Saturday, February 6, 2016

Predators Swamp the Sharks 6-2

The first 10 minutes of the first period of the Nashville Predators game against the San Jose Sharks at Bridgestone Arena was all Sharks and saw the Predators register just 2 shots on goal. Pekka Rinne was outstanding, keeping the Sharks off the board with some great saves, but the Predators offense needed to get going.

It finally did on their third shot of the period.

Ryan Johansen sent a spinning backhand pass from behind the net to James Neal in the slot, and Neal unleashed that wickedly quick wrister to beat Martin Jones five hole to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.

That goal opened the door for the Predators as they cruised to a 6-2 victory.

Viktor Arvidsson scored twice. Calle Jarnkrok scored from the slot with a shot that just overpowered Martin Jones, glancing off his glove and into the net. Filip Forsberg added a shorthanded goal and Shea Weber finished the scoring for the Predators with an empty netter.

The Sharks got power play goals from Joe Thornton and Logan Couture for their goals.

Some observations:

  • Pekka Rinne was outstanding tonight. The first 12 minutes of the first period saw the Predators get out skated and trapped in their zone. Rinne made some great saves to keep the Sharks off the board and from seizing momentum. The Predators were outshot 9-1 in the first 10 minutes and had some quality scoring chances, but Rinne made some athletic saves and his work in net seemed to settle down the Predators as they started to geneerate some offense. If Rinne had not been sharp the Predators would have been blown out of the barn. The two power play goals he gave up were just on great plays by the Sharks and there was really nothing more he could do after making some good saves. Credit this win to the effort of Rinne.
  • Calle Jarnkrok drew first line action on a wing with Johansen and Neal, and he had a a strong game. Head Coach Peter Laviolette  has been searching for a winger that can slot in on that first line and Jarnkrok has made a strong case to be that player. His shot from the slot was gloved by Jones but was so strong it bounced out and trickled over the goal line. Hopefully Jarnkrok is that player that can solidify the first line wing spot that has been in flux. He made a solid case for that tonight.
  • Viktor Arvidsson spent a lot of time getting knocked on his ass tonight. I commented to a friend at the game that the Aardvark has to get stronger to play consistently at this level. But wow, when he gets some open ice he can be very dangerous. He showed that as the game went on, first with a beautiful top shelf goal and then with a move that turned Jones inside out. The aardvark has shown some signs of explosiveness and he needs some space to be a difference maker. His hustle and effort are exemplary, and it was good to see him find the back of the net. This was Arvidsson's first multi point game of his career.
  • Filip Forsberg recorded 2 assists and a shorthanded goal for his 102 points for his career. Forsberg plays a lot of quality minutes as well as time on the PK and has shown that he is going to be an elite player in this League. Forsberg recorded his second 3 point game of the season. Of the 2012 draft class, Forsberg, Nail Yakupov, and Alex Galchenyuk have recorded 100 points.
  • Mike Ribeiro played in his 1000th NHL game tonight. Ribeiro celebrated by picking up 2 assists.
  • The Predators are 9-2-2 against the Pacific Division this season.
  • Ryan Johansen's 2 assists gives him 13 points in 13 games with the Predators.
  • Weber's empty net goal was his 14th goal of the season.
This was a quality win against a very good Sharks team. The Sharks have 17 road wins this season and lead the NHL in road victories, so the Predators captured a much need and quality win against a very competitive opponent.

The Predators started very slowly, and this is the kind of start that the Predators cannot have.  Fortunately, Rinne kept them in the game until the team got its skating legs going.

The Predators have shown they can compete against some of the best teams in the League.

Now they need to do it consistently.

My three stars:

1. Viktor Arvidsson

2. Filip Forsberg

3. Ryan Johansen

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Predators Lack Urgency and Effort, Get Shelled By the Flyers 6-3

The Nashville Predators need points. They wasted a great opportunity to pick up 2 points against the Philadelphia Flyers at Bridgestone Arena by playing a half-hearted game and dropping a critical contest by a 6-3 score.

Wayne Simmonds scored twice and the Flyers added goals by Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, and two goals by Claude Giroux, the last an empty netter.

Ryan Johansen, Calle Jarnkrok, and Shea Weber scored for the Predators.

