Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Nashville Predators and their outlook for the summer.
The 2017-18 Nashville Predators finished atop the league. At the end of the regular season, that is.
For the first time in franchise history, the Preds clinched the President’s Trophy as the NHL club with the best regular season record (53-18-11) at season’s end. Nashville’s 117 points led the Central Division and Western Conference, but ultimately were no match for the Winnipeg Jets in seven games in the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
2018 NHL Entry Draft
Poile and the Predators do not have a first round pick in Friday’s draft as a result of the Ryan Hartman trade deadline acquisition made with the Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s a deep draft, so Poile will have to use his magic anyway and select the next elite player in the later rounds or pull off a classic one-for-one hockey trade that rivals the Shea Weber for P.K. Subban trade or Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen trade. Did I mention the Filip Forsberg deal yet? The point is, Poile’s a magician, but he still hasn’t won a Cup.
Speaking of drafting in the late rounds, though, Nashville doesn’t have a second round pick this year or a sixth round pick (which the latter is more concerning given the aforementioned take above).
Pending free agents
The Predators have about $7.500 million in spending allowance this summer.
Scott Hartnell is their only pending-UFA forward and at 36-years-old, he amassed 13-11–24 totals in 62 games with the club that drafted him 6th overall in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. The year-long reunion with his first NHL club produced totals that, sure, mean something from a bottom-6 forward, but he could be replaced as he only played four postseason games (scoring precisely, zero points).
As long as Hartnell isn’t getting a raise, Poile could keep him as a depth forward or a fourth liner, but if either party doesn’t see something mutual, then for sure Hartnell will be moving on.
Poile has two pending-RFA forwards to ponder this summer in Miikka Salomaki and Hartman.
Salomaki, 25, had two goals and six assists (eight points) in 58 games this season and went on to play in eight postseason games with Nashville. Since breaking into the NHL in 2014-15, Salomaki has had 8-11–19 totals in 125 career games. Not great for a mid-twenty-something year-old winger, but he’s more in his prime than, say, Hartnell is and for cheaper too.
Hartman, 23, in his second NHL season was traded by the Blackhawks to the Predators in a bit of a surprise move at the deadline, but went on to amass 11-20–31 totals in 78 games with Nashville and Chicago.
Despite taking some foolish retaliation penalties in the postseason, Hartman’s worth having somewhere in the Preds lineup for a bridge-deal to short-term contract as long as the dollars work out.
The biggest wrench in Poile’s plans might come in the form of Alexei Emelin‘s next contract if the pending-UFA defender is to re-sign with Nashville this offseason.
The 32-year-old blueliner had one goal and eight assists (nine points) in 76 games in his first season wearing a uniform other than the Montreal Canadiens sweater. Emelin was claimed by the Vegas Golden Knights at the 2017 Expansion Draft, then flipped to Nashville as part of a deal that solidified the Predators with the best top-6 defensive corps on paper in the NHL.
Shutdown, offensive, two-way, defensive– you name it, Nashville had it this season.
Emelin’s most recent contract carried a $4.100 million cap hit and if it’s going to be the same or even higher moving forward, Poile might be forced to let him walk with some key RFAs to re-sign for the longevity of the franchise.
One of those keys, of course, happens to be the Predators backup goaltender, Juuse Saros.
The 23-year-old is prime for taking over Pekka Rinne’s net one of these years– if the Preds can keep him around.
While others are after the Washington Capitals trying to work a deal on acquiring the rights to pending-RFA, Philipp Grubauer, Saros is comfortably sitting around with his 2.44 goals against average and .925 save percentage in 26 games played and 1.05 GAA and .952 SV% in 4 postseason appearances in this year’s playoffs.
Rinne is 35-years-old.
Shocking, I know, but even more shocking? He only has one-year left on his current deal with a $7.000 million cap hit.
Rinne posted a 2.31 GAA and .927 SV% in 59 games this season as Nashville’s starter, but faltered to a 3.07 GAA and .904 SV% in 13 games in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If the torch is almost to be passed from one elite goaltender to perhaps the next best goalie in the NHL, signing Saros to a sensible bridge-deal before both parties cash in is imperative this summer.
Perhaps, even, before making any major adjustments to the team.
Buyouts on the books: Viktor Stalberg through 2018-19 at $1.167 million
Other pending free agents throughout the organization include:
Well there you have it, folks. The second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs has come to a close with an almost-fitting end to the series that played out exactly how we thought it would without ever really playing out how we thought it would.
