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

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Predators Get Much Needed Win Against the Jets 4-1

The Predators ship has been taking on lots of water in January, recording just 2 victories for the month. To say they desperately needed a win is the understatement of the year.

The Predators got that win against Divisional for Winnipeg with a 4-1 win.

The game didn't start the way that the Predators wanted, as a defensive breakdown led to a breakaway goal by Nick Ehlers to give the Jets a 1-0 lead.

Pekka Rinne would shut down the Jets the rest of the way and the Predators attacked Connor Hellebuyck and the Jets goal for 4 goals.

Ryan Johansen tied the game in the first period with a power play goal. Craig Smith scored a beauty to give the Predators a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period.

James Neal added a third period goal to make it 3-1. Calle Jarnkrok ended the scoring with an empty net goal for the final margin of 4-1.

Some observations:
  • Roman Josi played in his 300th game tonight. Josi has by far and away been the Predators best and most consistent player this season.
  • Lines and D combos in a blender again. First line of forwards remained the same (Fiala, Johansen, and Neal). Second line was Ribeiro centering Forsberg and Craig Smith. Third Line was Fisher centering Salomaki and Jarnkrok. Petter Granberg drew back in on the blue line and was paired with Mattias Ekholm. Barrett Jackman was paired with Ryan Ellis.
  • Cody Bass chucked knuckles with Brad Stuart after Stuart's big hit on Mike Fisher. The scrap started slowly but Bass flattened Stuart with a big right to end the fight. 
  • Has the Johansen for Jones trade paid off for the Predators or what? 8 points in 7 games for RyJo and he is showing he was absolutely worth the swap of an up and coming blueliner. Johansen's goal was a workmanlike goal, going to the net and not quitting on the puck before he jammed it past Hellebuyck.
  • Welcome back to the score sheet, Craig Smith. A beautiful shot in a small space for his 10th goal of the season. The Predators need to get Smith untracked and finding the net consistently, and hopefully this will open the door for some more goals by the Honey Badger.
  • Goodness, the Predators defense has been awfully leaky of late. The first period goal by Ehlers was the result of a forward jetting behind the Preds defense for a breakaway goal, the second in consecutive games allowed by the Predators D corp. Rinne had to be sharp on several occasions as the Jets forwards were roaming almost uncontested through the low slot. The Predators are going to have to tighten up this aspect of their game if they are going to start winning games consistently.
  • Petter Granberg picked up his first NHL point with an assist on Craig Smith's goal.
  • James Neal has to have one of the most wicked releases in the game. His goal off the face off was a rocket that hit the post and then bounced off the back of Hellebuyck for breathing room for the Predators. Neal's goal was his team leading 17th of the season.
  • How good was it to see Pekka get this win. There is no doubt that he has struggled over the past 2 months. Tonight, Pekka looked relaxed in net and was less frenetic than he has been in recent games. He stopped 26 of 27 shots tonight and several of them were very high quality chances.
  • The difference in the game tonight? The Predators got the puck deep and attacked the net with traffic in front. That is the simple formula for success for this team, and if they play the way they did tonight, they will have a good opportunity to start consistently winning games. 
  • The PK was solid tonight. They killed off all 4 of the Jets power plays. The Preds power play was 1 for 3 tonight, getting their first power play goal in their last 12 attempts on their first power play.
This was a must have, solid game by the Predators. They were strong in all phases and got traffic to the net to challenge Hellebuyck.

Now they have to string together some games just like they played tonight.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Craig Smith

3. James Neal

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Predators Fail to Show Up Again, Drop Another Game to the Hawks 4-1

The Nashville Predators played a measuring stick game against the Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena.

They failed miserably.

The Predators never really threatened Chicago netminder Corey Crawford as they were generally loath to go to the front of the net. Content to shoot from outside, Crawford had a fairly easy night, stopping 38 of 39 shots on the way to backstopping a Hawks 4-1 win.

Ryan Ellis got the only goal of the night for the Predators on a shot, imagine this, from the point.