Some observations:

  • The Flyers first goal came as the result of a breakaway after a brutal non-call for interference on the Flyers. Michael Raffl skated into two Predators and took them out of the play, allowing Read to skate in an beat Rinne for the first goal of the game. How the officials don't make that call is beyond me, but it is an embarrassment to the League that a call gets blown so badly.
  • Simmonds scored on a follow up of his breakaway. Rinne made the first stop, but Simmonds gathered his rebound and tucked it between Rinne's skate and the post. The play was set up when Shea Weber broke his stick and in the process of retrieving another one, Simmonds got behind him for the score.
  • The Predators had ample opportunities on the power play, but could only capitalize once off a blast by Weber that he blew past Steve Mason. Other than that score, the Predators power play was inept. They had a 4 minute power play in the first period and generated only 2 shots. The power play is lacking a hard edge and a player that will go to the front of the net and create havoc. Instead, this unit is too content to float and toss the puck around the perimeter. It looks pretty, but is highly ineffective.
  • I am going to call the experiment of constant line juggling by Head Coach Peter Laviolette a failure. The constant changes have disrupted chemistry and leaves the forwards looking uncertain and unsettled. I understand the need to mix up line. Occasionally. Not all the time. And the lack of chemistry and cohesiveness among the forwards is hurting this team.
  • The Predators lack snarl. This team has no edge and a player that will be a shift disturber. There a re talented and dangerous forwards, but the Predators have players that more often than  not are not going to the hard areas and claiming that ice. This makes them very easy to defend and makes it more difficult to score goals in this time of the season where hard hockey is the norm.
  • That said, I like the play of Miikka Salomaki. He is physical and hustles all over the ice. He is by far the most physical forward that the Predators have on their roster. 
  • Rinne didn't have an exceptional game, but two breakaways and a perfect pass to Schenn alone at the side of the crease were difficult to stop. He didn't make some outstanding stops but he didn't get a lot of help in front of him either.
  • Trailing going into the third period, it was almost inevitable that the Predators would absorb another loss. This team has only won 2 games this season when trailing going into the third period. They are now 2-15-3 when trailing after 2 periods, and that is awful.
  • Filip Forsberg will be an elite player. Right now, however, he is on a dry spell and I get the feeling that he is trying to do too much with the puck on his stick. Skating into two or more defenders is usually a formula for turning over the puck, which he did on multiple occasions tonight.
  • Forsberg, Mike Ribeiro, and Barrett Jackman were all -3 tonight. 
The Predators are going to need, I believe, 100 points to make the playoffs. With 30 games remaining and 56 points on their ledger, that means the team is going to have to go 22-8 to get to that point total.

The runway is getting short for this team.

Keep playing without a sense of urgency and desperation, and they will run out of runway very quickly.

My three stars:

1. Wayne Simmonds

2. Claude Giroux

3. Calle Jarnkrok

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Predators Drop Another Game to the Blues 1-0

The St. Louis Blues squared off against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena in a game that took on the characteristics of a heavyweight boxing match.

Both teams probed, took their offensive shots, and waited for the other to make a mistake to give them an opening.

It was the Predators that made the mistake, getting trapped in their own zone for a lengthy period of time and failing to clear the puck. That mistake wound up in the back of their net.

Troy Brouwer deflected a shot by Alex Pietrangelo past Pekka Rinne with 1:05 to go in regulation to give the Blues a 1-0 victory.

The Blues have won all 4 games against the Predators this season.

Some observations:

