Showing posts with label Kevin Klein. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Kevin Klein. Show all posts

Monday, January 20, 2014

Predators Pound the Stars 4-1

The Nashville Predators took on division rival Dallas Stars at the Bridgestone Arena in a game that the Predators needed to move up in the standings. Defeating the Stars would allow the Predators to leapfrog them in the West.

So obviously, this game was important for the Predators, and a good start was essential.

That apparent good start, a goal off the stick of Shea Weber was negated by a goaltender interference penalty on David Legwand.

On the ensuing power play, Cody Eakin beat Carter Hutton to give the Stars a 1-0 lead at 4:45 of the first period.

What could have been a deflating event seemed to strengthen the resolve of the Predators, as they stepped up their physical play and tallied the next 4 goals on the way to an important 4-1 win.

Nick Spaling opened the scoring for the Predators at 11:35 of the first period as he went to the slot and gathered in a rebound of a Roman Josi shot and whipped it past Kari Lehtonen to tie the game.

The Predators made it 2-1 at 17:16 of the first period off a wrist shot from Shea Weber that beat Lehtonen through traffic to the stick side.

Throughout much of the second period, the game was back and forth with both teams trying to create scoring chances and both netminders coming up with good saves. That changed in the final minute of the period as Roman Josi beat Lehtonen with a wrist shot from the face off circle to give the Predators a 3-1 lead at 19:28.

In the third period, the Stars out shot the Predators 19-3. One of those three shots was a goal from Mike Fisher that was set up by the hustle of Colin Wilson. He beat a Stars defender in a race to the puck and threw a drop pass from the corner onto the stick of Fisher. Fisher blasted a shot past Lehtonen at 3:46 of the period for a 4-1 lead.

The rest of the period, the Predators were content to play defense and limit quality scoring chances by the Stars.

They were successful and the Predators captured their third win in the last 4 games.

Some observations:

  • Roman Josi is certainly smooth carrying the puck and knows when to carry it deep in the offensive zone. Josi is playing with a high level of confidence and proficiency and the team has benefited as his game continues to blossom. With the goal tonight, Josi set a career high for goals (6) and points (20).

  • Carter Hutton was superb tonight. He tracked the puck well and came up with some very good saves on the Stars scoring chances. Hutton stopped 35 of 36 shots and looked poised in the crease.

  • Kevin Klein went full beast mode on Antoine Roussel in a second period fight. Roussel challenged Klein, who obliged and proceeded to throw some bombs and pummel Roussel. It was interesting to see Eric Nystrom skating in close to the scrap and yelling encouragement to Klein.

  • The Predators had two goals waved off in the first period. The first on the aforementioned Legwand interference penalty and the second after it appeared that Rich Clune had poked the puck over the goal line in a goal mouth scramble. The officials ruled they had blown the whistle before the puck crossed the line.

  • This was a good comeback win for the Predators. Normally, when the opponent scores first, it spells trouble for the Predators. With this win tonight, the Predators are now 5-20-3 when the opponent scores first.

  • The game turned midway of the first period when the Predators upped their physical play. They did a good job of taking the body and making the Stars play a very physical game. As the game wore on and the hitting continued, the Stars seemed to wilt.

  • 7 of the last 15 goals the Predators have scored have come from defensemen.

  • Dallas has now lost 9 of their last 10 games.
The Predators will embark on a Western Canada swing that will show where this team is in terms of getting back into the playoff race.

Play like you did tonight, boys, and you will become a factor again.

My three stars:

1. Carter Hutton

2. Roman Josi

3. Eric Nystrom

Friday, December 27, 2013

Predators Downward Spiral Continues in Loss to the Stars

The first game after the Christmas break saw the Nashville Predators travel to the American Airlines Center to face the Dallas Stars. The Predators were attempting to become more Grinch like, especially in the first period, taking away scoring chances and limiting goals. In the prior four games, the Predators had been outscored 10-1 in the first period, and if they were going to get back into the win column, the Predators had to have a much better start.

The Predators apparently were still in the giving spirit as Jamie Benn scored on a wrap around just 42 seconds into the game. Carter Hutton was out of position as Benn drove the right side of the net and used his speed to get to the open side before Hutton could react.

Once again, the Predators had given up a goal on the first shot of the game.

The Predators got shots on net but could not get to rebounds when Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen gave up rebounds. Lehtonen was not called upon to make difficult saves off the Predators offensive efforts.

The Stars were awarded a penalty shot at 16:35 of the first period as Victor Bartley hauled down Antoine Roussel, but fortunately for the Predators, Roussel missed the net with his shot.

The Predators out shot the Stars 9-7 in the first period.

The Predators opened the second period by giving the Stars several odd man rushes, and Hutton was called upon to make some big saves to keep the Stars off the board.