Artem Anisimov, Richard Panik. and Patgrick Kane all scored at even strength. Andrew Desjardin added an empty net goal for the final margin.

Some observations:

  • Winning hockey is (generally speaking) equal parts skill, will, and playing a sound system. The Predators have improved their skill, although the skill on this roster id frustratingly inconsistent. The system is breaking down as the Predators have had too many defensive breakdowns in this funk, and tonight defensive breakdowns cost the Predators (more on that in a moment). The area that is glaringly lacking in my opinion is the will. This team lacks snarl and an attitude that they will not be denied the prime scoring areas of the ice. Instead, the Preds are content to look pretty and shoot from the point. The results of that style of play has been the 2 month downturn that this team is experiencing. They have played themselves out of the playoff picture because they are not playing hard, determined hockey.
  • It is up to the coaching staff and the leadership of this team to change the direction. Continuing to play the style of hockey that they are currently playing will continue to frustrate the team and their fans and they will not improve. This team is going to have to commit to play hard hockey, and if they don't, the remainder of the season will be on that is incredibly frustrating.
  • Head Coach Peter Laviolette is prone to mixing up his lines. This throwing players in a blender approach has been, again in  my opinion, counterproductive. Chemistry is not where it should be, and that is manifesting itself in the lack of production from the forwards. Passes are not connecting and the inability to pressure the net is in part due to this constant changing of line combinations.
  • The Hawks first goal came because the Predators were too loose and casual with the puck. Failing to clear the zone, they turned it over and hung Pekka Rinne out to dry. Kane's goal came on a defensive breakdown when he got behind the defense for a breakaway. These are the kinds of errors that good teams make rarely. The Predators are making these kinds of mistakes consitently and it is resulting in the puck winding up in the back of our net.
  • I really like Pekka Rinne. For years, this team has relied on him to make amazing saves and clean up their mistakes. Rinne has been pedestrian at best this season and has not made the saves that he has in the past. I don't know the reason, but unless he can elevate his game, the Predators are in really big trouble.
  • The inability of the forwards to generate any kind of consistent pressure on Crawford is troubling. Sometimes, it is necessary to simplify the game and drive the net, and this is something that the Predators forwards have not shown a willingness to do. Again, this aspect of their game has to change or this season will continue to spiral down the drain.
This was a troubling loss in my estimation. Troubling because the Predators failed to adjust their game to attack the net. Troubling because there was no elevation of their game.

Troubling because the Predators are fast seeing their season slip away.

My three stars:

1. Patrick Kane

2. Artemi Panarin

3. Ryan Ellis

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Predators Get Back In the Win Column, Defeat the Wild 3-0

to say the Nashville Predators needed a win is a gross understatement. Playing against the Minnesota Wild, who commit to the horribly boring trap game, meant that the Predators were going to have to play with energy and get to the net.

They did just that as they shut out the Wild 3-0 at Bridgestone Arena.

The Predators scored on their first shot of the game as Eric Nystrom re-directed a point shot from Shea Weber past Devan Dubnyk to give the good guys a 1-0 lead.

Carter Hutton got the start in net and he had to be sharp as the Wild at one point in the first period out shot the Predators 9-1. The Predators rallied back, getting out shot 12-11 at the end of the first period and leading 1-0 going into the intermission.

After a scoreless second period, the Predators did a good job of getting traffic to the net and it paid off on the power play as Roman Josi cashed in on a rebound of a Ryan Johansen shot to give the Predators a 2-0 lead.

Filip Forsberg iced the game with an empty net goal to give the Predators their final margin of 3-0.