  • Shots on goal were 11 apiece at the end of 2 periods as neither team would give an inch. That changed in the third period as the Blues had the quality scoring chances while the Predators rarely threatened Brian Elliott. Rinne had to make some huge saves, including a point blank stop on Magnus Paajarvi. Rinne was solid tonight and I can't fault him on the deflection that got past him. The Blues out shot the Predators 12-5 in the third as the offense was virtually non-existent. For the game, the Blues out shot the Predators 23-16.
  • Ryan Johansen had 3 shots on net , but the rest of the Predators had no player record more than 2 shots on goal as the Blues defense did an effective job of choking off the offensive push. The Predators this season have had no answer for the heavy game the Blues play. They had better figure it out, because this is the kind of hockey every team will play between now and the end of the season.
  • The Predators were good in the face off dot, winning 57% of the draws.
  • I liked the game of Calle Jarnkrok tonight. He was aggressive in all zones and played with speed and pace. He was on a line with Craig Smith and Mike Ribeiro and this line created a few quality chances.
  • Unfortunately for the Predators, there were not enough quality chances. Very little traffic to the net meant that Brian Elliott had a fairly easy night.
  • This is the 6th time this season that the Predators have been shut out.
  • There is no doubt that the Central Division is the toughest division in the NHL. If the Predators are going to climb into a solid playoff position, they are going to have to pick up their game against their division rivals. After tonight, the Predators are 6-10-2 against their Central opponents. 
  • The Predators PK was solid, killing off all 3 of the Blues power plays. This unit continues to be effective and has really stepped up their play.
  • On the other hand, the Predators power play was 0-3 and never really threatened the net. This unit has started to go cold, and the team needs this unit to pick up their sense of urgency and pace.
This is a tough loss for the Predators as it is a divisional loss and keeps them barely in the playoff hunt. With a chance to make up some ground  on the Blues and put some distance between the other teams chasing them, they sputtered.

It is not going to get any easier between now and the end of the season. Teams are going to be desperate and playing hard hockey.

They Predators are going to have to do the same.

My three stars:

1. Troy Brouwer

2. Pekka Rinne

3. Alex Pietrangelo

Monday, February 1, 2016

Smashville Sets the Standard During All Star Weekend

The 2016 NHL All Star game is in the books, and it was an overwhelming success. From the play on the ice to the activities surrounding the game, Smashville set the bar higher than ever for this event.

Over the course of the weekend, fans of the game were treated to outstanding entertainment at the Winter Park and at the Fan Fest. They enjoyed interactions with the players, coaches, and the media that cover the game.

And how about the weather. Just a week ago, Nashville was hit with a major snowstorm. All Star weekend saw sunny skies and temperatures in the mid 60's.

I knew the organizing committee had a lot of clout, but that was amazing1

Here are some thoughts and observations about the event:

  • Kudos to all who worked to put this together. It was obvious that lots of planning and forethought had been put into the event to make the fan experience exceptional. The event was laid out with everything in walking distance. This helped ease traffic problems and allowed the fans to mingle and interact easily with each other. People all across the country- fans of every team- got to visit and experience the warmth and hospitality of Smashville. And many discovered what the residents here already knew- Nashville is a gem.
  • There was an abundance of volunteers to make sure that everything went smoothly and that fans knew where to go and had assistance when they needed it. This speaks to the organization of this event and to the people that worked behind the scenes to make it an exceptional experience for those in attendance. The work that went into this effort was massive and everyone, from Predators ownership and staff, the League, and the organizing committee are to be commended.
  • Don't underestimate the proximity of all the venues. I had a chance to talk to some people that had been to other All Star games and to a person they said that having everything in walking distance was a huge plus for this event. Being able to move easily from the Winter Park to the Convention Center to concert venues to the entertainment district downtown was a huge, HUGE, plus. I heard many say this made their experience much more enjoyable.
  • Nashville really had a chance to shine and showcase the talent of the entertainers that call this great city home. And the music community didn't disappoint. One of the consistent comments that I heard from so many visitors was the musical talent that was on display was so impressive. And believe me, they were impressive. The response from visitors at some of the shows was almost giddy. I had a chance to catch Chip Esten's show on the Honda stage at Fan Fest on Saturday and it was impressive. And our guests were impressed. Really impressed.
  • The game itself was better than any All Star game I have seen. There was intensity and competitiveness and an opportunity for the players to shine. It was actually compelling to watch, and that sentiment was echoed to me by friends that watched the game on TV. I think the League has found a format that will work going forward as not only the fans but the players seemed to enjoy the 3 on 2 game.
  • A great crowd for both the skills competition and the game. Enthusiastic, responsive, and loud. And good on the fans for their response to and support of John Scott. A great story that only served to take the event to another level.
Here are some images from the weekend:

Saturday's activities started with a Prayer breakfast at the Renaissance Hotel. Stu Grimson served as Master of Ceremonies and several speakers shared their faith. Mike "Doc" Emrick spoke and was a humble and engaging speaker. I had a chance to visit with Doc after the program and he is a genuine and personable individual.

