Tag Archives: Kevin Fiala

Preds down Jets, 2-1, in Game 4

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For the first time since February 27th, the Winnipeg Jets have lost a home game. Interestingly enough, that was also a Nashville Predators win.

Nashville evened their Second Round series matchup with the Jets in a 2-1 victory on Thursday night at Bell MTS Place.

Predators netminder, Pekka Rinne, made 32 saves on 33 shots against for a .970 save percentage in the win, while Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck had 27 saves on 29 shots faced for a .931 SV% in 58:09 time on ice.

Peter Laviolette inserted veteran forward, Scott Hartnell, into his lineup in place of Kevin Fiala and the Predators and Jets were just as physical as ever from puck drop on Thursday.

On a delayed penalty to Roman Josi for cross checking Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine retaliated and received a roughing minor at 3:46 of the first period. As such, what was going to be a power play for Winnipeg suddenly evaporated into matching minors.

Shortly thereafter, while the Jets were racking up scoring chance after scoring chance, Rinne— in desperation— stopped a shot with the knob of his stick and the game remained tied, 0-0.

Late in the first period on a faceoff win in the offensive zone, Ryan Hartman (2) made Winnipeg pay on an individual effort for the game’s first goal. Nashville led, 1-0, at 17:20 of the first period.

Through one period of action in Game 4, the Predators were leading, 1-0, on the scoreboard and trailing, 12-9, in shots on goal. Winnipeg led in blocked shots (2-1), giveaways (8-5) and faceoff win percentage (53-47), while Nashville held an advantage in hits (12-10) and takeaways (4-2).

Both teams had yet to appear on the power play entering the first intermission, though Craig Smith’s minor penalty for tripping Winnipeg defender, Adam Lowry, at 20:00 of the first period meant that the Jets would begin their first power play of the night starting from puck drop in the second period.

The two Western Conference powerhouses swapped scoring chance for scoring chance in the second period after the Preds killed off Smith’s minor penalty, but the scoreboard did not change until Nashville got their first power play opportunity of the night.

Jets blueliner, Dustin Byfuglien, slashed Nashville’s Mattias Ekholm and was sent to the box at 13:43 of the second period. Less than a minute later, the Predators converted on the man advantage.

Filip Forsberg worked the puck back to the point where P.K. Subban (3) shot a rocket of a slap shot past Hellebuyck as the Winnipeg netminder was being screened by Viktor Arvidsson in front of the goal.

Forsberg (7) and Ryan Johansen (6) notched the assists on Subban’s goal at 14:36 of the second period and the Predators amassed a two-goal lead.

Late in the second, Lowry hooked Kyle Turris and Nashville went back on the power play, but the Predators were not able to score on the ensuing advantage heading into the second intermission. They did, however, have 39 seconds remaining on the power play to start the third period.

After 40 minutes of play, the Nashville Predators led the Winnipeg Jets, 2-0. Winnipeg held a slight advantage in shots on goal (23-22), blocked shots (6-4) and giveaways (13-9). The Predators held an advantage in hits (20-17) and takeaways (6-2), while the Jets led in faceoff win percentage (53-47).

Nashville was 1/2 on the power play while the Jets were 0/1 after two periods.

The Predators held onto their 2-0 lead deep into the third period and were approaching a mark not seen in Winnipeg since March 11, 2017. That mark, of course, being the last time the Jets were shutout on home ice— regular season or postseason.

With a little more than two minutes remaining in regulation, Paul Maurice pulled his goaltender for an extra skater. Shortly thereafter, things went from 6-on-5 to 6-on-4 for Winnipeg as Subban was penalized for cross checking Scheifele at 17:58 of the third period.

Scheifele fanned on a one-timer on the ensuing power play and almost redeemed himself on a follow up, but Rinne worked his magic once again and covered it up with about a minute left in regulation.

That’s when Maurice used his timeout to draw up a plan to avoid being shutout and attempt to score two quick goals.

Paul Stastny won the ensuing faceoff back to Laine (3), who fired a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle through Rinne’s five-hole as the puck deflected off of a chunk of the Finnish goaltender.

Stastny (7) had the only assist on Laine’s power play goal at 19:09 of the third period and Winnipeg cut the Predators lead in half, 2-1.

After a couple more stoppages in play and a timekeeping adjustment, the Jets had an offensive faceoff with 1.2 seconds left in the game— plenty of time to win a faceoff and score a goal if they were to execute the perfect play.

It did not go as perfect.

Stastny won the attacking zone faceoff back to Laine, but Laine’s shooting lane was jammed, so the Jets winger had to throw the puck in front of the net as fast as possible as time expired and the Nashville Predators evened the series, 2-2.

After 60 minutes, the Predators won the game, 2-1, and led in blocked shots (9-6) and hits (27-23). Meanwhile, Winnipeg led in shots on goal (33-29), giveaways (19-12) and faceoff win percentage (58-42). Both teams were 1/2 on the power play.

With the series tied, 2-2, the series shifts back to Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee Saturday night at 9:30 p.m. ET for Game 5. Viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can tune in on CBC or TVAS. Game 6 will be back in Winnipeg on Monday night.

Fiala, Preds, even series with Jets in 2OT win

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Kevin Fiala scored the game-winning overtime goal at 5:37 of the second overtime period Sunday night at Bridgestone Arena and the Nashville Predators topped the Winnipeg Jets, 5-4, in Game 2. The Second Round series is now tied, 1-1, heading into Game 3 on Tuesday.

Predators netminder, Pekka Rinne had 46 saves on 50 shots against for a .920 save percentage in 85:37 time on ice in the win, while Jets goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck, made 36 saves on 41 shots against for an .878 SV% in 84:50 TOI in the loss.

Getting the first goal in a Stanley Cup Playoff game means (almost) everything. Ryan Johansen (3) scored the game’s first goal just 27 seconds into the action and the Predators had a 1-0 lead. Filip Forsberg (3) and P.K. Subban (4) had the assists.

Matt Hendricks bumped into Rinne past the seven minute mark in the first period and received the game’s first penalty as Nashville went on the power play. The Preds did not convert on the man advantage.

Moments later, Ryan Hartman tripped Paul Stastny and the Jets went on their first power play of the night. Winnipeg’s power play was short lived, though, as Blake Wheeler promptly tripped Colton Sissons 52 seconds into Winnipeg’s man advantage opportunity.

As Nashville’s abbreviated power play was wrapping up, Viktor Arvidsson, was guilty of a minor penalty for interference.

Seconds later, after winning a faceoff in the offensive zone, the Jets worked the puck along the wall, around the boards and back to the point, where Dustin Byfuglien was sneaking his way in towards the goal.

Byfuglien (1) fired a shot from close range and snuck the puck through Rinne’s five-hole for his first goal of the postseason and tied the game, 1-1. Mark Scheifele (2) had the only assist on the goal at 12:47 of the first period.

Just 29 seconds after Byfuglien scored, Winnipeg converted on their abbreviated power play with Arvidsson in the box for Nashville.

Scheifele (7) was in the right place at the right time as Stastny collected a rebound that caromed off the glass behind the net and dished a pass to the young Jets forward standing point blank in the slot. Stastny (4) and Patrik Laine (4) notched the assists on the goal that made it, 2-1, Winnipeg at 13:16.

As momentum shifted in Winnipeg’s favor, Laine rang the post about a minute later and almost had what would’ve been three unanswered goals for the Jets.

Instead, after 20 minutes of play, Winnipeg had a one-goal lead as shots on goal were even, 9-9. The Jets led in blocked shots (9-7) and takeaways (4-2), while the Preds led in hits (9-7) and giveaways (3-2). Winnipeg was 1/2 on the power play and Nashville was 0/2 after one period.