Some observations:

  • Carter Hutton was outstanding tonight. He made some very good saves and was positionally sound all night. Hutton is often scrambling around in the crease, and although he had a few frenetic moments, was solid in his positioning and appeared to be calm and in control of the play around his crease. Big ups to Hutton for his play tonight. Hutton recorded his third career shut out.
  • The much maligned penalty kill of the Predators was very good tonight. They killed off all 3 man advantage chances by the Wild and gave them very few good looks. This is the kind of effort the Predators needed and they definitely need to build on their play tonight.
  • I questioned Eric Nystrom moving to the third line, but two goals in two nights shows that he can contribute and be effective. Nystrom is not shy about going to the net and his efforts have been rewarded. His re-direct of Shea Weber's shot was perfectly placed to the far post where Dubnyk had no chance.
  • This was the last game of the regular season with the Wild. The Predators captured the season series by a 3-1 margin.
  • Anthony Bitetto got the start again on the third pairing with Barrett Jackman and played a solid game. Bitetto is looking more comfortable and brings a solid physical presence on the ice.
  • The Predators power play got back on track, going 1 for 2 tonight. The addition of Ryan Johansen has been a big plus to this unit. He is dangerous with his passes and his shot, and Roman Josi was the beneficiary of Johansen's ability to find the shooting lanes. Having an elite center has been a plus for this unit and for the team. Johansen has 7 points in 4 games with the team. Johansen also recorded his 200th career point.
  • Calle Jarnkrok was very good in the face off circle. He led the the team, winning 6 of 9 faceoffs, good for 67%.
  • I like the hustle and effort of Craig Smith. Now if he could just bury some shots.
  • Paul Gaustad played in his 700th NHL game tonight.
No doubt this was a much needed win for the Predators, and it was a solid team effort. After a slow start, the Predators got their feet moving and played a complete game.

Now the Preds need to build on this win and start stringing together some victories.

My three stars:

1. Carter Hutton

2. Roman Josi

3. Eric Nystrom

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Predators Battle Back But Fall (Again) in OT to the Jets

43 games into the season, one would not think that a game would be a must win game for any team.

But for the Nashville Predators, this game  at the MTS Center against divisional foe Winnipeg qualifies as a must win game.

The Predators, losers of 4 straight games and struggling to gain consistency, are hanging on by a thread to the last Wild Card slot in the West with 45 points.

The Predators sit 4 points in front of the Jets and are tied with the Colorado Avalanche in points but are in the Wild Card slot by virtue of having a game in hand.

The Predators battled back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game and force overtime before falling 5-4.

A horrible second period cost the Predators this game.

Kevin Fiala, in his first NHL game this season,  made his presence felt immediately as he banged a rebound of a Ryan Johansen shot under the crossbar for his first goal and the first goal of the game. Fiala cleanly beat Connor Hellebuyck by driving the net, something the Predators need to do consistently.

Dustin Byfuglien tied the game at 1 at 6:40 of the second period as he gathered in his own rebound and beat Pekka Rinne to the far post.

James Neal took a dumb interference penalty and on the resulting power play, Bryan Little buried a one timer to take a 2-1 lead.

Dustin Byfuglien scored on a wrap around to make it 3-1.

The wheels were coming off for the Predators in this game and in their season.

The Predators went completely in the ditch early in the third period as Nick Ehlers was sprung on a breakaway and he buried his shot to make it 4-1.

The Predators managed to show some signs of life, however.

Ryan Johansen scored his second goal as a Predator on the power play with some sweet hands in the low slot to make it 4-2.

Eric Nystrom jammed home a pass from Ryan Ellis to make it 4-3 with 8:07 remaining in the game.

After a slew of penalties, there was 1:39 of 3 on 3 hockey late in the third period. Rinne skated to the bench to make it 4 on 3. The Predators were unable to score during this man advantage.

They were finally able to break through and score with James Neal ripping a shot from the face off circle to tie the game at 4 with 13.5 seconds remaining.

A truly improbable comeback to force overtime.

In the OT, the Jets scored on their first shot as Blake Wheeler beat Rinne cleanly for the game winner.