Perhaps the most hyped matchup of the postseason, it was nearly-universally agreed upon that Winnipeg/Nashville would go seven games, but how we got there was anything but predictable. A seven-game series that saw only two games end in one-goal margins (those in fact being the only games that ended with a margin of less than three tallies) and was more a story of attack/counter-attack. Nearly every game swung wildly to one team’s favor, usually on the back of explosive starts that took the wind out of the sails of the opponent before they knew what had happened.
Game 4 was a tight 2-1 affair, though hardly memorable on the back of a 7-4 gongshow victory in Game 3 for Winnipeg on home ice. Game 1 and Games 5-7 were all complete visiting team dominations silencing notoriously loud buildings. Game 2 was really our only look at what many expected from this series, with Nashville grabbing a thrilling 5-4 victory in double-overtime on home ice.
But since we’re here, let’s take a look at how this strange series came to a close.
Winnipeg controlled things early, hemming Nashville on their own side of center ice for most of the opening minutes. The Predators looked to be skating in deep sand, oftentimes unable to advance the puck forward at all, thanks to a stifling forecheck from the Jets and some careless puck control of their own doing. Surely, though, Pekka Rinne would be able to help his team survive the early problems and gain their footing…
Then Tyler Myers sent up a prayer from below the goal line to Rinne’s left that deflected into the net off of the stunned Nashville netminder, and just like that we had a 1-0 game 8:41 into the first period. But, again, no problem. We’re less than halfway through the first period, it’s just a one-goal deficit, Rinne will obviously shake this one off and…
2:06 later Rinne inexplicably abandons the near post after stopping a Paul Stastny stuff attempt, the rebound landing right back on his blade for him to chip over the pad and into the net for a Charmin Ultra-Soft 2-0 goal. Has anyone seen the wheels for this bus lately? We seem to have misplaced them.
Peter Laviolette, either wishing to settle things down without wasting a precious timeout, or knowing enough about his goaltender’s complete inability to recover from shaky starts in playoff games to realize that this ship needed immediate abandoning (third pull in the series for Rinne, you be the judge), yanked the big Finn in favor of the little Finn, inserting Juuse Saros into the net for the remainder of the game.
To their credit, the Predators responded to the move by finally picking up their game. P.K. Subban first drew a penalty, then fired a one-time Howitzer off the post and in on the resulting power play, bringing his team back within one with just over four minutes to play in the first.
Unfortunately for Nashville, this only seemed to fire up the opposition, with the Winnipeg defense vacuum-sealing their end from that point on, and Connor Hellebuyck dispelling any further offensive chances that came his way. The two goaltenders spent the next 20+ minutes countering everything thrown their way (which admittedly was not a lot as the two teams were basically stuck in a neutral zone traffic jam).
Late in the second period the Jets grabbed the momentum back when Blake Wheeler jumped on a turnover (a theme in this one, with the Predators committing 24 vs Winnipeg’s paltry 10) and hung Subban out to dry in no man’s land, sending a pass over to Scheifele who quickly lifted one over the shoulder of Saros to regain the two-goal lead with 2:10 left to play in the second frame.
The second period was really the finest display of a brilliant tactic Winnipeg utilized all night long, essentially using their team speed to actually slow the game down. No matter what Nashville tried to do, every puck carrier was instantly met by at least one, often multiple Jets. Passing lanes were non-existent due to some incredible defensive stickwork, and even when there appeared to be open space, it would close up immediately, leaving the Predators dumbfounded, and holding them to just six shots in the second period.
The Preds did gain some offensive traction in the third, but Hellebuyck always had the answer and the defense in front of him made sure he had a clear line of sight to every shot and limited follow-up opportunities for anything that their goaltender didn’t manage to grab onto. Of note, Dustin Byfuglien played a lights-out game defensively, basically making it impossible for any Predators player to get to the front of the net to set up screens. Toby Enstrom was also stellar, making countless beautiful stick and positioning plays throughout the night to break up some of the few rushes Nashville was able to start.
Nashville fought and clawed for every chance all throughout the third period, but their efforts came to a screeching halt at the 11:59 mark when Paul Stastny tallied his second goal of the game on Winnipeg’s lone power play of the night, banging home the rebound from a Laine blast before Saros could close down the five hole. That was Stastny’s fifth goal of this series, continuing a terrific playoff run for the deadline acquisition (lol remember that time the Blues traded him to the Jets for a lottery-protected first round pick?).