Bryan Little tripped up Sissons 4:01 into the second period and the Predators went on the power play for the third time Sunday night.

Subban (1) fired a clapper past Hellebuyck while Arvidsson provided the perfect jump screen in front of the goal to tie the game, 2-2, at 5:04 of the second period. Forsberg (4) and Arvidsson (2) amassed the assists on Subban’s goal.

Mattias Ekholm slashed Wheeler almost midway into the second period, but the Jets were not able to score on the ensuing power play. Neither did the Predators on their own power play six minutes later when Hendricks took another trip to the sin bin for interference.

On a burst of speed into the offensive zone Arvidsson (3) let go of a cannon of a shot that beat Hellebuyck to give Nashville a, 3-2, lead at 18:41 of the second period. Forsberg (5) and Ryan Ellis (5) had the assists on the goal.

At the end of the period, Ellis delivered a cross check to Scheifele in the midst of a scrum and Nick Bonino mixed things up a bit with Scheifele himself. Three penalties were assessed at 20:00 minutes of the second period; Ellis (a minor for cross checking), Bonino (roughing, minor) and Scheifele (roughing, minor).

Through 40 minutes of play, the Preds led the Jets, 3-2, on the scoreboard and were outshot, 22-18, by Winnipeg. Nashville led in hits (18-10) and giveaways (13-7), while Winnipeg led in blocked shots (18-11) and takeaways (8-7). The Jets were 1/3 on the power play and the Predators were 1/4 on the man advantage after two periods.

Brandon Tanev (3) forced his way through the neutral zone on a chip pass from Little and beat Rinne on a breakaway, tying the game, 3-3 at 5:11 of the third period. Little (3) had the only assist on Tanev’s goal.

Johansen (4) scored on a breakaway of his own— destroying Toby Enstrom with one move and beating Hellebuyck bar-down— 34 seconds later, giving the Predators the one-goal lead, once again. Arvidsson (3) had the only assist on Johansen’s second goal of the game and Nashville led, 4-3, at 5:45.

For the longest time, the Predators were leading, 4-3, in the third period, but Paul Maurice’s Winnipeg Jets had more fight in them as time ticked down. Maurice pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with under two minutes remaining in regulation and it quickly paid off as Scheifele (8) nabbed his second goal of the night.

Wheeler (6) and Byfuglien (6) notched the primary and secondary assists on the game-tying goal at 18:55 of the third period.

With the score tied, 4-4, after 60 minutes of regulation, Game 2 went into overtime.

Entering overtime, Winnipeg was leading in shots on goal (36-25), while Nashville led in hits (21-19), takeaways (11-9) and giveaways (15-11). Both teams were 1/4 on the power play.

The Predators peppered the Hellebuyck with a ton of shots in the first half of the first overtime period and were in complete control of the chaotic flow of the game. Then Winnipeg caught the Jetstream and hightailed the rest of the period, generating numerous scoring chances that were tossed aside by Rinne.

After 20 minutes of overtime and 80 minutes of play, the score remained, 4-4, but the Jets led in shots on goal (48-38) and blocked shots (28-26). Nashville kept up with their physical play, leading in hits (26-23) and controlled the faceoff dot— winning 61 percent of all faceoffs taken after the first overtime.

Winnipeg had surpassed their previous longest postseason game in franchise history (dating back to their days as the Atlanta Thrashers) and would quickly pass the record for longest postseason game by any Winnipeg NHL franchise (new or old— a.k.a. the current day Arizona Coyotes) in the second overtime period.

Another milestone passed by the Jets that’s not to be overlooked (given the emergence/existence of the Vegas Golden Knights in Vegas’s inaugural season/postseason) is the fact that entering Sunday night, Winnipeg/Atlanta was the only active NHL franchise that had yet to play a game that required multiple overtimes.

Anyway, Kevin Fiala (3) converted in a two-on-one whereby Craig Smith tossed the puck across the ice, Fiala received it, stickhandled, made Hellebuyck commit, then pulled the puck to his backhand and scored on a largely left open 4×6 frame.

Smith (1) and Kyle Turris (3) had the assists on Fiala’s second career postseason overtime goal and the Predators had won, 5-4, at 5:37 of the second overtime.

Winnipeg finished the night leading in shots on goal (50-41) and blocked shots (30-26). Nashville led in the final scoreboard, 5-4, and in hits (26-23) after 85:37 elapsed time.

With the win, Rinne is now 7-6 all-time in postseason overtime games and Hellebuyck is 0-1 in his first career overtime Stanley Cup Playoff game.

The series is tied, 1-1, heading into Game 3 on Tuesday night at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Viewers in the United States can tune to CNBC at 8 p.m. ET, while fans in Canada can catch the action on CBC or TVAS.

Hellebuyck steals Game 1 for Winnipeg

 

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.

Hellebuyck rejected every single offering that came his way in that first frame, including three power play shots while W Nikolaj Ehlers was in the penalty box for tripping Third Star W Kevin Fiala.

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.

No quit, Avalanche beat Predators, 2-1, force Game 6

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Andrew Hammond, Gabriel Landeskog, Sven Andrighetto and the rest of the Colorado Avalanche stole Game 5 from the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena on Friday night. Hammond was making just his first Stanley Cup Playoff start since he did so in 2015 with the Ottawa Senators.

Oh, and by the way, Hammond was part of November’s Matt Duchene trade. Advantage, Joe Sakic.

Hammond made 44 saves on 45 shots against for a .978 save percentage in his first NHL win in two years, while Nashville’s netminder, Pekka Rinne, made 25 saves on 27 shots faced for a .926 SV% in the loss.

Early in the first period, Nashville’s Kevin Fiala tripped up Colorado’s Alex Kerfoot and gave the Avalanche the first power play of the night. Colorado was not able to convert on the ensuing man advantage.

Both teams swapped chances back and forth, but neither side was able to put a goal on the scoreboard as the first period ended, 0-0.

J.T. Compher picked up a minor penalty for holding Craig Smith at 20:00 of the first period after the Avalanche failed to touch the puck between when the incident occurred and when time expired. The Predators would begin the second period on their first power play of the night.

After one period, Nashville led in shots on goal (11-8), blocked shots (10-3), takeaways (4-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). Meanwhile, Colorado was 0/1 on the man advantage. Both teams had nine hits aside and four giveaways entering the first intermission.

Much like the first period, there wasn’t a lot happening in the second period.

Nashville started the second frame of the game on the power play, but didn’t convert on the man advantage. Both teams then continued to swap chances until things got uneasy towards the end of the period.

With about three minutes remaining in the second period, Hammond went to play the puck— except he mishandled it. The Predators were not able to capitalize on the Avalanche netminder’s error, but they did sustain the pressure in the offensive zone and got a couple of tremendous rebound opportunities.

The Preds even had a clear sightline to the puck while Hammond was down, but nobody could get it to hit the twine.

Finally, at 17:47 of the second period, Nikita Zadorov slashed Predators captain, Roman Josi, and the crowd at Bridgestone Arena went from already elevated (based on the last few minutes of frantic play) to berserk.

Colorado’s penalty kill, however, was too much to handle for Nashville’s special teams and the score remained, 0-0.

After 40 minutes of play, Nashville led in shots on goal (25-17), blocked shots (15-8), hits (14-13), takeaways (6-0) and faceoff win percentage (71-29). For the lack of a better word, the Predators were dominating in every possible way, except for on the scoreboard. Both teams had ten giveaways each and neither team had yet to convert on the power play (Colorado was 0/1 and Nashville was 0/2 through two periods).

Fiala was again guilty of a minor penalty early in the third period— this time for holding Colorado forward, Blake Comeau at 1:39.