Some observations:

  • Viktor Arvidsson was reassigned to Milwaukee. With Colin Wilson being placed on IR, the Predators recalled Kevin Fiala and Cody Bass. Fiala was placed on a line with Ryan Johansen and James Neal. Certainly an opportunity for the young talent to show what he can do with some quality line mates.
  • Forward lines were once again placed in a blender. Calle Jarnkrok, Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg were on the second line. Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and Eric Nystrom (?) were on the the third line. Miikka Salomaki, Cody Bass, and Paul Gaustad manned the 4th line.
  • The Predators placed Cody Hodgson on waivers and he cleared and and was assigned to Milwaukee.
  • Really sweet goal by Fiala to score his first NHL goal in just his third game with the Predators. He drove hard to the net, fought off a defender, and more importantly finished his chance with a great shot that he roofed just under the crossbar. The talented 19 year old has seasoned a bit in Milwaukee, and it would be good to see him stick on the roster. He is explosive and has tremendous upside and if he can play a solid game in all zones could give the Predators a real boost.
  • The penalty on James Neal was an appropriate call and frankly, that penalty was just stupid. He hit a Jets defender long after the puck had left his stick and was called for interference. These are the kind of boneheaded plays that the Predators just can't make. And it bit them because they were stupid.
  • The inattention to detail has cost the Predators. The jets second power play goal occurred because Mattias Ekholm failed to clear a puck when he had an opportunity to do so. Defensive breakdowns that are caused by mental lapses are winding up in the back of our net and the team has done nothing to reverse the negative trends that are causing their problems. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Draw your own conclusions about the play of this team right now.
  • Let's be honest: the Predators have played some pretty sorry hockey for the past 2 months. So the question becomes, what will turn it around for this team? Will they find their identity? Will they be more physical? Will they start playing fundamentally sound hockey? I believe that the great failing of this team right now is that the coaching staff has failed to instill a sense of urgency and cultivate the character of this team. Can they turn it around? Right now, they are showing no signs of being able to do so.
  • Apparently James Neal will have to lose a limb to avoid being called for embellishment.
  • James Neal ripped a shot past Hellebuyck to tie the game. That was Neal's 200th career goal.
  • Ryan Johansen hit the post in OT and the Jets came back and scored on their first shot in the extra period. The Predators have won only 1 OT game this season. If they miss the playoffs, they will look back on these points that they left on the table.
  • Once again, the Predators failed to play a full 60 minutes. That second period was 20 minutes of miserable hockey. Elite teams play a 60 minute game. The Predators rarely do that.
I have to give the team big ups for battling back to tie the game and get a point. That was heart and character in that effort.

I have to give them failing marks for their sloppy play and inability to play a full 60 minutes.

It cost them a game a game they dearly needed to win.

And they are going to have to find a way to elevate their play for a full 60 if they want to change course.

My three stars:

1. Dustin Byfuglien

2. Kevin Fiala

3. Blake Wheeler

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Struggle Continues; Predators Fall to the Blackhawks 3-2

The Nashville Predators need a win in a big way.

The Chicago Blackhawks stood in the way of the Predators and that win, and the visiting Predators faced a tough task in getting a win at the United Center against a Blackhawks team that has won 7 in a row.

The Predators have lost 3 straight games.

Desperately needing the win, the Predators gave up the first 3 goals before dropping another game by a 3-2 score.

Andrew Shaw scored twice from the top of the crease and Brent Seabrook blasted a shot past Pekka Rinne from the blue line to give the Hawks a 3-0 lead. Mike Ribeiro scored for the Predators late in the second period to cut it to 3-1.

Filip Forsberg scored on a deflection that he batted out of the air with 36.3 seconds to go in the game and the Predators with the man advantage. That goal cut the Hawks lead to 3-2.

The Predators had difficulty getting control of the puck before one last scoring chance from Ryan Johansen that was turned aside by Corey Crawford.