The Predators tied the game at 1 at 7:14 of the second period as Colin Wilson controlled the puck behind the net. he worked out to the side and found Kevin Klein sneaking in alone on the weak side and Klein buried the shot to get the Predators even.

The Predators showed their disturbing tendency to give up a goal shortly after they score as they gave up a goal just 24 seconds later. Eric Cole blasted a shot past Hutton from the face off circle at 7:38 to give the Stars a 2-1 lead.

The Predators have shown they cannot keep their opponents off the board after they score, destroying the momentum they had just seized.

Eric Cole made it 3-1 at 14:04 as he took a pass from Alex Goligoski and got behind the Predators defense for a breakaway. Cole made a nice stop move and faked Hutton down to the ice and lifted a backhand into the open net.

The Predators had several scoring opportunities in the remainder of the period but could not finish their chances.

The Stars out shot the Predators 16-11 in the second period.

The Stars opened the third period attacking the Predators net and kept the Predators on their heels. After killing off a power play, the Predators remained hemmed in their end of the ice and the stars made them pay at 4:09 as Ryan Garbutt re-directed a shot from the point by Cody Eakin past Hutton to make it 4-1.

This game had been over for a while. Now it was just a matter of how bad it would be for the Predators.

Fortunately for the Predators, they held the Stars off the board for the remainder of the game. Unfortunately, the Predators did not come close to scoring either.

Some observations:

  • The inability of the Predators to carry the puck into the offensive zone is killing the offensive effort. More often than not, the Predators are dumping the puck in and chasing, and right now, they are losing those races to the puck. If the Predators cannot carry the puck into the zone, their weak offense is virtually non-existent. Unfortunately, this is where the Predators are right now.

  • That inability to carry the puck means that opponents are able to effectively forecheck the Predators. This results in numerous turnovers and the inability to get the puck cleanly through the neutral zone. Once again, the way this team is built, it doesn't appear that this is going to change this season.

  • The Predators are going to have to live with average at best goaltending. Neither Hutton nor Mazanec have shown the ability to consistently put together a run of solid games. Again, this goes back to a strategic decision made by David Poile in the off season that is biting the Predators in the butt right now.

  • Victor Bartley was inserted back into the line up after being a healthy scratch for the last three games, and he had a miserable night, going -3 for the evening. He was caught flat footed on Cole's second goal resulting in the breakaway.

  • This team is working hard, but. to quote Shakespeare in Macbeth, "it is sound and fury, signifying nothing." The hard work pales in head to head competition with teams that have a better quality of NHL player. The teams in the West that have separated themselves from the pack are teams with elite offensive players that can score and solid defense and goaltending. First and foremost, the Predators lack elite offensive players that can score. The defense is shaky, and the goaltending is worse. Yes, you want hard work. No team is going to succeed with a strong work ethic. But there has to be talent to go along with that work ethic. That is what this team lacks, and it is going to make for a long and painful season.
It is not going to get any easier nor will it be any fun.

The Predators are reduced to working hard and hoping for the best.

My three stars:

1. Eric Cole

2. Alex Goligoski

3. Kari Lehtonen

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Same Song, Same Tired Refrain. Predators Fall to the Caps 5-2

The Nashville Predators traveled to the Verizon Center to take on the Washington Capitals and were in desperate need of a win. The Predators had just ended a four game home stand by losing every game, and faced a big challenge in the Capitals and their explosive offense.

Marek Mazanec was in net for the Predators, while the Capitals went with Braden Holtby.

Mazanec made a couple of stellar saves early in the period to keep the Caps off the board. Washington would get the first goal of the game, though as Troy Brouwer outmuscled Ryan Ellis in front of the net and was able to slide a backhand past the pads of Mazanec at 6:44 of the first period.

Rich Clune was called for interference at 13:06 and Alex Ovechkin fired a shot from the face off circle that caromed past Mazanec at 13:09.

So much for an effective penalty kill.

Karl Alzner made it 3-0 for the Caps with a blast from the blue line that beat Mazanec glove side at 16:19. this was just after Mazanec made 3 great saves in close after Kevin Klein had a give away in front of his net.

The Predators finally showed some signs of life as Roman Josi carried the puck into the zone a fired a wrist shot from outside the face off circle that beat Holtby over the shoulder to make it 3-1 at 19:38 of the first period.

The Caps out shot the Predators 14-12 in the first period.

the game was not out of reach- yet- but the Predators were going to have to get better goaltending and tighten up their effort in the defensive zone.

The Predators opened the second period skating better and firing shots on net. they created some great scoring opportunities, but could not finish their chances.

The Predators also played much better defensively, limiting the Caps shots and scoring chances. In the period, the Predators out shot the Caps 12-6.