The Avalanche bungled a line change in the midst of their ensuing power play and were penalized for too many men on the ice. Colin Wilson served the bench minor in the box for Jared Bednar’s Colorado crew.

There would be 20 seconds of 4-on-4 action until the Predators would then see an abbreviated power play. But Nashville’s special teams were to no avail as Hammond stood tall.

Just past the halfway mark of the third period, Mattias Ekholm sent a shot on Hammond that appeared to rebound right into the pathway of an oncoming Predators forward who looked like he kicked the puck into the open goal.

That Predators forward was Nick Bonino (1) who was crashing the net on what was not exactly a rebound, but rather a deflection to the open space to the side of the net— though not a good one— by Hammond.

Bonino’s goal was immediately waved off and reviewed.

Fans inside Bridgestone Arena began singing “Let It Be” by The Beatles in unison while the refs reviewed the play, which, in hindsight, could’ve been bad if the home fans had any influence on officiating. Maybe don’t sing “Let It Be” if you actually want the call on the ice to be the exact opposite (unless Preds fans were implying the refs to “let [the leg motion] be [called a goal on the ice]”).

Upon replay, everyone in attendance and watching from home, could see Bonino shifted his leg into a prime redirection motion and kept skating into the puck. Or at least, that might be a loose explanation for something that many fans assumed wouldn’t be reversed given the track record of NHL officiating and review this season.

But that didn’t happen.

The call on the ice was reversed and Bonino had scored his first goal of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with the assists credited to Ekholm (5) and Austin Watson (3). Nashville was in command of a 1-0 lead at 10:18 of the third period.

Colorado didn’t let the party in Nashville last too long, though.

Nathan MacKinnon held onto the puck in the offensive zone for just long enough to get Rinne to overcommit and bump into his own defender, failing helplessly to the ice, while MacKinnon slid a loose puck over to Gabriel Landeskog.

Landeskog (4) pocketed the loosed puck on the doorstep of the crease into the gapping goal into front of him to tie the game, 1-1, at 15:49. The Avalanche bulldozed Nashville’s momentum.

MacKinnon (3) and Mikko Rantanen (4) had the primary and secondary assists on the goal and Colorado kept trucking.

Less than three minutes later— on a similar play— Sven Andrighetto (1) found a rebound and Rinne out of position to score on what was otherwise an empty net and give the Avalanche their first lead of the night, 2-1, at 18:32 of the third period.

Compher (3) and Tyson Barrie (4) had the assists on Andrighetto’s first goal of the series and suddenly the Predators were facing a loss on home ice in an elimination game.

Peter Laviolette pulled his goaltender with about a minute remaining in regulation after calling a timeout to instruct his Predators roster what to do as time ticked down.

It did not matter. Colorado held off elimination for at least one more night.

At the final horn, the Avalanche had won Game 5 by a score of 2-1 despite being outshot (45-27). Nashville led in blocked shots (18-14), giveaways (14-13) and faceoff win percentage (61-39), but never got as physical as they have in previous games in the series. In fact, Colorado led in hits (17-16) after 60 minutes.

The Avalanche finished the night 0/2 on the power play, while the Predators went 0/3 on the man advantage.

For the first time since Game 6 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, the Nashville Predators lost a postseason game at home. Not just to anyone, but to the Colorado Avalanche— last year’s worst team in the league that only amassed 48 points on an 82-game regular season.

But this year’s Avalanche team is different. They had a 47-point increase in standings between last season and this season (tied for 4th best in NHL history) and they’re looking to play spoiler.

The Predators take a 3-2 series lead into Game 6 on the road Sunday night at Pepsi Center. Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN. Meanwhile, fans interested in watching the game in Canada can do so on Sportsnet or TVAS.

Dating back to their days as the Québec Nordiques, the Colorado Avalanche are 0-3 lifetime in a series where they have trailed 3-1.

March 8 – Day 148 – Home ice advantage

Thursdays in the NHL never disappoint, as there’s a whopping 12 games on the slate this evening!

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. this evening with three games (Philadelphia at Boston [NHLN/SN], Winnipeg at New Jersey and Colorado at Columbus), followed half an hour later by four more (Buffalo at Ottawa [RDS2], Vegas at Detroit, the New York Rangers at Tampa Bay [TVAS] and Montréal at Florida [RDS]). Next up is Anaheim at Nashville, which drops the puck at 8 p.m. and is trailed half an hour later by Carolina at Chicago and the New York Islanders at Edmonton at 9 p.m. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Washington at Los Angeles (SN) and St. Louis at San Jose – drop the puck at 10:30 p.m. to close the evening out. All times Eastern.

More than a few of tonight’s games were circled on my calendar at the start of the year, including…

  • Philadelphia at Boston: The Flyers are playing their second rivalry game in as many days, traveling into snow-covered Boston.
  • Buffalo at Ottawa: The Sabres and Senators enjoyed a healthy rivalry in the mid-2000s. Let’s see if it gets revived tonight.
  • Vegas at Detroit: After spending his first seven seasons in Hockeytown, F Tomas Tatar is making his return with the Golden Knights tonight.
  • New York at Tampa Bay: Another deadline deal sent F Vladislav Namestnikov from Tampa – where he’s spent the first five seasons of his NHL career – to the Rangers.
  • Anaheim at Nashville: If playoff rematches get you excited, this is the game for you. The Predators beat the Ducks in six games last May.
  • Carolina at Chicago: G Scott Darling and D Trevor van Riemsdyk were both Blackhawks last season, but tonight they’ll be wearing white at United Center.
  • New York at Edmonton: D Brandon Davidson and RW Jordan Eberle swapped in their blue-and-orange Oilers sweaters for blue-and-orange Islanders sweaters.

What a selection of games! However, only one can be our focus tonight. Since the postseason is just around the corner, let’s look back to the Ducks and Predators’ playoff matchup from a season ago just in case it gets repeated this year.

 

If you’ll remember, Bridgestone Arena was an impassable fortress in favor of the Predators last postseason. They won both home games in the first round to complete their sweep of the Blackhawks and followed it up with three more wins – including the series-clinching Game 6 – against St. Louis to advance to the Western Conference Finals.

Then Anaheim showed up and spoiled the fun.

Though they’d surely heard the whispers roars about The Stone, the Ducks didn’t seem too daunted by one of the most impressive home ice advantages in recent memory. Having split the opening two games at Honda Center, the Ducks and Predators played a tight Game 3 to a 2-1 Nashville victory that saw D Roman Josi score the game-winner with 2:43 remaining in regulation, setting up an extremely important Game 4.

In that tilt, Anaheim survive a two-goal third period comeback (capped by F Filip Forsberg‘s game-tying marker with 36 seconds remaining in regulation) by Nashville that eventually led to a W Corey Perry overtime goal that snapped Nashville’s home winning streak and leveled the series at two games apiece.

A home loss like that can take the legs out from under a team, or it can reignite the fire in their competitive drive. It did the latter for the Predators in the conference final, as they headed back west to win 3-1 in Anaheim and pull within a victory of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Home ice didn’t disappoint for the Predators in Game 6, as they cruised to a 6-3 victory on the back of a C Colton Sissons hat trick.

That dominance that got 43-14-9 Smashville to the championship round a season ago is in full swing right now, as the Predators are currently riding an impressive nine-game winning streak.

It’s hard to argue with the offense Nashville has been exhibiting during this winning streak. Since February 19, the Predators have averaged a whopping 4.33 goals per game, the best mark in the NHL.

Managing 6-6-12 marks over this run to improve his season totals to 24-25-49, W Viktor Arvidsson has been a major part of this Nashville attack. However, he’s also had the support of the injured Josi (1-11-12 totals in his last six games played) and D Ryan Ellis (3-8-11 since February 19), as all three are currently averaging at least a point per game.