Former Predators head Coach and current Washington Capitals Head Coach Barry Trotz spoke and gave a powerful testimony and of course was a crowd favorite.

Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene spoke and is quite an impressive young man. Afterwards, he stayed around to visit with those in attendance. Here he is with my son, Matt, and myself.

Chip Esten performs on the Honda stage at the Fan Fest. He drew a large and enthusiastic crowd and was one of the many talented performers that appeared on the various music stages throughout the weekend.

A street scen looking at the Honda Winter Park outdoor stage. The crowds were huge for the many performances. I was about a block away from the stage, which was as close as I could get. Big ups to the sound technicians as the sound that far away was a good as it would be if I were up close.

There were lots of exhibits and interactive games at the Fan Fest. I will say, the Velveeta cheese fountain was the most unusual.

There were lots of opportunities to interact with the players and coaches. here, Pete Weber interviews Roman Josi at the Discover Theater. Fans had a chance to ask questions directly of the players and the interactions and condor from the players was exceptional.

The Western Conference players warm up before the skills competition.

Lee Brice warms up the crowd before the player introductions at the game

The All Stars on the ice for the game introductions

Jennifer Nettles performs at the intermission of the game. Notice a few players came out of the locker room and sat on the ice to take in her performance

The weekend was exceptional. Nashville has stepped up its game and has set the bar extremely high for future games. 

Once again, thanks to all who made this outstanding event happen.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Hutton Shines In 2-1 Win Over the Flames

The Nashville Predators wrapped up their 4 game Canadian road trip with a stop at the Scotia Bank Saddledome for a tilt with the Calgary Flames. The Predators were looking to make it a 4-0 road trip after capturing the first three contests and working themselves back into the playoff hunt.

Carter Hutton got the start for the Predators, and they staked him to a 2-0 lead through the end of 2 periods. Mike Ribeiro was the beneficiary of a great drive into the zone by Craig Smith and he buried a shot from the slot past Kari Ramo to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at the end of the first period.

Shea Weber hammered home a blast from the face off circle with the Predators on the power play to send them into the locker room after two periods with a 2-0 lead.

Mark Giordano cut that lead to 2-1 with a perfectly placed shot to the top corner early in the third period.

For the second straight game, the Predators were going to have to kill a penalty to end regulation and preserve the win.

The Flames swarmed the offensive zone, skating 6 on 4, but the Predators penalty killers and especially Hutton came up big to lock down the win.

Some observations:

  • Lines juggled again as Filip Forsberg moved up to the top line with Ryan Johansen and James Neal. Mike Ribeiro dropped down to a wing on a line with Craig Smith and Calle Jarnkrok.
  • Eric Nystrom was injured in last night's game with Vancouver when he took a Shea Weber blast off his foot. According to a comment from Stu Grimson on the broadcast, Nystrom suffered a broken foot.
  • Kevin Fiala drew back into the line up and was on a line with Mike Fisher and Austin Watson.
  • Craig smith has been playing some very good hockey on this road trip. He is using his speed to open up the ice and the Predators first goal tonight was the result of smith driving the wing and spreading out the defense, leaving Ribeiro alone in the slot. Smith can be an impact player if he plays a simple hockey game, and that is something he has been doing consistently on this road trip.
  • Lots of unnecessary penalties in the first period. Brain fart penalties. Fortunately for the Predators, the PK was up to the task, but they can't keep tempting fate.
  • Strong defense by the Predators in the first period. Calgary was held to 4 shots on goal even with the power plays and didn't record their first shot on net until the game was 9 minutes old.
  • Goodness, Weber just flat out blew the shot past Ramo on the power play. Weber got open in the face off circle and loaded up on the shot. Ramo got his glove up, but well after the puck had found the back of the net. When Weber steps into a shot cleanly it is deadly. Just ask Eric Nystrom.
  • Carter Hutton played an excellent game. He made some huge saves, especially in the last minute of play to preserve the win. The only goal he gave up was a perfectly placed shot through traffic. Hutton has looked strong in his last two outing and secured critical wins for the team. Hutton is now 5-2-1 in his starts this season.
  • The Predators were back on their heels for most of the third period. The Flames out shot the Predators 16-7, which only emphasizes the quality of play from Hutton tonight.
  • The Predators PK was stellar, killing all 4 of the Flames man advantage opportunities. The Predators PK has killed 26 of the last 27 power plays from their opponents.
This was the type of game that in the recent past the Predators would have allowed to slip away. Now, they are playing with some confidence and starting to get their swagger back. The last two games have shown this team is refusing to buckle under pressure, and that is a great sign going forward.