Mark Scheifele would add the 5-1 empty netter to tally his league-leading 11th goal of the playoffs with 2:33 remaining, but even with the extra man on the ice the Predators were just lost trying to find the answer to Winnipeg’s flawless defensive scheme.
So Winnipeg takes the series largely on the strength of winning three-of-four games in Nashville, all by convincing scores (4-1, 6-2, 5-1), and move on to face probably the only team in the Western Conference that can match their speed, the ‘Remember when we didn’t exist last year?’ Vegas Golden Knights in the Conference Finals. Game 1 of that series comes to you this Saturday night (May 12th) at 7 p.m. ET with DTFR recap coverage brought to you by @nlanciani53.
Snubbed for Calder Memorial Trophy consideration, rookie, Kyle Connor had his first career three-point Stanley Cup Playoff game en route to a 6-2 victory for the Winnipeg Jets on the road in Game 5 against the Nashville Predators.
The Jets silenced the Bridgestone Arena crowd and can clinch a spot in the 2018 Western Conference Finals with a win on home ice in Game 6.
Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck stopped 38 out of 40 shots on goal for a .950 save percentage in the win, while Pekka Rinne made 20 saves on 26 shots against for a .769 SV% in 46:23 time on ice before being replaced by Juuse Saros.
Saros made six saves on all six shots against in 13:37 TOI in his relief appearance.
There were no goals and no penalties in the first period, so the only thing you’ll need to know after 20 minutes of action in Game 5 is that the Predators outshot the Jets, 11-7.
Almost midway through the second period, Patrik Laine ripped a wrist shot towards the goal and the puck deflected off of Paul Stastny’s hand past Rinne to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead. Stastny (4) was rightfully credited with the goal upon validation that he did not intentionally swat the puck in with his hand or anything.
Laine (6) and Nikolaj Ehlers (4) notched the assists on the goal at 7:44 of the second period.
Less than four minutes later, Nashville defender, Yannick Weber (1) crept in from the point, straight to the goal and elevated a shot past Hellebuyck to tie the game, 1-1.
About a minute and a half later, Kyle Connor (1) notched his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal. Blake Wheeler (8) and Mark Scheifele (5) amassed the assists on Connor’s goal at 12:30 and the Jets had a one-goal lead, 2-1.
Dustin Byfuglien (4) extended Winnipeg’s lead to two-goals as the Jets blueliner continues to make his offensive prowess known a la his 2010 Stanley Cup run with the Chicago Blackhawks. Brandon Tanev (1) and Adam Lowry (2) had the assists on Byfuglien’s goal at 14:35 of the second period.
Just as quick as the Predators reemerged as a team that’s capable of going stride for stride with Winnipeg’s youth, the Jets surged in momentum and Connor (2) netted his second goal of the night— assisted by Wheeler (9) and Byfuglien (8)— to make it a 4-1 game late in the second frame at 17:01.
Things didn’t go according to plan as Ryan Johansen (5) broke free on a shorthanded bid and buried one behind Hellebuyck to bring the Preds back to within two, 4-2, at 17:59 of the second period.
Through 40 minutes of play, the Jets were in command of the scoreboard and leading in shots on goal, 22-20.
Mark Scheifele (9) all but put things away 28 seconds into the third period with his goal that made it, 5-2, Winnipeg. Connor (4) and Wheeler (10) notched the assists and the Predators had their backs against the wall.
Instead, frustrated by their own lack of offense and ability to control the pace of the game in possession and the like, Ryan Hartman took a careless interference minor after the young Predators forward delivered a check to Scheifele, far away from the puck.
Mathieu Perreault (1) collected his first goal of the postseason on the ensuing power play at 6:23 of the third period, burying the carom off the boards and putting the game out of reach with a four-goal lead for the Jets, 6-2.
Ehlers (5) had the only assist on the goal.
To put a stop to the bleeding, Peter Laviolette replaced his starter with backup, Juuse Saros.
At the final horn, Winnipeg had secured a 6-2 victory and 3-2 series lead heading back home for Game 6 at Bell MTS Place. The Predators led Game 5 in shots on goal (40-32), blocked shots (20-16), giveaways (21-10) and faceoff win percentage (59-41), while the Jets had an advantage in hits (27-23).
Winnipeg finished the night 1/3 on the power play and the Preds went 0/1.