It is here where we find the dominance of the Predators, as only three of Ellis’ last 12 points have coincided with Arvidsson getting on the scorecard, meaning these two players have played in a combined 21 goals in the past nine games.

Talk about the entire team getting involved on the offensive attack.

Of course, all those goals do no good if the opposition can keep up on the scoreboard. Fortunately for Nashville, it has 36-9-4 G Pekka Rinne at its disposal.

Even though he’s been faced with an average of 32 shots per game during this run (16th in the NHL since February 19), Rinne has performed phenomenally to keep opposing offenses under his thumb. The Finn has posted an incredible .942 save percentage and 1.86 GAA in his last seven starts, improving his season marks to a .928 save percentage and 2.29 GAA.

However, Nashville is not the only team in tonight’s game currently riding a win streak. The 34-21-12 Ducks are rolling too, as they’ve won their last three games and have earned points in four-straight.

Just like with the Preds’ winning streak, Anaheim’s has also been sparked by some stellar offense. In all, seven players have averaged at least a point per game since February 25 – none of which have been better than C Ryan Getzlaf, who’s posted unbelievable 1-8-9 totals in his last three games played (he missed Friday’s win over the Blue Jackets due to illness) to average three points per game during this run. Linemate F Rickard Rakell has also been exemplary lately, as his 6-2-8 totals average out to two points per game in his last four showings.

In all, the 4.75 goals per game Anaheim has averaged since February 25 is tops in the NHL in that time.

The similarities between tonight’s opponents continues when we look towards the goal crease, as 25-15-6 G John Gibson has been in peak form in his last three starts. Since last Sunday, Gibson has posted an incredible .955 save percentage for a 1.67 GAA in spite of a defense that has allowed a dismal 38.5 shots against per game (third-worst in the NHL since February 25), improving his season marks to a .927 save percentage and 2.46 GAA.

Even though the Ducks will be in action again tomorrow night in Dallas, it has to be all but assured that Head Coach Randy Carlyle will deploy his best netminder against the best team in the Western Conference and save 8-5-6 G Ryan Miller for the Stars.

Much to the pleasure of the Ducks, who have yet to beat Nashville this season, tonight’s matchup is the finale of the three-game series between these clubs. Their first meeting was on November 3 at Honda Center, where the Preds won 5-3 in large part due to Josi’s one-goal, two-point night. Smashville followed up that victory with a much more competitive 3-2 shootout win at Bridgestone Arena, the site of tonight’s game, on December 2 (W Kevin Fiala took First Star honors).

With the top seed in the Western Conference (and therefore the Central Division) currently in their grasp, there is only one thing left for the Predators to compete for: the Presidents’ Trophy. Nashville’s 95 points are only one point fewer than Tampa’s, and the Preds have a game in hand. In other words, hold off on inscribing this year’s regular-season champion into the record books.

The Ducks could care less about a trophy they’ve never seen, as their sole focus is on holding on to second place in the Pacific Division. Four teams (Anaheim, San Jose, Los Angeles and Calgary) are competing for two division spots and are separated by only four points entering tonight’s action, and the Ducks have no wiggle room given the Sharks and Kings both have a game in hand on the team from Orange County.

This preview started with a recap about home dominance, and I think that’s where the preview must also end. Though the Ducks have been playing well lately – well enough, in fact, to upset many good teams in their own barns – Smashville is an entirely different animal. With their fans behind them, the Predators will simply be too strong tonight for the Ducks to beat them.


With a three-assist night from First Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby, the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 at Wells Fargo Center in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day.

Even though a total of seven goals were struck in this game, only one was registered in the first period. It belonged to RW Phil Kessel (F Evgeni Malkin and Crosby) and was a power play wrist shot with 1:25 remaining in the frame.

Facing a 1-0 deficit, the Flyers pulled back even 2:07 into the second period when Third Star RW Jakub Voracek (F Nolan Patrick) scored a tip-in, followed only 3:52 later by F Travis Konecny (F Claude Giroux and D Andrew MacDonald) setting the score at 2-1 with a wrister.

Unfortunately for Philadelphia, that was all the offense it could muster, meaning D Jamie Oleksiak‘s (D Justin Schultz and F Jake Guentzel) slap shot at the 9:24 mark leveled the game at 2-2. 5:01 later, Pittsburgh found its game-winner courtesy of Second Star W Conor Sheary (Crosby and Oleksiak).

After Oleksiak slung a pass his way from the left face-off circle in his own zone, Crosby did most of the work setting up a two-on-one advantage while advancing into the Flyers’ zone. The captain fired an initial wrister that G Petr Mrazek blocked, but Sheary was there to collect the rebound and complete the play with a backhanded shot.

The third period ended with a 4-2 score when Sheary (Guentzel and Crosby) scored a wrister 40 seconds before the second intermission. Malkin (LW Carl Hagelin and C Riley Sheahan) completed the game’s scoring with 1:41 remaining in regulation by burying a wrister into an empty net.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 26-of-28 shots faced (.929 save percentage), leaving the loss to Mrazek, who saved 23-of-27 (.852).

Pittsburgh’s road victory snapped a seven-game winning streak by the 81-48-19 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. The hosts now have only a 29-point advantage in the series.

February 27 – Day 139 – Atop the Central

The GMs had their fun yesterday. Now it’s time to see how their decisions pan out, as most teams have only 20 games separating them from the end of the regular season.

It’s a Tuesday in the NHL, so you know it’s going to be busy. Today’s slate of games includes nine fixtures, including three at 7 p.m. (Carolina at Boston, New Jersey at Pittsburgh [SN/TVAS] and Ottawa at Washington [RDS]) and Toronto at Florida half an hour later. A pair of tilts (St. Louis at Minnesota [NBCSN] and Nashville at Winnipeg) drop the puck at 8 p.m., while Calgary at Dallas waits 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Vegas (NBCSN) and Edmonton at San Jose – close out the night at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

There’s two playoff rematches on tonight’s schedule, both involving the Western Quarterfinals from a year ago. The Blues eliminated the Wild in five games last year, while the Oilers needed six to knock off the Sharks.

However, last playoffs are in the rear-view  mirror at this point. Instead, the only game that can qualify as today’s featured is matchup is going down in Manitoba! To Canada we go!

 

Things have certainly been going 38-14-9 Nashville’s way lately, as it is currently riding a four-game winning streak.

The reason? The most imposing offense in the Western Conference since February 19 paired with the indomitable G Pekka Rinne.

Let’s start on the offensive end, where D Roman Josi (1-6-7 totals in his past four games) and D Ryan Ellis (1-5-6) are headlining an offense that has averaged an unbelievable 4.75 goals per game for the past week.

Of course, those first pair blueliners are just providing assists. Important as they may be, someone has to complete those plays.

Enter W Viktor Arvidsson, who’s posted 4-1-5 totals since February 19 to elevate his season marks to 22-20-42 – the best numbers of any forward in Nashville (of course, he has 12 more games played with the same number of points as F Filip Forsberg, but who’s keeping track of those kinds of things?).

What’s most inspiring about Arvidsson is knowing he has so much more to give. In only his third full season in the NHL, he’s coming off a 31-30-61 campaign last season that is statistically superior to the marks he’s earned so far this year in terms of points per game. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Arvidsson that scored 13 points in last season’s run to the Stanley Cup Final still has yet to show up, and the rest of the league should be very concerned when the Swede puts his foot firmly on the gas.

In total, six players are averaging at least a point-per-game during this winning streak: Josi, Ellis, Arvidsson, W Kevin Fiala (2-2-4 totals), F Ryan Johansen (1-3-4) and F Craig Smith (1-3-4).