Some observations:

  • Colin Wilson missed his second straight game with a lower body injury.
  • Anthony Bitetto was back in the line up and paired with Barret Jackman.
  • Did you notice how the Blackhawks scored their first 2 goals? Andrew Shaw was creating havoc at the top of the crease and was the beneficiary of going to the hard area of the ice. This is an aspect of the Predators game that has been noticeably absent for too long.
  • This is a Predators team that trying to find its identity right now. They are not overly physical; they are talented but not so that they can dominate an opponent; and they have difficulty  elevating their work ethic or overall game when they need to do so. Until this team discovers and embraces an identity, they are going to continue to be an average squad.
  • I like the play of RyJo- Ryan Johansen. He is adept at winning face offs, is not afraid to go to the front of the net, and has shown that he has a wicked good shot. 
  • James Neal came to play tonight. He was willing to shoot and play a physical game. he was one of the few bright spots for the Predators in a tough game.
  • I can't fault Rinne for the first 2 goals, but man, that third goal was a back breaker that Rinne has to stop.
The Predators are a team on the skids right now.  And the only way out of it is to start to play fundamental hockey and bring a maximum effort for a full 60 minutes.

Until they do that, this is a team that will continue to flounder.

My three stars:

1. Andrew Shaw

2. Corey Crawford

3. Mike Ribeiro

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Predators Have No Fight In Them, Fall to the Coyotes 4-0

The Nashville Predators were looking to find some consistency and some wins. A trip to Gila River Arena to face the Arizona Coyotes stood in their way of accomplishing those goals.

Pekka Rinne got the night off and Carter Hutton got the start, while Louie Domingue, who has been red hot for the Coyotes (5-0-2 in 7 starts), was in the net.

Hutton was tested early as Anthony Duclair was awarded a penalty shot and he stopped the attempt.

After a scoreless first period, the Coyotes struck first in the second period as Antoine Vermette tallied on a power play for a 1-0 lead.

Tobias Rieder scored 55 seconds into the third period on a shot that floated over the shoulder of Carter Hutton to make it 2-0. He added an empty net goal at 17:37, and Anthony Duclair scored with 14 seconds left to humiliate the Predators 4-0.

Some observations:

  • Colin Wilson was scratched with a lower body injury.
  • D pairs were changed. Petter Granberg skated with Mattias Ekholm in his first action since being acquired. Barret Jackman was paired with Ryan Ellis.
  • Cody Hodgson drew back into the line up and was on a line with Viktor Arvidsson and Mike Fisher. 
  • In the absence of Wilson, Filip Forsberg moved up to the Johansen and Neal Line. Calle Jarnkrok was on a wing with Craig Smith and centerd by Mike Ribeiro.
  • The Predators penalty kill has had stretches of being bad and then showing some significant improvement. They are back to being bad again. This unit has never really looked in sync this season, although they have had some good stretches. They are back to looking out of sync again. And this is not good for this struggling team.
  • On the other side, the Predators man advantage has been very inconsistent. There are moments where that u nit looks really good and moments where they have difficulty in getting in the zone. Again, the inconsistency of this unit mirrors the inconsistency of this team. Both have to improve.
  • Maybe it is just me, but it seems that the constant line juggling by Head Coach Peter Laviolette has seriously disrupted the chemistry among the Predator forwards, both in the offensive and defensive zones. 
  • The lack of production from the third line is troubling. Great teams get balanced scoring and there is none on the Predators right now. And the 4th line? It has David Legwand-itis. That is where offense goes to die.
  • This team has completely lost its confidence and mojo. While talented, this is a fragile team that lacks mental toughness and the ability to fight back in the face of adversity. Halfway through the season and the Predators have only 2 wins when trailing after 2 periods. This speaks volumes about the toughness, or lack thereof, on this squad.
There is not much to say about this game, or frankly this team, that hasn't already been said. The season is wasting away and this team shows no ability to stop this miserable slide.

I hope I am proven wrong.

My three stars:

1. Louie Domingue

2. Tobias Rieder

3. Anthony Duclair

Friday, January 8, 2016

Predators Sloppy Play Dooms Them in 5-3 Loss to the Avalanche

Ryan Johansen was on the ice for his much anticipated debut for the Nashville Predators as they traveled to the Pepsi Center to take on the Colorado Avalanche.