With his three-point night (2-1–3 totals), Kyle Connor set a franchise record for the first three-point effort in a postseason game by a rookie in Winnipeg Jets/Atlanta Thrashers history.
Puck drop for Game 6 in Winnipeg is scheduled for Monday at 9:30 p.m. ET and game coverage will be on NBCSN in the United States, as well as CBC and TVAS across Canada. The Jets can advance to the Western Conference Final with a win.
With 47 saves from First Star of the Game and Vezina finalist G Connor Hellebuyck, the Winnipeg Jets beat the Nashville Predators 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena in Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinal.
Hockey is a bizarre, incredible game in that one side can absolutely dominate play by out-shooting the opposition 20-4 (yes, you read that correctly: only four shots on goal) in one period, yet it only takes one player to completely neutralize that assault.
Enter Hellebuyck, who came into the Second Round on the coattails of two consecutive shutouts to close out the Jets’ series against Minnesota.
Admittedly, he benefited from the Predators failing to connect on at least two passes that would have provided the recipient a prime scoring opportunity on an open net, but it could also be argued that the Jets defense, though porous, did stand up at the biggest moments to help Hellebuyck keep the Preds at bay – especially by clearing most rebounds off the netminder’s pads.
Making things even better for the Jets, their fourth shot on goal of the game ended up being the first marker of this highly anticipated Central Division showdown series. With 5:09 remaining in the frame, W Brandon Tanev (F Bryan Little) collected the rebound of Little’s shot off G Pekka Rinne‘s stick and right skate, beating the netminder’s blade to the near post to give the Jets a one-goal lead.
A similar storyline continued in the second period. Hellebuyck was charged with making 16 more saves after the first intermission, and he performed beautifully – albeit with the help of his right post when F Filip Forsberg should have buried a power play slap shot on a gaping cage.
And just like in the first frame, the Jets rewarded him with goals at the other end of the rink. 9:01 into the second period, C Paul Stastny (RW Patrik Laine and Ehlers) completed Ehlers’ powerful drive into the offensive zone by scrapping out a wrister in the slot after two Rinne saves.
And only 1:22 after Forsberg missed his opportunity to snap Hellebuyck’s shutout, C Mark Scheifele (RW Blake Wheeler and LW Kyle Connor) turned Winnipeg’s successful penalty kill into a wrister with 2:09 remaining in the period. This goal was a stellar example of Winnipeg’s counterattack, as Wheeler sped into the offensive zone to give the Jets a three-on-three opportunity. After dropping a pass to Scheifele, it was all the center could do but rip his wrister past Rinne’s blocker for the Jets’ third goal.
Following the second intermission, Head Coach Peter Laviolette elected to lift Rinne – who’d saved 13-of-16 shots faced (.813 save percentage) through two periods – in favor of G Juuse Saros to try and send a message to his club.
That message was more than received, as Fiala (C Kyle Turris and D Ryan Ellis) finally squeaked a wrister past Hellebuyck 1:23 into the third frame to end his perfect run. Fiala was the recipient of a stellar centering touch pass from Turris along the goal line, quickly potting his second goal of this postseason to set the score at 3-1.
However, Nashville couldn’t build any positive energy from that tally. Even though the Preds fired another 10 shots at Hellebuyck in the remaining 18:37 of regulation, they simply couldn’t replicate that winning formula to pull any closer to Winnipeg.
That led to Saros departing his crease for an extra attacker, which allowed Scheifele (Wheeler) to close out the match by burying an empty-netter with 36 seconds remaining in regulation.
Statistically, there’s few things the Predators did wrong in this game. They dominated the face-off dot (Nashville won 66 percent of draws) and threw more hits (29-22) even though they easily out-shot Winnipeg 48-19.
Instead, Nashville’s focus should be on duplicating Fiala’s goal if it wants any chance of besting Hellebuyck and his 47-of-48 (.979 save percentage) in Game 2.
Speaking of, that contest is scheduled for 7 p.m. Eastern on Sunday, April 29. For those that don’t have the pleasure of being in attendance at Bridgestone Arena that night, they may view the game on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.
The old saying goes that a team is never behind in a playoff series until it loses a home match. With that in mind, the Colorado Avalanche beat the Nashville Predators 5-3 to win Game 3 and pull within a victory of leveling their First Round series.
The good news for the Predators is that G Juuse Saros saved all 18 shots he faced in his 33:34 of action.
The bad news is, of course, that he didn’t start the game.