Speaking of excellent players, 32-9-4 Rinne undoubtedly qualifies. He’s started three of Nashville’s last four games and posted an incredible .97 save percentage for a 1 GAA in spite of his defense allowing a (t)13th-worst 33.75 shots against per game since February 19. Not only has he improved his season numbers to a .928 save percentage and 2.27 GAA, but he’s also led the Preds to allowing only 1.25 goals against per game over this run, the best in the NHL in that time.

The 37-16-9 Jets have been pretty good themselves lately, as attested by their 5-1-0 record over their past six tilts.

Just like in Nashville, the primary reason for Winnipeg’s recent success has been an incredible offense. Since February 13, no attack in the Western Conference has been better than the Jets’, as they’ve averaged an impressive 4.82 goals per game in that time.

In that time span, no Jet has been better than American RW Blake Wheeler, who’s earned 4-8-12 totals in his last six showings and is riding an eight-game point streak.

Though Wheeler has been good, it hasn’t been just him providing the offensive sparks. D Dustin Byfuglien (1-10-11), C Mark Scheifele (4-6-10), RW Patrik Laine (6-3-9), D Tyler Myers (1-6-7) and W Nikolaj Ehlers (3-3-6) join the captain in averaging a point per game since February 13, forming three powerful lines of forwards and two stellar blueline pairs.

Where Winnipeg sets itself apart from its Central Division rival is on the defensive end, as the Jets have allowed only 31.17 shots against per game since February 13, the ninth-fewest in the league in that time. F Matt Hendricks (2.5 hits per game in the Jets’ last six games) and D Josh Morrissey (2.2 blocks per game during this run) have played major roles in that effort, and their success has made life very easy on 32-9-8 G Connor Hellebuyck, who’s been able to post a .934 save percentage and 2 GAA with his lighter work load to improve his season numbers to a .924 save percentage and 2.32 GAA.

There’s a lot on the line in this game. Not only are the Predators interested in putting some distance between themselves and the second-place Jets, but they’re also eyeing the Western Conference’s top seed. Should Smashville win and Vegas lose to Los Angeles in regulation, the Predators will pull into a tie for first place in the West. After taking tiebreakers into account, the Preds would take the lead in the conference based on their game in hand on the Knights.

As for Winnipeg, it can’t take the Central lead with a win tonight, but two points would certainly put even more pressure on the Predators than is already present. The Jets currently trail Nashville by only two points in the standings, but the Preds have a game in hand.

The Predators and Jets have squared off twice already this season, and they’ll meet up two more times after tonight before the end of the regular season. This is Nashville’s first trip to Manitoba this season, as it hosted the first two tilts. Home ice was indeed an advantage on November 20, as the Preds won 5-3 (Johansen took First Star honors with his two-point effort), but the Jets managed to win December 19’s tilt 6-4 (injured F Brandon Tanev scored the game-winner with 1:26 remaining in regulation) to level the season series at 1-1-0.

Big games like these come down to the small details and which team limits the opposition’s opportunities. With that in mind, I think Winnipeg’s defense will play a major role in leading the Jets to a home victory.


Though they needed a shootout to get the job done, the Tampa Bay Lightning defended Amalie Arena in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 4-3.

Whatever the second round of the playoffs looks like for the Atlantic Division, it’s sure to be a thriller. That much was apparent through only one period of action as a combined 18 shots were fired on goal. Three of those ended up on the scoreboard, starting with LW Chris Kunitz‘ (D Andrej Sustr and C Steven Stamkos) tip-in only 101 seconds into the game. Toronto pulled the score back even 7:08 later when LW James van Riemsdyk (D Ron Hainsey and D Morgan Rielly) buried a backhanded shot, followed by Second Star of the Game F Mitch Marner (D Jake Gardiner and D Nikita Zaitsev) setting the score at 2-1 at the 9:52 mark.

No more goals were struck until the 3:52 mark of the second period when C Tyler Johnson (First Star F Yanni Gourde) leveled the game with a wrap-around shot, and Third Star LW Adam Erne completed the frame’s scoring with an unassisted wrist shot with 4:42 remaining on the clock.

C Tyler Bozak‘s (Marner and Rielly) game-tying wrister was set up by D Braydon Coburn holding F Zach Hyman at the 4:40 mark of the third period. Only 47 seconds later, Bozak was taking advantage of the man-advantage to force three-on-three overtime.

Even the overtime frame lived up to the hype, as a total of seven shots on goal were fired between the two clubs. However, neither G Frederik Andersen nor G Andrei Vasilevskiy allowed one by, leading the game into the dreaded shootout.

  1. As home team, Tampa elected to take the first shot of the shootout, sending RW Ryan Callahan to center ice. Tried as he might, he wasn’t able to beat Andersen.
  2. F William Nylander met a similar fate when challenging Vasilevskiy, leaving the shootout score at 0-0 through the first round.
  3. F Brayden Point went five-for-seven in the shootout during his rookie season. Though he hasn’t quite found that success this year, he did beat Andersen this time to give Tampa the lead.
  4. Though he only has six points to show for his NHL career, RW Kasperi Kapanen was Head Coach Mike Babcock’s choice to level the shootout. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the youngster’s attempt was saved by Vasilevskiy.
  5. That set up a score-to-win situation for the Bolts, and it’s no surprise they turned to Gourde. However, his offering missed the net, setting up a miss-and-lose for Toronto.
  6. Van Riemsdyk was tasked with forcing extra frames, but he met the same fate as his teammates: saved by Vasilevskiy.

Vasilevskiy earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the shootout loss to Andersen, who saved 39-of-42 (.929).

Last night’s Game of the Day was the third-consecutive featured matchup to require more than 60 minutes to determine a winner. With the 74-46-19 hosts winning, they’ve now earned a 20-point advantage over the roadies in the series.

February 7 – Day 119 – Caterpillars are Leaf Predators

Congratulations! You made it half-way through the work week. You deserve to celebrate, and there’s no better way to do it than by kicking your feet up and watching some hockey.

The evening’s festivities get a little bit later start than usual, as Nashville at Toronto (SN/TVAS) is waiting until 7:30 p.m. for its opening puck drop as compared to the usual 7 p.m. However, that means there’s only a half-hour wait for NBCSN’s Wednesday Night Rivalry, as Boston at the New York Rangers will get started at 8 p.m. Finally, tonight’s nightcap will see the green light at 10:30 p.m., featuring Edmonton at Los Angeles. All times Eastern.

Ironically, I circled…

  • Boston at New York: The Bruins are playing their second Original Six game in as many days. Tonight’s opponent: the hapless Rangers.
  • Edmonton at Los Angeles: Over two separate stints, F Mike Cammalleri has played six seasons with the Kings. Tonight marks his first return to Staples Center since being traded to the Oilers.

…earlier in the year, but the game I’m most drawn to tonight has to be the Predators vs. the Maple Leafs. Looks like we’re headed to Ontario for the second time in three days!

 

There’s no ignoring the Atlantic Division’s third-best team lately, as the 31-19-5 Maple Leafs are sporting an offense that can’t be stopped and pairing it with some exemplary play in net.

Since January 24, Toronto has posed a 5-1-0 record, and the offense has been a major reason for that. Averaging four goals per game, the Leafs are tied with Edmonton for the second-best attack in the league in that time.

Of course, what else should be expected of a group of forwards that features the talents of F William Nylander, C Nazem Kadri and C Auston Matthews? Nylander and Kadri in particular have been exceptional of late, as both have posted team-leading 3-5-8 totals over this run to improve their respective season marks to 12-29-41 and 17-16-33. However, it’s never wise to forget about Matthews, as he’s also posted 4-3-7 totals since January 24 to average more than a point-per-game over his past six appearances.