While there is much anticipation about the appearance of a legitimate number one for the Predators, the importance of this game for the Predators shouldn't be lost.

The Predators hold the last wild card slot in the West, with 45 points. Colorado sits right behind them with 43 points. Patrick Roy, Head Coach of the Avalanche, called this game a "playoff game" and that only served to emphasize the importance of this game.

In a game as important as this to the Predators, their play was horrendously sloppy. They took 6 penalties and gave up 2 power play goals.

The Predators wasted a strong debut by Johansen with an abundance of penalties and sloppy play on the way to dropping a critical game by a 5-3 score.

Johansen made his presence felt immediately with the Predators on the power play. He held the puck before roofing a shot over the shoulder of Semyon Varlamov into a very small space for a Predators 1-0 lead. That was the Predators first shot of the game, and it was beautiful to see the finish and placement on that attempt.

The Avs evened the game on a power play of their own as they outnumbered the Predators down low and Jerome Iginla was able to gather in a rebound and slam it past Pekka Rinne.

The Predators got trapped in their zone late in the period and couldn't clear the puck. The turnover committed by the Predators resulted in a goal by Cody McLeod to make it 2-1.

Ryan Ellis tied the game at 2:45 of the second period with a wrist shot from the face off circle.

The Avs broke that tie as the Predators gave up a 2 on 1 and Gabriel Landeskog buried the shot to make it 3-2.

Once again, the Predators bounced back to tie the game on a wrist shot by Filip Forsberg from the slot. Johansen would pick up an assist on the play.

Tyson Barrie would break the tie with the Avs once again on the power play as he blasted a shot from the high slot to make it 4-3. On the play, Paul Gaustad's stick had broken, and he tried to get a new one from the bench. That decision left Barrie open for the shot.

And that was certainly not a good decision.

Jack Skille iced the game with an empty net goal with 1.4 seconds remaining on the clock for a 5-3 Avs win.

Some observations:

  • Johansen opened the game on a line with James Neal and Colin Wilson. 
  • My goodness, that first goal by Johansen showed what an elite finisher can do. He fit that shot into an extremely small window. That goal was a goal scorers goal, something the Predators have been lacking.
  • Anthony Bitetto was in the line up and paired with Barret Jackman on the third D pair. 
  • With the arrival of Johansen, players moved down in lines. Calle Jarnkrok centered the second line with Filip Forsberg and Mike Ribeiro on the wings. Mike Fisher centered the third line with Craig Smith and Miikka Salomaki on the wings.
  • The Avalanche opened the game with lots of jump, in fact more than the Predators, which forced the Predators into three penalties in the period. The Predators got lucky in that the Avs wiped out one of their power plays with a penalty on the opening face off of the second Preds penalty. 
  • The Predators defense has broken down numerous times recently, and they continued that trend again tonight. Part of this was the pressure that the Avs forecheck put on the Preds defense; part of it was that the Avs outskated the Predators for much of the game. These uncharacteristic breakdowns have cost the Predators as more often than not, the puck is finding the back of the net.
  • Midway of the game, Filip Forsberg moved up to the first line with James Neal and Johansen. That lined combined for the Predators third goal of the game. they had several shifts together before Wilson rejoined that line early early in the third period.
  • The undisciplined play of the Predators cost them this game. The Avs outworked the Predators all over the ice and forced them into taking way too many penalties. And the Avs have an excellent power play and they burned the Predators when they went down a man. This is the kind of play that this team cannot overcome.
  • Austin Watson had a tough game, recording only 5:50 in ice time and was a -2 for the night.
  • Anthony Bitetto logged 12;20 in ice time and was even +/- for the night.
The Predators looked like a team that didn't have a sense of the importance of this game. As it is, by continuing to fail to take care of business, they now find themselves tied with the Avalanche for the last playoff spot.

And if the Predators continue to struggle and play inconsistently, they won't be tied for long.

They will be on the outside looking in.