Instead, that honor was bestowed upon G Pekka Rinne, who saved only 11-of-15 (.733 save percentage) before being lifted at the 4:25 mark of the second period.
Going back to the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals, this was the third-consecutive road playoff game that saw Rinne get chased from the crease, not to mention his fourth-consecutive road playoff loss.
The Avs have made a living in this series pouncing on Rinne early, and that trend was only magnified with the luxury of home ice when they buried three markers before the first intermission.
Just like in Games 1 and 2, the Avs scored the first goal when Third Star of the Game W Blake Comeau (F Carl Soderberg and W Matthew Nieto) buried a tip-in only 1:50 into play – Colorado’s first shot on net in the contest. That advantage doubled to two goals with 6:36 remaining in the frame when W Gabriel Bourque (D Patrik Nemeth and F J.T. Compher) scored another tip-in from a similar position as Comeau’s tally: right in front of Rinne’s crease.
Not to be outdone by his own bottom-six, First Star F Nathan MacKinnon made sure to get on the scoreboard 4:43 after Bourque’s marker by scoring a wrist shot with a breakaway-springing assist from Second Star LW Gabriel Landeskog.
MacKinnon’s next act not only proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back for Rinne, but it also ended up as the game-winning goal by the time the Predators’ comeback attempt was said and done.
4:22 into the second period, RW Mikko Rantanen did his best Serge Savard spin-o-rama impression to fire a centering pass from along the goal line. However, Landeskog was not able to corral the pass and the puck trickled towards the high slot. C Kyle Turris had an opportunity to take possession of the loose puck, but it bounced over his stick to MacKinnon, who was sure to pocket his wrister over Rinne’s right shoulder.
Now with a comfortable 4-0 advantage, Colorado made it its job to weather whatever resurgence Nashville was going to assuredly muster up. Unfortunately, that plan didn’t work to perfection when Nemeth and D Nikita Zadorov were both sent to the penalty box at the 9:27 mark of the second frame for respective cross checking and hooking penalties.
Handed a full two minutes of five-on-three play, the Preds did exactly what any good squad would do and took advantage of that opportunity. Nashville finally got on the scoreboard with 9:37 remaining in the second period to pull within a 4-1 deficit courtesy of a F Ryan Johansen (F Filip Forsberg and D Ryan Ellis) wrister.
While Nemeth was serving up the remainder of his penalty, G Jonathan Bernier decided it would be really neat to make a save with his neck. Ellis’ shot rode up on him and would have sneaked by had the netminder not squeezed the puck between his head and shoulder pads. As would be expected, Bernier took a second to recover from the play, but he stayed in the game.
Even though no more scoring occurred in the second frame after Johansen’s marker, Pepsi Center’s scoreboard operator still had much to do. Four more penalties occurred before the second intermission. Three of those infractions were against the Predators, including negating holding penalties between MacKinnon and D P.K. Subban. What doesn’t make the scorecard is why MacKinnon was holding Subban in the first place, as the Nova Scotian was on the receiving end of a questionable elbow. These teams are growing increasingly displeased with each other, and that is made even more apparent when the heavily-favored Predators struggle to get past Bernier and the Avs.
The closest Nashville got to a third period comeback occurred at the 7:12 mark when F Colton Sissons (D Roman Josi and Ellis) buried a wrister, but the Predators couldn’t make anything more out of that positive energy. That forced Head Coach Peter Laviolette to pull Saros for an extra attacker, allowing Landeskog (Rantanen and D Mark Barberio) to score an empty-netter with 1:36 remaining in regulation.
F Austin Watson did score a wrister 21 seconds later that was challenged for goaltender interference, but Toronto ruled it to be a good goal. Of course, it didn’t ultimately matter, as the Predators were unable to score two goals to level the game.
The Avalanche’s comeback is far from done, however. Game 4 is still an important match in this playoff series, as the Predators could go home with either a 2-2 tie or needing only one more win to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals. Game 4 is scheduled for 10 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, April 18 at Pepsi Center. Fans can catch the game on NBCSN, SN and TVAS.
In a first, everyone (except for Jordan) appears on the Down the Frozen River Podcast to predict how the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs will go before the 2017-18 NHL regular season even ends, technically speaking. The 100th episode anniversary is informally observed.
Even for a Tuesday, a dozen games on the schedule is a crazy high number! Count me among the thankful!