The Predators win gives them 4 wins in a row for the first time since October.

Now they need to keep building on this momentum after the All Star break.

My three stars:

1. Carter Hutton

2. Shea Weber

3. Mike Ribeiro

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Predators Rally Late to Defeat the Canucks 2-1

The Nashville Predators looked to build on the momentum of their first back to back wins in over a month as they traveled to Vancouver to take on a Canucks team that stood one point behind them in the Western Conference standings.

The Predators opened the scoring 59 seconds into the game as Craig Smith drove the net and flipped a perfect pass from Mike Fisher over the shoulder of Ryan Miller.

That opening burst by the Predators was all they could muster over the next 40 minutes as the Canucks out skated the Predators up and down the ice.

Brandon Sutter, in his first game after missing 33 games for sports hernia surgery, took a nice pass through the slot and beat Pekka Rinne to tie the game at 1 midway of the first period.

Rinne had to sharp as the Canucks unleashed a barrage of shots at the net and generated some quality scoring chances. Through 2 periods, the Canucks owned the shots on goal by a 24-11 margin.

The paint must have been peeled off the walls of the locker room by the coaching staff at the second intermission as the Predators opened the third period with more jump and urgency. Their efforts paid off with a goal by James Neal with 5 minutes to go in the third period to give the Predators a 2-1 lead.

The Predators had to end regulation on the penalty kill with Mattias Ekholm in the box for interference.

The Predators PK did their job and the kill allowed the the Predators to win their third game in a row with a 2-1 win.

Some observations:

  • Predators first goal came from a simple hockey play. Craig Smith drove the net and was able to lift a perfect pass from Mike Fisher over the shoulder of Ryan Miller. When the Predators drive the net, they have a high degree of success. Simple hockey, but is the kind of game the Predators have to play every night. Smith's goal was his 11th of the season and his second in two games.
  • Over the last 12 games, the Predators power play was ranked 3rd in the NHL. Tonight, there was not much movement with the man advantage and the first two power plays yielded only one shot. No urgency and being too casual is not a formula for success for this unit.
  • Petter Granberg was back in the line up on the blue line, and it is obvious that he is still trying to find his way and get settled in. I think the big blueliner has a lot of upside, but it is going to take a while for him to get settled into a regular role.
  • The Predators got outskated through the first 40 minutes, and that is disappointing as the Predators should have realized the import of this game. This team has played themselves out of the playoffs and they need wins desperately to get back into the race. This was not the type of game that allowed the Predators to build on the momentum of the last 2 games. Fortunately, the Predators were able to turn up the intensity and effort in the third period. Their response in the third period was excellent and will be a huge confidence booster for the team.
  • Craig Smith had a solid effort tonight. He drove the net hard for the Predators first goal and had a nose for the net and and a desire to shot the puck. He created some good opportunities by moving his feet and using his speed. This is the kind of game that Smith has to play to be productive.
  • I thought that Austin Watson played with a lot of grit and jump tonight. He is a big body that really needs to find his game, and if he does, the Predators will benefit.
  • James Neal is just flat out a sniper. When he has some room to get off that quick release, he can be deadly.
  • Pekka Rinne really looked like the Pekka Rinne of old. He had to make some very good stops to keep the Canucks off the board and you could tell the team was growing in confidence behind the way he was playing. This team will need more of that form Rinne as this season grinds on. In this 3 game winning streak, Rinne has stopped 80 of 83 shots.
After getting badly outplayed in the first 40 minutes, the Predators responded in a huge way. This is the kind of game that wasn't pretty, but the team never quit and elevated their game enough in the third period to capture a critical win.

That showed some character and an unwillingness to wilt under the pressure.

That is the kind of hockey this team is going to have to play down the stretch.