In addition to their stellar contributions, D Jake Gardiner is also doing more than his fair share from the blue line. In his past six games, he’s provided the Leafs’ attack with eight assists – all but one of which were at even-strength. In Monday’s game against the Ducks, he provided the lone assist on both of Nylander’s goals – one of which proved to be the game-winner.

After being forced from Monday’s game after suffering a collision with W Corey Perry, 25-15-4 G Frederik Andersen will be in net this evening. There was concern Andersen would be forced to miss time after the hit, but he seems ready to go.

Of course, if I’m a Predators forwards, I don’t necessarily know if I’d rather square off against Andersen or 6-4-0 G Curtis McElhinney, as both have been absolutely incredible of late – even behind a defense that has allowed a seventh-worst 33.83 shots against per game since January 24. In that time, both goalies have posted save percentages above .93 and GAAs under 2.3 – not to mention one shutout apiece.

Of note, Andersen has an 8-4-0 all-time record (regular and postseason) against Nashville and is currently riding a two-game winning streak against the club.

If the Leafs are bringing the offense, 32-12-7 Nashville is certainly capable of providing the defense. Since January 4, the second-best team in the Central Division has earned a 9-1-2 record by holding its opponents to a measly two goals per game, the second-best effort in the league in that time.

Let’s start with the defensive skaters, who’ve been playing absolutely out of their minds for the past month. Led by C Nick Bonino and W Kevin Fiala (both averaging a takeaway-per-game since January 4), D Ryan Ellis and D Roman Josi (both with two blocks per game in their past 12 showings) and D Alexei Emelin (2.8 hits-per-game over this stretch), Nashville has limited its opponents to a fourth-fewest 29.17 shots against per game.

There’s lots to like about the Preds’ defense, but what is most impressive to me is that it’s a total team effort that is leading to their success. Five players are leading three statistical categories, and many of their teammates are right behind them in production. Everybody buying into Head Coach Peter Laviolette‘s system is what makes this team great and a heavy favorite to qualify for at least the Western Finals.

Of course, it’s not like 27-8-3 G Pekka Rinne usually needs all that much help to keep the scoreboard clean anyways. After all, he has a solid .926 save percentage and 2.32 GAA on the season.

As can be expected with the defense in front of him playing so well lately, Rinne has been even better over his last eight starts. Since January 4, the Finn has posted a .932 save percentage and 1.85 GAA, both of which rank in the top-four in the league in that time.

Making this Predators team an even more daunting foe, the offense has provided the (t)eighth-best attack in the league over its past dozen games. With D P.K. Subban at the helm, averaging a point per game over this run with 4-8-12 marks to improve his season totals to 13-28-41, the Predators are scoring an average of 3.08 goals per game.

So, the important question is which team is going to come out on top of this high-flying matchup?

Nashville has been playing better, longer. As such, I’m leaning towards the Predators earning two points tonight at Air Canada Centre, even if they need overtime or the shootout to get the job done.


Though the Vegas Golden Knights staged an impressive third period comeback in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena, they couldn’t get past the Pittsburgh Penguins, who won 5-4.

Even though Vegas would end up a goal short, it actually had a one-goal advantage going into the first intermission. C William Karlsson (F Jon Marchessault and W Reilly Smith) registered the lone marker of the frame, a power play snap shot 2:09 into the game.

6:34 into the second period, the Knights doubled their lead to 2-0 courtesy of a W James Neal (D Nate Schmidt and W David Perron) backhanded shot. However, the Knights couldn’t hold the Penguins’ offense at bay forever, and RW Ryan Reaves (C Riley Sheahan) finally broke through 4:34 after Neal’s tally to pull Pittsburgh back within a goal. The list of unpredictable goalscorers continued with 2:36 remaining in the period when D Ian Cole (W Bryan Rust and Second Star of the Game C Sidney Crosby) buried a snapper to level the game at 2-2, but he was followed by the more conventional striker F Jake Guentzel (Crosby and D Brian Dumoulin) only 1:16 later, who scored a slap shot to give the Pens their first lead of the game.

Pittsburgh came out firing in the third period, and with good reason considering Vegas’ eventual comeback. First Star F Evgeni Malkin (RW Phil Kessel) buried what was then an insurance goal 3:09 into the frame, and he was followed by a Kessel (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) brace that proved to be the game-winner.

Kessel may get credit for the goal, but his scoring opportunity was a direct result of some stellar puck moving by the Penguins’ offense. Hagelin carried the puck across the blue line into the offensive zone before passing to Kessel along the left boards. Since Hagelin continued driving towards Third Star G Marc-Andre Fleury‘s crease, Kessel proceeded to dump the puck behind the goal into the trapezoid for his fellow winger. Hagelin spotted a wide-open Malkin in the right face-off circle and set him up for a clean shot on Fleury’s cage, but the red-hot Russian instead elected to draw two defenders towards him before sneaking a pass behind C Cody Eakin to Kessel. Since Fleury had set up to save a shot from Malkin, he left the left side of his goal wide open, leaving an easy target for Kessel’s snapper to set the score at 5-2.

However, the action didn’t end there. Only 18 seconds after the horn stopped blaring for Kessel, a F Ryan Carpenter (RW Alex Tuch and F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare) wrist shot pulled the Knights back within a 5-3 deficit. The comeback became even more real when Marchessault (Smith) scored a wrister with 7:59 remaining in regulation to pull Vegas back within a goal, but G Matthew Murray refused to concede a fifth goal to ensure a Pens victory.

Murray earned the victory after saving 21-of-25 shots faced (.84 save percentage), leaving the loss to Fleury, who saved 33-of-38 (.868).

For the second straight night in the DtFR Game of the Day series, the home team allowed four goals but still earned the victory. As such, the hosts in the series have improved their record to 66-38-15, a whopping 27 points better than the visitors’.

December 27 – Day 81 – Back in business

Is that what summer was like? No hockey for three days was terrible!

Let’s get back into the swing of things tonight with 11 games to watch. As it usually does on a weeknight, the action starts at 7 p.m. with five games (Ottawa at Boston [TVAS], Detroit at New Jersey, Buffalo at the New York Islanders, Columbus at Pittsburgh, Carolina at Montréal [RDS/TSN2]), followed by four more (Nashville at St. Louis, Dallas at Minnesota, Edmonton at Winnipeg [SN] and Washington at the New York Rangers [NBCSN]) an hour later. Arizona at Colorado drops the puck at 9 p.m., and tonight’s nightcap – Vegas at Anaheim – gets underway an hour after to close out the evening. All times Eastern.

As usual, I have a headline for more than a few of the games being played tonight.

  • Ottawa at Boston: Few things are more fun than a playoff rematch. The Sens won the first round matchup in six games.
  • Columbus at Pittsburgh: A rivalry and a first round rematch? Sign us up!
  • Nashville at St. Louis: Another playoff rematch, but this one took place in the Western Semifinals. The Predators won 4-2.
  • Edmonton at Winnipeg: An old-timey rivalry is renewed with the coming of age of RW Patrik Laine and C Connor McDavid.
  • Washington at New York: Rivalries are all the rage tonight, because yet another one is taking place in the Big Apple.

Of all of these excellent matchups, only one can be our Game of the Day. Considering the Blues and Predators are playing for the Central Division lead, there’s no place I’d rather be than the Gateway City!

 

Let me know if we’ve come back from a holiday break with this matchup before…

Oh wait, this is exactly the game we came back to after the one-day break for American Thanksgiving. The Blues and Predators opened their four-game season series at Scottrade Center last month, but it was the visiting Preds that took two points after posting a two-goal shutout victory (way to go, G Pekka Rinne).

Since these teams are separated by only a point in the standings, I’d expect a similar contest today.