Like it does most nights, the action begins at 7 p.m. with two contests (New Jersey at Boston [SN] and Carolina at Pittsburgh), followed half an hour later by another pair (Colorado at Montréal [RDS/TSN2] and Philadelphia at Detroit [NBCSN]). A third pair of fixtures (Ottawa at St. Louis [RDS2] and Tampa Bay at Nashville [TVAS]) will get underway at 8 p.m., while Florida at Dallas will wait 30 minutes before seeing the green light. Next up is Buffalo at Edmonton at 9 p.m., trailed an hour after by three games (Los Angeles at Vancouver, Columbus at Vegas [SN360] and the New York Rangers at Anaheim). Finally, Winnipeg at San Jose finishes the night out with their game starting at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.
As might be expected, there’s a few games that have some added narrative associated.
- New Jersey at Boston: After two seasons wearing black and gold, RW Jimmy Hayes returns to TD Garden for the first time as a member of the Devils.
- Florida at Dallas: Though this is year two of F Colton Sceviour‘s tenure with the Panthers, he has yet to return to Dallas, where he spent the first five seasons of his NHL career.
- Buffalo at Edmonton: Journeyman LW Benoit Pouliot spent three seasons before this one in Edmonton. Tonight, he returns for the first time as a member of the Sabres.
However, since I’ve remained steadfast in my prediction of a Nashville-Tampa Bay Stanley Cup Final for most of the season, I think we have to take in the Bolts’ visit to Music City.
Of course, don’t let me convince you that I’m the only one to think this is a very likely Finals matchup. According to an ESPN article on August 14, the Bolts had 12-1 odds to win for the championship series, trailed closely behind by Nashville’s 14-1 mark. For reference, the Pens were Vegas’ favorites at 6-1.
Then again, the Devils and Golden Knights were two of five teams to have 200-1 odds that day, so what did anybody know almost two months before the season began?
Of course, based on how it’s played lately, 32-12-3 Tampa Bay has not exactly lived up to expectations. Before yesterday’s 2-0 win in Chicago, the league-leading Lightning had lost three-straight games in a skid that started before their bye week.
The biggest reason for that losing skid was an offense that absolutely disappeared on the Lightning. Even though the Bolts still own a league-leading 3.49 goals per game on the season, they managed only a 1.5 goals-per-game since January 11 – the fourth-worst in that time.
Perhaps no stat is more telling of Tampa Bay’s struggles than this one: Over their past four games, F Brayden Point has been the Lightning’s leading scorer.
That’s certainly not a knock on Point’s effort, either of late or on the season. He’s averaged a point-per-game in his past four outings with 3-1-4 totals, and his 19-24-43 marks have already exceeded those of his 68-game rookie season that earned him a 10th-place finish in the race for last year’s Calder Trophy. In fact, he’s (t)ninth in the league with his +20 rating.
However, Point is no W Nikita Kucherov, who leads the league in points (61), is (t)second in goals (27) and 10th in assists (34); or C Steven Stamkos, who’s (t)sixth in points (54) and eighth in assists (37). Together, they’ve combined for only three assists over these last four games, and their team has obviously suffered without their leadership. In a big game tonight, they will need to perform well to ensure their club’s return to form last night is not short-lived.
With the Bolts in action last night, the goaltending situation is never set in stone until puck drop. However, I have a hard time believing 1-6-0 G Louis Domingue will steal 28-9-2 G Andrei Vasilevskiy‘s crease away from him given the magnitude of tonight’s tilt. The league’s wins and shutouts (seven) leader’s .93 save percentage is third-best in the NHL, and his 2.21 GAA fifth-best.
If the Lightning are trending down lately, 28-11-6 Nashville – the Central Division’s second-best team – is definitely heading in the right direction. The Preds have won five-straight games to pull within a point of division-leading Winnipeg, on whom they have three games in hand.
If Nashville’s winning streak belongs to any one player, it has to be 23-8-3 G Pekka Rinne. Even though his defense has allowed an unimpressive 33.4 shots against-per-game over this five-game run (11th-worst average in the league since January 6), he’s won all four of his starts with a .927 save percentage and 2.21 GAA. Add 5-3-3 G Juuse Saros‘ shutout victory against the league-leading Golden Knights last week into the mix, and the Preds have allowed only 1.8 goals against-per-game – the third-best mark in the NHL since January 6.
As we all know, this stellar performance by Rinne is nothing new. Not only has he won the (t)fourth-most games in the NHL, but his three shutouts are (t)fifth-most and his .925 season save percentage is eighth-best. Is there nothing he can’t do?