My three stars:

1. Ryan Johansen

2. Tyson Barrie

3. Carl Soderberg

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Predators Make the Big Trade, Swap Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen

The Nashville Predators addressed a glaring need by acquiring Ryan Johansen, a true number one center, from the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones.

There is no secret that the Predators are weak down the middle and needed a real number one center that can compete with the elite pivots in the Western Conference. Acquiring Johansen gives the Predators a player that has the potential to play skate to skate with players like Jonathan Toews and David Backes.

Key word here: potential.

Two seasons ago, Johansen recorded 71 points and flashed that potential of being an elite center.

This season, Johansen has struggled along with the Blue Jackets, recording 6 goals and 20 assists in 38 games.

Johansen, 23, is 6'3" and 218 pounds. He ranks in the top 10 of all centers in the NHL in faceoffs, winning 51.8% of his draws.

There is no secret that Johansen and Head Coach John Tortorella didn't always see eye to eye, and the key aspect of this trade will be how quickly Johansen adapts to the tutelage of Head Coach Peter Laviolette and assimilates himself in the locker room.

In giving up Jones, the Predators lost a second pairing D man that has offensive upside and is still growing his game as well as physically.

This trade speaks to the depth that the Predators have in the organization on the blue line. It also speaks to the inability of this team to draft and develop quality centers, which is troublesome for the organization.

The acquisition of Johansen will allow the Predators to properly slot Mike Fisher, Calle Jarnkrok, and Mike Ribeiro. While these players are serviceable, they are not first line centers. Getting them slotted on a proper line will hopefully increase their productivity as well as their line mates.

This trade will also obviously cause some shuffling among the D corps for the Predators. It is expected that perma scratch Anthony Bitetto will get an opportunity to seize a role on the blue line. Bitetto has some good upside, but he will probably not slot in Jones position on the second pairing. It will be interesting to see how the 2nd and third pairs will shape up with Jones no longer in the line up.

If Johansen plays to his potential- there's that word again- then this trade is a huge win for the Predators.

Time will tell.

And Predator fans are hopeful.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Predators Can't Finish, Bombed by the Jets 4-1

Driving to the game tonight to see the Nashville Predators take on the Winnipeg Jets, I had to contend with lots of traffic.

That is something that Jets netminder Connor Hellebuyck rarely had to deal with as he stymied the Predators, turning away 43 of 44 shots on the way to a 4-1 victory.

The Predators threw 44 shots at the Jets netminder, but were content to fire away mostly from the outside, giving Hellebuyck the opportunity to make a  number of routine saves.

Drew Stafford scored two power play goals, Ben Chairot notched a horribly soft goal, and Alexander Burmistrov added an empty netter.

Colin Wilson got the only tally for the Predators long after the outcome had been decided.

Some observations:

  • Yes, the Predators threw a lot of shots at the net. And Hellebuyck did make some very good saves. But the quality scoring chances by the Predators were belied by the vast number of shots. Many were from the outside with Hellebuyck totally unscreened. Rarely did the Predators get traffic to the net, and with the lack of finishers on this team, that is essential to their scoring efforts. Unless the Predators make that commitment to get to the dirty areas, the tough areas of the ice, this team is going to continue to struggle and will find themselves on the outside looking in when the playoffs roll around.
  • The Predators offense has become very predictable. Teams are jamming the middle and forcing the puck outside. That is where many of the shots tonight came from, and there was rarely traffic in front of Hellebuyck. This made a lot of his saves very routine. It is apparent that we do not have shooters that can routinely pick a corner and score the "goal scorers" goal. So unless we get players that can finish their scoring chances or we get players that can create havoc out front, look for more of these types of games.
  • I don't fault Rinne on the first two goals. The defense left Stafford alone in front on the first goal, and his second was a perfect re-direct. But that third goal that Rinne let in was absolutely brutal and killed any hopes of climbing back in this game. This team has to objectively look at Rinne and realize that they have a 32 year old netminder that has been elite but is now on the downside of his career.
  • The Predators were out hit by the Jets, who were the more physical team tonight. Hits were 17-10 in favor of the Jets.
  • The Predators have won only 2 games this season when trailing after 2 periods.
  • The Predators PK was atrocious. They gave up 2 goals on 3 Jets power plays.
This team has shown no ability to build positive momentum. Win a game, lose a game (or 2 or 3). This is not a formula to get into the playoffs, and unless this team can gain some consistency and positive momentum, they will likely miss the playoffs.