If the Predators were going to get back in this game, they were going to have to do something that had been a struggle over the last 4 games, and that was finish their scoring chances.

At 3:39 of the third period, Nate Schmidt fired a puck from the blue line that beat an unscreened Mazanec stick side to make it 4-1.

The Predators made it 4-2 as Eric Nystrom broke in on a 2 on 1 and rather than pass, took a shot from inside the face off circle that beat Holtby to the far post at 3:52 of the period. Nystrom has a deceptively good shot, and he beat Holtby with a well placed shot.

The game turned into a pond hockey affair as both teams sped up and down the ice with scoring chances. The Predators tempted fate by giving up odd man rushes, and the Caps eventually made them pay as Eric Fehr buried a shot from the face off circle that beat Mazanec stick side to give the Caps a 5-2 lead at 14:50.

The Predators never threatened again after that score, and mercifully, the Caps did not score again.

Some observations:

  • The Predators welcomed Shea Weber back to the line up after taking a puck to the eye on Thanksgiving night against Edmonton. weber was wearing a visor, which I hope he continues to do for the remainder of his career. Weber is one of the players that is grandfathered under the CBA and he can choose not to wear a visor because of his tenure in the League.

  • The Predators scratched their second leading scorer, Craig Smith, in favor of Rich Clune. The logic of that move eludes me.

  • Mazanec had to make some quality saves. The score would have been more embarrassing except for some very good play in the net. The goal by Schmidt was one he would like to have back, as it was an unscreened shot that blew past him. Mazanec was beaten stick side twice tonight on shots that seemed stoppable.

  • Once again, the inability to finish scoring chances victimized the Predators. They put a lot of pucks on Holtby and he gave up rebounds, but we had difficulty finishing scoring chances in close.

  • The Predators faced some familiar players in Joel Ward and Marty Erat.

  • Patric Hornqvist took a big hit from Troy Brouwer late in the game and went to the locker room and did not return. It appeared that he hurt his shoulder again when he landed awkwardly on the ice.
This is a struggling team that is not playing good hockey. And that is a formula for falling far out of the playoff race.

If the Predators do not get back on track very quickly, this will be a long and dismal season.

My three stars:

1. Braden Holtby

2. Eric Fehr

3. Roman Josi

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Predators Poor Play Continues Against the Hurricanes

At best, the Nashville Predators are an average team. Couple that reality with a stretch of bad hockey, and you have a deadly combination for the Predators playoff chances.

The Predators dropped their 4th straight game- all at home- against the Carolina Hurricanes by a 5-2 margin.

You can read the damage, uh, box score here.

It was not a pretty sight at the Bridgestone Arena.

Some observations:

  • Marek Mazanec has performed admirably, but tonight was not his best effort. He gave up 4 goals on 13 shots, including the first shot of the game, which seemed to take him by surprise. Three of the goals he allowed were questionable, and he gave up a goal after Roman Josi turned the puck over leading to a 3 on 1 rush. This was not a good effort by Mazanec tonight, and those kind of games happen. Unfortunately, the team in front of him is not good enough to overcome a bad outing by our netminders.

  • The Predators lost puck battles all night. this is particularly disappointing as teams have been out hustling and out working the Predators in all zones. This team has to win those battles, and win they do not, the opponent has a decided advantage in puck possession. This has been characteristic of the Predators during the losing streak.

  • Puck support in the offensive zone is atrocious. Often, a Predator forward will control the puck down low and get overwhelmed by the defensive pressure. This results in turnovers and stymies the offensive attack. The consistency and cycle game in the offensive zone for the Predators has been spotty at best, and this is major contributor to this losing streak.

  • The Predators actually had a lead on goals by Mike Fisher and Viktor Stalberg early in the second period. Stalberg's goal was a pure effort goal as he followed his shot, took it behind the net, and beat Justin Peters on a nice backhand. Unfortunately, that was the last of the Predators scoring for the night.

  • Kevin Klein returned to the line up after missing two games and his return was much quicker than expected. He logged 18:46 of ice time tonight.

  • This team is wildly inconsistent. They have struggled to play a solid 60 minute game in quite a while. The Predators do not have the talent to play such inconsistent games- they cannot overcome deficits with elite scoring. Until the team decides that they will play a full 60 minute game, they will continue to struggle to get into the win column.

  • The Predators have been dominated in puck possession time in this losing streak, especially as the game goes on. They have been forced into numerous turnovers in their defensive zone and have allowed teams to cycle and control the puck for long stretches. This is not a formula for success for this team.

  • This team has lost their identity. There is no grit and push back when challenged by opponents. Right now, the identity of this team is to dump the puck out of the defensive zone and try to survive the offensive push by opponents.
The Predators travel to Washington and face a big task in trying to right a rapidly sinking ship.