A sputtering offense taking on a goaltender having a Vezina-caliber season is never a good matchup, however I think we all know better than to count the Lightning out of any game. That being said, I believe Bridgestone Arena’s home-ice advantage will propel the Predators to a well-earned victory.
With a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Colorado Avalanche have extended their winning streak to 10 games.
Only one goal was struck in the first period, and it belonged to Third Star of the Game W Gabriel Bourque (F Tyson Jost and F J.T. Compher). He buried a wrist shot 2:19 into the game to give the Avs an early one-goal advantage.
Colorado’s lead lasted until the 19 second mark of the second period. That’s when F Patrick Marleau (F Leo Komarov and D Jake Gardiner) scored a slap shot to level the game. 8:58 later, Second Star C Auston Matthews (F William Nylander and D Andreas Borgman) gave the Leafs their only lead of the night with a wrister. However, that advantage didn’t last long, because W Nail Yakupov (F Alexander Kerfoot) tied the game at 2-2 only 1:34 later. That score held into the second intermission.
Both defenses took over the third period, as only a combined 15 shots were fired. However, the Colorado offense was the one to break through and score two goals – the most important of which was First Star W Blake Comeau‘s (F Carl Soderberg and D Erik Johnson) game-winning tip-in with 7:43 remaining in regulation.
After Comeau brought the puck to center ice, he passed to Soderberg to complete the entry into the offensive zone from his left wing position. While Soderberg was working to get around D Connor Carrick, Comeau continued to advance towards G Frederik Andersen‘s crease, allowing him to redirect a centering pass through the five-hole.
With his club trailing by only one goal late in the game, Head Coach Mike Babcock was forced to pull Andersen with 2:27 remaining in regulation. LW Gabriel Landeskog (RW Mikko Rantanen) took advantage of the gaping cage only 1:33 later to set the 4-2 final score.
G Jonathan Bernier won his return to the ACC after saving 29-of-31 shots faced (.935 save percentage), leaving Andersen with the loss, saving 23-of-26 (.885).
Road teams have won three-consecutive games in the DtFR Game of the Day, but they still trail the 59-36-13 hosts by 19 points.
Nick ventures down to Charlotte to hang out with Connor and record the first podcast in person with another member of the DTFR crew in over a year. We tried to stay on topic, but eventually delved into some Charlotte Hornets talk after discussing Willie O’Ree, Rene Rancourt, the Boston Bruins and more.
After yesterday’s boring schedule with only one game, it’s time to get the league back in action with a dozen contests tonight.
As it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with four matchups (Tampa Bay at Toronto [TVAS], Boston at the New York Islanders [SN], Pittsburgh at Philadelphia [NBCSN] and Washington at Carolina), followed half an hour later by San Jose at Montréal (RDS/TSN2). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of the next two games (New Jersey at St. Louis and Florida at Minnesota), while Columbus at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Winnipeg at Colorado is the next contest to get started at 9 p.m., followed half an hour later by Los Angeles at Edmonton (NBCSN) and tonight’s co-nightcaps – Anaheim at Vancouver and Nashville at Vegas – at 10 p.m. to close out the evening. All times Eastern.
There’s more than a few of today’s contests that stick out…
- Pittsburgh at Philadelphia: If rivalries are what get you going, this is the game for you.
- Los Angeles at Edmonton: Maybe F Jussi Jokinen‘s trade can reignite this C Wayne Gretzky-era rivalry? That’s probably super optimistic.
- Anaheim at Vancouver: Speaking players making a return to a former home arena, G Ryan Miller spent the last three seasons calling Rogers Arena home.
- Nashville at Vegas: D Alexei Emelin was a Golden Knight for 10 days this summer, so does this count as a homecoming?
Of that list, there’s no matchup more exciting than the Predators’ visit to Sin City!
I know we’ve featured both these clubs in the past seven days, but how can we possibly ignore a matchup between two of the top four teams in the NHL?
If there’s one thing to expect from this game, it’s offense. The 26-9-2 Golden Knights and 23-10-5 Predators are both among the top-seven offenses in the league, averaging more than three goals per game.
For Vegas, which averages a second-best 3.51 goals per game and has won seven-straight games, that attack is led by none other than F Jon Marchessault and his team-leading 14-22-36 totals. Although he started the season with only a 3-3-6 effort in eight October games, he’s exploded in the past two months to be the only Knight to average more than a point-per-game on the season.