The biggest story line surrounding the 23-13-2 Blues is still F Jaden Schwartz‘ ankle injury, and that won’t change until he returns in mid- or late-January. With 14-21-35 totals before he went down with a right ankle injury, he still leads the team with a +23 that is second-best in the NHL.

Fortunately for St. Louis, it knows how to play on both ends of the ice. Allowing only 2.47 goals against-per-game, the Notes play the fourth-best defense in the league. Led by the efforts of D Joel Edmundson (87 blocks, [t]fourth-most in the league), W Dmitrij Jaskin (89 hits), D Colton Parayko and F Brayden Schenn (27 takeaways apiece), St. Louis allows an average of only 30.24 shots to reach 18-10-2 G Jake Allen, the sixth-fewest in the NHL.

Schenn in particular has been absolutely stellar, as he’s been able to turn his 27 takeaways into 17 goals ([t]seventh-most in the league) and 40 points([t]10th-most in the NHL) for a +21 rating (third-best in the league). It’s amazing that a player that joined the team only half a year ago has been such a dominant force, and I think it’s safe to say he’s been the Blues’ most valuable player so far.

Of course, it’s hard to look too bad with RW Vladimir Tarasenko as a linemate. The Russian has posted 15-21-36 totals this season alongside his new best friend to earn a +16 rating that is eighth-best in the NHL. Tarasenko immediately moved to the top line following Schwartz’ injury, but struggled to find much rhythm with C Paul Stastny (whose 32nd birthday is today). Perhaps it’s no surprise St. Louis beat Vancouver 3-1 before the holiday break by promoting Schenn to the top line to play with Tarasenko!

Anyways, back to the defensive zone. Anyone that is lucky enough to get by Schenn and the Blues’ defense still has to deal with Allen, whose 18 wins are the (t)fourth-most in the league. He’s posted a .913 save percentage and 2.55 GAA in 31 appearances, which are the (t)19th- and and 10th-best efforts, respectively, among the 32 goalies with at least 14 starts.

Of course, if we’re comparing goaltenders, 21-9-5 Nashville takes the cake with 18-6-3 Rinne. Though he’s one of the three other netminders tied with Allen at 18 wins, Rinne has earned his success in large part by his own accord. He’s posted a .923 save percentage and 2.49 GAA that are both among the top nine efforts in the NHL, and his three shutouts are (t)second-most as well.

Rinne’s excellent play is a major reason Head Coach Peter Laviolette‘s game plan works. Knowing their goaltender can stop basically everything that comes his way, Nashville’s defensive corps – led by Mattias Ekholm (6-15-21 totals), Roman Josi (7-14-21) and P.K. Subban (7-18-25) – is able to contribute extensively on the offensive end of the rink. In fact, the Predators’ defensive corps has combined for 87 points, which is only three points short of Tampa’s league-leading blue line.

They bolster an already impressive group of forwards – headlined by F Filip Forsberg (15-18-33 totals) and second-liner W Kevin Fiala (10-16-26) – that averages 3.23 goals-per-game, the sixth-most in the league.

Fiala in particular was on fire leading up to the holiday break. Before being held off the scorecard against Dallas on December 23, he had been riding a nine-game point streak that included eight goals. He has an unfortunate connection to tonight’s arena after breaking his femur and rupturing an artery in his left thigh during the playoffs last year, and after being held pointless in his first return to St. Louis last month, I’m sure he’d like to finally put the injury behind him by earning a point tonight.

As pointed out by Jim Thomas, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s new Blues reporter, the Notes are one of two teams to have already played their 38th game this season – two more than the median (thank your third grade teacher for knowing what that means!) 36 played by nine clubs. This three-day break was especially important for them, and we’ll probably see a well rested and much improved St. Louis team because of it. As such, I think the Blues can find a way to beat the Predators this evening.

November 24 – Day 51 – Fastest guns in the West

While I’m sure yesterday’s break was enjoyed by hockey players and fans alike, I think I’m safe in assuming that we’ve been looking forward to resuming play today since the end of Wednesday’s games in Southern California.

Making up for yesterday’s lost time, the NHL has scheduled a whopping 14 games scheduled over the course of eight hours. The action starts at 1 p.m. when Pittsburgh visits Boston (NBC), followed three hours later by a trio of contests (Winnipeg at Anaheim, Colorado at Minnesota and the New York Islanders at Philadelphia [SN]). Tampa Bay at Washington (NHLN) drops the puck at 5 p.m. and San Jose at Vegas finishes up the matinee slate an hour after. The normal starting time of 7 p.m. brings with it a four-game set (Edmonton at Buffalo, Vancouver at New Jersey, Detroit at the New York Rangers and Ottawa at Columbus [RDS]), with Toronto at Carolina waiting half an hour before dropping the puck. Nashville visits St. Louis (TVAS) at 8 p.m., with tonight’s co-nightcaps – Los Angeles at Arizona and Calgary at Dallas – cleaning up the festivities 60 minutes later. All times Eastern.

Let’s see what games I had circled on my calendar…

  • Detroit at New York: Nothing gets me in the holiday spirit like a nasty, old-fashioned Original Six rivalry.
  • Toronto at Carolina: The man, the myth, the legend D Ron Hainsey is back in Raleigh for the first time since being shipped to Pittsburgh at last season’s trade deadline, taking on a Hurricanes team he played with for four seasons.
  • Nashville at St. Louis: If last year’s Western Semifinals matchup is any indicator, this game has a chance of getting nasty.
  • Calgary at Dallas: While this game should be exciting in and of itself, the real treat is happening pregame when RW Jere Lehtinen‘s 26 is retired to the American Airline Center’s rafters.

It’s been a while since we’ve featured either the Blues or Predators. What better way to kick start the second third of the season than a contest between two of the top three teams in the Western Conference?

 

For those that can’t remember all the way back to the last week of April and the first week of May, this was a physical playoff series between these two clubs. In six games, both squads combined to throw 365 total hits, or 60.8 hits-per-game. While I wouldn’t argue that it’s the reason the Predators were able to win the series 4-2, they did technically out-hit the Blues 184-181.

Of course, one of the major motives for the violence – beyond being Central Division rivals, of course – was W Kevin Fiala breaking his leg as a result of one of those hits, a check from D Robert Bortuzzo in Game 1 at Scottrade Center.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that, given the extra motivation to avenge their fallen comrade, the Preds were able to claim the only road victory of the series in that game. Though the next five games never had goal-differentials of more than two goals (barring F Calle Jarnkrok‘s empty-netter with a minute remaining in Game 6), Nashville’s imposing home advantage at Bridgestone Arena was enough to earn it a ticket to the Western Conference Finals and, ultimately, the Stanley Cup Finals.

Big hits like those during last year’s playoff series usually imply an active and effective defense. While I have no doubt in the of this year’s blue line, the 13-6-2 Predators of the 2017-’18 season seem to have a much better handle of the game when they are controlling things offensively.

That has been made no more evident than during the three-game winning streak they’re currently riding, as the Predators’ 12 goals are the (t)second-most in the NHL since November 18. While that’s a problem in-and-of itself for the Blues, figuring out who is scoring the goals is another issue entirely.

During this three-game winning streak, the only staple in Nashville’s production has been D P.K. Subban, who has provided five assists since November 18 to lead the team in points. As for who he’s assisting, your guess is as good as 12-5-1 G Jake Allen‘s. 10 different skaters have scored goals in this trio of contests, with only D Mattias Ekholm and F Filip Forsberg scoring more than one.

If St. Louis is going to pick only one forward to stop tonight, they’d probably be best off eliminating Forsberg. Not only has he scored a team-high 11 goals on the season, but he’s also tacked on another dozen assists for a club-leading 23 points.