My three stars:

1. James Neal

2. Pekka Rinne

3. Craig Smith

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Predators Get 2nd Win In A Row, Defeat the Oilers 4-1

The Nashville Predators visited Rexall Place to face the Edmonton Oilers and were looking for their first back to back wins since December 19th/21st.

The Predators accomplished that task by defeating the Oilers 4-1.

Leon Draisaitl opened the scoring for the Oilers, beating the Predators defense back and to the low slot before backhanding a puck past Pekka Rinne for a 1-0 lead.

Mattias Ekholm answered with a a shot through traffic that slid between the legs of Cam Talbot to tie the game at 1.

Ekholm scored a...strange goal to give the Predators a 2-1 lead when his shot hit Andre Sekera in the head and disappeared into the pads of Talbot. When Talbot dropped to the butterfly, the puck squirted out of his pads and dribbled across the goal line.

Mike Fisher scored on a drive to the net that was set up by a sweet pass from Shea Weber to give the Predators a 3-1 lead early in the third period.

Filip Forsberg finished the scoring with an empty net goal.

Some observations:

  • Mike Ribeiro moved up to the first line on a wing with James Neal and Ryan Johansen. More line juggling by Peter Laviolette. Kevin Fiala was a healthy scratch. Mike Fisher centered Craig Smith and Filip Forsberg. Austin Watson drew back into the line up and was paired with Calle Jarnkrok and Miikka Salomaki.
  • Petter Granberg was paired with Mattias Ekholm on the blue line. Anthony Bitetto was a healthy scratch for the D. corps.
  • The Draisaitl goal was another example of an opposing forward skating through the Predators defense to get to a prime scoring area. This time, Draisaitl victimized Shea Weber with a strong cut to the low slot. Again, this is an area of the Predators play that has been uncharacteristically spotty and has to improve if this team is going to improve it's play.
  • Mattias Ekholm has been quietly solid for the Predators. You can see that he is a steadying presence for the rookie Granberg and he has some offensive mojo as well. His goal was a result of good judgment to jump in on the play and his unwillingness to give up on the puck in a high traffic area. 
  • Was that not the weirdest goal that Ekholm scored for his second of the night? Off the head of Sekera, disappeared into the pads of Talbot, and then reappeared to drift slowly over the goal line. A lot of puck luck on that goal, something the Predators have not had a lot of lately. Maybe, just maybe, the hockey gods are starting to smile on the Predators.
  • Matty Ek recorded his 20th point with his 2 goals tonight. That is a career high, and it occurred in 48 games. His previous high was 18 points in 80 games.
  • Exceptional vision and a sweet pass from Shea Weber to Mike Fisher during the 4 on 4 early in the third period for the Predators third goal. Weber put the pass from the corner right on to the tape of Fisher's stick. And credit Fisher for driving hard to the net, something the Predators have started to do recently and it has resulted in goals.
  • Good on Austin Watson getting back in the line up and picking up an assist on Ekholm's first goal. Watson has been struggling to stick in the line up and he needs some good things to happen for his confidence. A big body and a hard worker, this young Predator can be a contributor if he finds his game.
  • I liked the way the Predators skated tonight and controlled the neutral zone. The Oilers have some talented and explosive forwards, but the Predators skated well and negated their speed and and offensive cycle.
  • Rinne had his second consecutive strong outing. I don't really fault him on the lone Oiler goal as Draisaitl worked Weber to get to the low slot. Foir the second game, Rinne made some quality saves, but more importantly, was calm in net and looked confident. The Predators will do very well with a calm and confident Rinne.
  • The Predators won 33 of 59 faceoffs and blocked 14 shots tonight.
  • Good to see the PK start to get its mojo back. They killed all 3 of the Oilers man advantages. The Predators power play was 1 of 2.
  • Roman Josi led the team in TOI with 26:50. His partner, Shea Weber, had 26:00.
Goodness, it is nice to get back to back wins. This was a complete game by the team that was a full 60 minutes of sound, fundamental hockey. This team has struggled mightily to put these kinds of games together, and now having done that will hopefully build on that effort and establish some positive momentum.

Two more games before the All Star break to do just that.

My three stars:

1. Mattias Ekholm

2. Pekka Rinne

3. Mike Fisher