Of course, that does disrespect C William Karlsson at least a little, because he’s been absolutely exemplary himself. No one on Vegas’ roster has scored more goals than Karlsson, and his 20 tallies are good enough to put him in sixth-place in the race for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy.
Meanwhile, the Predators’ offense – which is usually very strong and manages a seventh-best 3.16 goals-per-game – may be in disarray this evening with F Filip Forsberg on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. Forsberg still leads the team with his 15-19-34 totals, but his departure leaves D P.K. Subban as the club’s active leading scorer with 9-20-29 totals.
Fortunately for the Preds, they have already played a game without Forsberg against Minnesota. Nashville was able to win that game 3-0 at Bridgestone Arena on Saturday, but the Wild are definitely an inferior opponent in comparison to Vegas. The main reason for that victory was undoubtedly the stellar play of 4-3-2 G Juuse Saros (he saved all 29 shots he faced), and 19-7-3 G Pekka Rinne may need to duplicate that performance for Nashville to earn points from tonight’s contest.
Of course, if anybody can do it, I’d put my money on Rinne. After all, he’s already managed three shutouts this season ([t]fourth-most in the league) in addition to his other 16 wins (fifth-most in the NHL) on the back of his .924 save percentage (seventh-best in the league) and 2.47 GAA (10th-best in the NHL).
I’ll just let all those stats sink in for a moment. Yes, he’s good.
But don’t think Rinne is the only solid goaltender in today’s game. G Marc-Andre Fleury is the one that comes in with three Stanley Cup rings and a 7-1-1 record on the season. He’s posted a .938 save percentage for a 1.96 GAA on the season, both of which are superior to Rinne’s numbers.
These teams have already tangled once before this season, and that contest was a real thriller. In W James Neal‘s first game back in Nashville on December 8, he and W Reilly Smith led the Golden Knights to a 4-3 shootout victory. I feel safe in saying we might be in line for an equally competitive game tonight.
With Forsberg being out of the lineup, I question if Nashville’s offense will be able to keep up with the Golden Knights. Even with D Ryan Ellis making his season debut tonight, unless Rinne simply plays out of his mind – which is certainly a possibility – all signs are pointing towards a Vegas victory.
The New York Rangers needed overtime, but they beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in
the Winter Classic yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Citi Field.
The Blueshirts exploded out of the gate, as they scored both their regulation goals in the first period. F Paul Carey (RW Jesper Fast and F Boo Nieves) opened the scoring 4:09 into the period and W Michael Grabner (Third Star of the Game F Kevin Hayes and First Star F J.T. Miller) set the score at 2-0 only 4:11 later.
The next two goals were struck by Buffalo, and both tallies took place within the first minute of each of the remaining periods. F Sam Reinhart (RW Kyle Okposo and D Rasmus Ristolainen) was the first Sabre to find the back of the net, but he got some help from D Nick Holden when he was caught hooking Okposo with 23 seconds remaining in the first period. 56 ticks into the middle frame, Reinhart buried a power play wrist shot to pull the Sabres back within a goal.
Ristolainen (F Ryan O’Reilly and Okposo) needed no such advantage when he scored 27 seconds into the third period. It wasn’t exactly a strong wrister from the blue line, but it was enough to get past G Henrik Lundqvist and level the game.
It seems power play goals were the way to take control of scoring in this game, because New York found its game-winner while on the man-advantage. At the 2:15 mark of the five minute three-on-three overtime period, F Jacob Josefson was caught tripping W Jimmy Vesey to earn himself a seat in the penalty box.
That’s what set up the four-on-three advantage that led to Miller’s (D Kevin Shattenkirk and W Mats Zuccarello) backhanded goal that beat Second Star G Robin Lehner. Only 28 after play had resumed from Josefson’s infraction, Shattenkirk fired a wrist shot on goal that Lehner was able to deflect with ease. However, he wasn’t able to contain the rebound, which allowed Miller to collect the puck and tap it into a gaping cage.
Lundqvist earned the victory after saving 31-of-33 shots faced (.939 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Lehner, who saved 39-of-42 (.929).
Even though the game was played in Queens and not the Queen City, the Rangers played the role of road team in this season’s Winter Classic, meaning they snapped the three-game winning streak DtFR Game of the Day hosts were riding in the series. However, those home teams still lead the series by 23 points with a 49-27-11 record.