice, the coaches are saying, 'Do not let him have a one-timer, and if he does, try to get in front of it because if it gets through there's a good chance it will go in.' So it's very, very tough as a D-man to keep as many goals going as possible.''
There was also the matter of trying to live up to expectations that were raised rapidly after the smoking start.
"We were just joking around the other day and saying that maybe we should get off to a slower start next season,'' said Ryan Suter, Weber's defensive partner. "Maybe we should ease into things to keep the expectations down.''
The good news for the Predators was that though the goal pace slowed, Weber kept up a strong all-round standard of play. He's 10th in the league in hits and is second to Suter in average ice time for the Predators.
"That's the biggest thing for me being a complete player,'' Weber said. "I want to be able to take care of my own end first because that's the biggest priority, and then if I can chip in at the other end, I'll take it.''
On Saturday, Weber joined the rush during four-on-four play in overtime and wound up smacking a shot from the slot past Blues goalie Chris Mason for the game-winner.
The goal was his 15th, a total that, despite some dry patches over the past few months, is still tied for third in the league among defensemen.
"He jumped up in the play and that's the thing he's such a good skater (that) he can really get up the ice,'' Trotz said. "You have to find different ways to score and jumping up in the play is something a good defenseman can do in this league.''
Playoff tickets: The Predators said they will keep first-round playoff ticket prices the same as 2008-09 regular-season ticket prices.
Playoff invoices will be e-mailed to season-ticket holders in the next few days; deadline is March 17.
The Predators are four points out of the eighth and final Western Conference playoff berth.
Bonk sidelined: Trotz said center Radek Bonk will miss about two weeks because of the upper-body injury he suffered Saturday. That timeframe could keep Bonk, second in the league in face-off success rate, out of the next six Nashville games and past the March 4 NHL trading deadline.
Forward J.P. Dumont also missed practice Monday, but Trotz called it a maintenance day for the veteran forward and said Dumont was likely to play tonight against Chicago.
Wednesday show: Forward Wade Belak and defenseman Kevin Klein will be guests on this week's Players Show, which takes place 6-7 p.m. Wednesday at the Closing Bell Wall Street Pub on Demonbreun Street. The show airs on 560-AM ; Daily News Journal Sports Editor Greg Pogue will serve as host.
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