Look, I love this team and will always support them.

But I am also a realist.

And the reality is that this team is at best average.

And average is not going to get you in the playoffs.

My three stars:

1. Drew Stafford

2. Connor Hellebuyck

3. Tyler Myers

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Predators Pick Up First OT Win, Top the Canes 2-1

After getting trucked by the Dallas Stars on New Year's Eve, the Nashville Predators traveled to Raleigh to try to right the ship against the Carolina Hurricanes.

No easy task as the Hurricanes have been playing some excellent hockey in the month of December, while the Predators have sputtered.

The Predators didn't get run out of the building in this one, winning a hard fought 2-1 game that took overtime to decide it.

Victor Rask opened the scoring for the Canes as the Predators defense broke down and allowed him to swoop in uncontested and bang home a rebound that Pekka Rinne gave up.

With the Predators on the PK, Mattias Ekholm took a shot from the blue line that hit and broke Paul Gaustad's stick and fluttered past Eddie Lack to tie the game at 1.

That was all the scoring in regulation and once again the Predators were headed to the black hole known as 3 on 3 OT, where they had never won.

Well, it is a new year and hopefully new luck for the Predators as Mattias Ekholm drove the net and fired a shot over the shoulder for the game winner.

Some observations:

  • Cody Hodgson drew back into the line up. Austin Watson was the healthy scratch.
  • Calle Jarnkrok faced his cousin, Elias Lindholm, a center for the Hurricanes and a 2013 first round pick.
  • The Predators defense has uncharacteristically been breaking down in front of Rinne. The Canes first goal came when Victor Rask cleanly beat Mattias Ekholm to the front of the net to slam home a rebound. Rinne has made some big saves but has gotten very little help from his D recently. Until that trend changes, the Predators are going to continue to give up goals.
  • The Predators recorded their second shorthanded goal in the last 3 games. Mattias Ekholm figured on both of those, getting the goal in St. Louis and firing a shot that hit the stick of Paul Gaustad to change direction past Lack. This was Gaustad's first goal of the season.
  • It will be criminal if Roman Jois doesn't win the Norris. I defy anyone to show mw an NHL defenseman that has a more complete game than Josi. His play to break up a second period breakaway was stellar and demonstrated his speed and on ice awareness.
  • Once again, defensive breakdowns and turnovers resulted in a great scoring chance in the third period by Jeff Skinner. Only a superb save by Rinne kept the Canes off the board. Sheesh...the sloppy play at times by the Preds in the defensive zone is just stunning. Rinne made some amazing saves in the third period to keep the game tied.
  • Rinne stopped 27 of 28 shots.
  • The Predators power play was 0-4 and rarely looked crisp. The power play has been hot recently and the Predators need to keep that unit rolling.
  • In regulation, the Predators won 31 of 60 faceoffs and out hit the Canes 48-27. 
  • Carolina out shot the Predators 11-3 in the third period as the Predators had no offensive push at all. For the game, the Canes out shot the Preds 26-20.
  • Mattias Ekholm continues to blossom as a complete defenseman. He is a solid, physical presence that is seeing his offensive game grow nicely. I really like his pairing with mini-me Ryan Ellis as they compliment each other well.
  • Filip Forsberg picked up the assist on the game winner and nearly had the regulation winner as his wicked wrist shot hit both posts but never crossed the goal line.
This was a nice rebound game after the debacle in Dallas. Rinne was outstanding and the Predators did just enough to win the game.

Now it is time to start stringing together some wins.

A new year, a new game, boys.

My three stars:

1. Mattias Ekholm

2. Pekka Rinne

3. Paul Gaustad