Unfortunately for the Notes, Forsberg is a tough man to keep under wraps, because he does most of his work while Nashville has the man-advantage. Seven of his goals and 12 of his points have come on the power play, and as such the Preds’ 25.3 percent success rate with the extra man is the third best in the NHL. With St. Louis managing a below-average penalty kill (its 78.6 percent kill rate is [t]11th-worst in the NHL) Forsberg could be well on his way to adding to his season totals tonight if F Brayden Schenn and F Vladimir Sobotka can’t stay out of the penalty box.

Of course, Forsberg and the Predators aren’t going to show up in St. Louis and simply be handed two points, as they are going up against a team that is riding a three-game winning streak of its own: the Western Conference-leading 16-5-1 Blues.

As you’d expect from a squad in their position in the table, it’s hard to find too many issues with the Blues game (ok, beyond the penalty kill). After all, they rank fifth best in the NHL in both goals-for (3.45 per game) and goals-against (2.64 per game) on the season.

That being said – and with no disrespect to Allen’s .909 save percentage and 2.74 GAA for the season – offense has been the name of the game during this little winning streak the Notes have going. In the past three games, the Blues have managed an impressive 16 goals that is (t)second-most in the league since November 16. In fact, considering most teams have played four games in that span, St. Louis’ 5.33 goals-per-game effort has actually been the best performance in the league for the second half of the month.

Now, before we go any further, it should probably be mentioned that two of the Blues’ last three games were played against a struggling 8-12-2 Oilers team that was never known for their defense even in last year’s return to the postseason. St. Louis won both games by a combined score of 12-4, but the biggest takeaways from those games (beyond four points, obviously) was the positive momentum, rhythm and confidence built by seeing what this team is truly capable of.

Whether we’re looking at just this three-game run or the entire season, there’s few names on the Blues’ offense that shine like Schenn and F Jaden Schwartz. While Schwartz has been truly spectacular on the season as a whole with his 11-19-30 totals (he’s on pace for 41 goals and 112 points), first-year Note Schenn has been stealing most of the headlines of late. In only his past three games, the former Flyer has earned 5-3-8 totals to lead the team and bolster his season marks to 10-20-30. Schenn is currently riding an eight-game point streak that includes seven goals.

Of course, this all ignores that RW Vladimir Tarasenko – the third member of St. Louis’ first line – is also on this team, the man who effectively carried the Blues’ entire offense on his back only a season ago with his 39-36-75 totals.

It’s the very fact that he’s not the lone goal provider that is making this Blues team so dangerous. With his linemates scoring like there’s no tomorrow, a potent second line of Sobotka, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen backing them up and a defensive corps that includes the likes of Joel Edmundson (6-2-8 totals), Colton Parayko (2-8-10) and Alex Pietrangelo (7-13-20), Tarasenko is able to settle into his original role as the Notes’ goal-sniper extraordinaire. Considering his 12.1 shooting percentage is (t)second-best in the league among players with at least 85 shots on goal, I’d say he’s gotten back into the swing of things rather nicely.

And if there’s one thing 12-3-2 G Pekka Rinne doesn’t want to see tonight, it’s Tarasenko lining up one of his deadly wrist shots with the option to pass to an equally potent forward. In addition to his dozen goals on the season, Tarasenko has also assisted on 14 other St. Louis tallies, making that top line one of the most intimidating in the conference, if not the entire league.

With two extremely talented offenses going at it, it would seem likely that the better defense should be able to come out on top after everything is all said and done. If I’m right in that prediction, it should be the Blues that see their winning streak continue, as their 2.64 goals against-per-game is lower than Nashville’s 2.9.

Nashville Predators 2017-’18 Season Preview

Nashville Predators

41-29-12, 94 points, fourth in the Central Division

Eliminated in the Stanley Cup Finals by Pittsburgh

Additions: C Nick Bonino, D Alexei Emelin, LW Scott Hartnell

Subtractions: D Matt Carle (retired), F Vernon Fiddler (retired), C Mike Fisher (retired), D Brad Hunt (signed with VGK), LW Mike Liambas (signed with ANH), G Marek Mazanec (signed with Slovan), W James Neal (drafted by VGK), F Colin Wilson (traded to COL)

Offseason Analysis: Let’s get this out of the way: yes, the Predators can make a second-straight Stanley Cup Finals appearance.

Oh, you’re expecting something more in-depth?

Usually this is where we talk signings and other roster moves, but I think the biggest focal point for Nashville has been a constant member of its squad since 2008, a player that’s been among the top-nine at his position (measured by save percentage and GAA) since starting regularly.

In 2012-’13, G Pekka Rinne posted a solid .91 save percentage for a 2.43 GAA, but followed up that performance a season later with .902 and 2.77 numbers. 2014-’15 was a return to form for the Finn, earning himself .923 and 2.18 marks, but ’15-’16 was another lapse in play (.908, 2.48).

That brings us to last year’s performance to earn Nashville’s first-ever Campbell Cup. 31-19-9 Rinne posted impressive .918 save percentage and 2.42 GAA efforts, the (t)seventh- and (t)ninth-best performances, respectively, among netminders with 50+ starts.

What’s alarming about this not-very-well-hidden pattern is we’re coming upon an even-numbered playoff year. Last season was undoubtedly a good performance, so is this recurrence a forecast for this campaign or can Rinne buck the trend?

The answer to that question lies in Nashville’s defense, and what a corps it has in Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and co. Not only is this defense more than capable of providing an offensive presence (Nashville tied San Jose with 181 points from defensemen last season, tops in the league), but they were also adept at limiting Rinne’s workload. He faced an average of 30.1 shots-per-game, tying for 13th-fewest in the NHL.

No discussion about Nashville’s defense is complete without acknowledging Ryan Ellis’ offseason knee surgery that has him sidelined until January. He plays a vital role on this defense, having posted 16-22-38 totals and a +17 rating last season to go with his team-leading 137 blocks and 37 takeaways (second-most among Predators defensemen).

Providing only .19 points-per-game during his six seasons in Montréal, Emelin is no replacement for Ellis’ scoring contributions, but he’ll hold his own blocking shots having rejected 127 last season. Besides, Emelin likes to make his presence known in other ways than scoring – specifically by providing a nasty physical defensive force.

Considering he’s in a place nicknamed “Smashville,” he’ll fit in beautifully.

Offensively, Nashville signed two-time Stanley Cup champion Bonino from Pittsburgh (Like I always say: “If you can’t beat ‘em, sign their players.”) and Hartnell to replace Fisher and Neal, respectively.

This is Hartnell’s second stint in Nashville after being its first-round pick in the 2000 draft and wearing gold through the 2006-’07 season. Posting only .47 points-per-game last season, 2016-’17 was a down year for the 16-year veteran, so his one-year deal is relatively low-risk, high-reward for a club with over $6 million in cap space – especially considering youngsters Pontus Aberg and Kevin Fiala exist.

Instead, I’m intrigued by Bonino’s four-year deal to be Nashville’s second line center. It seems to make sense statistically to play Bones (.46 points-per-game for his career) at the position instead of Calle Jarnkrok (.35 points-per-game), but Bonino found his success on the Pens’ third line.

The difference between playing on the second and third lines is far superior to that between the first and second. So really, the question is if Bones is top-six material.

Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in his way, Bonino never had consistent opportunities to play on a second line and showcase his ability. I think he’s best suited for the third line, but maybe he has a few tricks up his sleeve.

Offseason Grade: C+

Like students allowed to retake a test, this grade has the potential to improve after seeing the Preds’ final product. I will be the first to admit I’m wrong about Bonino’s second line abilities, but I want to see evidence that he is capable of playing the position. Beyond that, Nashville had very little it needed to improve. As long as they can successfully adjust to playing without Ellis – and then readjust when he returns – the sky should be the limit for this Predators squad.