Fail to get back to Predator hockey and this season will be another miserable season for this team.

My three stars:

1. Jeff Skinner

2. Justin Faulk

3. Viktor Stalberg

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Predators Fall to the Flyers in a SO

The Nashville Predators fell to the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 in a shootout at Bridgestone Arena. The game was tied at 2 at the end of overtime.

The Flyers Vinnie Lecavalier scored the only shootout goal in the first round.

The Flyers opened the scoring at 16:49 of the first period as Claude Giroux cruised down the slot and roofed a shot over the shoulder of Predators goaltender Marek Mazanec.

The Predators answered back at 17:49 of the first period as Mike Fisher used two Flyers as a screen and fired a shot from the face off circle that beat Steve Mason.

After a scoreless second period, the Predators took a 2-1 lead at 5:05 of the third period as Colin Wilson beat Mason five hole with a backhand off the rush.

That score stood until 13:06 of the third when Sean Couturier was left alone by the Predators defense at the top of the crease and he lifted a shot over Mazanec to tie the game.

In the overtime, the Predators out shot the Flyers 3-1, and Colin Wilson banged a puck off the post, but the could not neat Mason.

Some observations:

  • The young and mix and match defense corps did a commendable job. There were some breakdowns but generally the blueliners played well. Seth Jones steadied his game and he played a monstrous 30:43, second only to roman Josi's incredible 32:26.

  • The Predators will be without the services of Shea Weber for the next few games. Weber took a puck to the face and suffered an eye injury. According to head Coach Barry Trotz, Weber is "very lucky" and the injury could have been much worse. The Predators were also without Kevin Klein, out with a lower body injury.

  • The Predators called up Joe Piskula from Milwaukee, and he logged 10:27 tonight.

  • Patric Hornqvist returned to the lineup after missing two games. Hornqvist picked up an assist in 22:24 of ice time.

  • The compete level of the Predators was much better than in their previous game. Their speed advantage against the Flyers was obvious and they used it to their advantage to create scoring chances. The Predators out shot the Flyers 36-24, and Mason made some good saves to prevent the Predators from scoring.

  • That said, the Predators power play was abysmal. Entry into the zone was a struggle and their was little movement and flow once in the zone. The power play appears to have taken a big step backwards the past several games, and this has to improve for this team to have success. Tonight, the power play was 0-5.
The Predators did some good things in this game, just not enough to notch the win. The team can get back to their winning ways if they continue to bring this kind of effort and finish their chances.

My three stars:

1. Vinnie Lecavalier

2. Colin Wilsom

3. Sean Couturier

Friday, November 15, 2013

Predators Road Trip Ends With Another Ugly Loss

The Predators lengthy road trip ended with a stop in Pittsburgh against the Penguins. The Predators faced a daunting task attempting to secure a win and finish this road trip at .500.

Marek Mazanec got his second start in a row, and the Predators welcomed back Mike Fisher, who had missed the previous 4 games with a foot injury, and Gabriel Bourque, who had returned to Nashville the prior game for the birth of his first child.

The Penguins had Marc-Andre Fleury in net.

The Predators needed to get out to a better start and show more compete than they had in their previous three games.

They did just that.

The Predators drew first blood at 2;28 of the first period as Kevin Klein took a shot from the point with Gabriel Bourque and Patric Hornqvist in front of the net. Bourque was able to tip the puck through the 5 hole of Fleury to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.

The Penguins tied the game at 12:36 of the period as they won an offensive zone face off and Pascal Dupuis rifled a shot over the shoulder of Mazanec. This came just after the Predators had killed off a too many men penalty.

With Ryan Ellis in the box for hooking, Evgeni Malkin blasted a shot from the point that was tipped by James Neal over the shoulder of Mazanec at 15:56 for a 2-1 Penguins lead. Mazanec had no chance to stop the re-direct.

The period ended with the Penguins holding a 2-1 lead. The Predators out shot the Penguins 10-9 and did a good job of getting pucks to the net and creating traffic and challenges for Fleury.

While the Predators needed- and got- a good start, they were going to have to play a full 60 minutes to win this game.

The Predators forgot that to open the second period. The Penguins came out flying and out shot the Predators 7-1 through the first 7 minutes. Mazanec made some great saves to keep the Pens off the board.

The Penguins made it 3-1 as Kris Letang came out of the corner and squeezed the puck through the pads of Mazanec from a sharp angle at 7:58. This was a goal that Mazanec cannot give up.

The Penguins made it 4-1 as they drove into the offensive zone and Jussi Jokinen drove into the offensive zone and pushed the defense back. he dropped a pass for Brandon Sutter who fired a slap shot past Mazanec at 18:37.

The Penguins had stormed out in the second period and taken it to the Predators. Once again, the Predators had no response for the push from an opponent.

Now the question for the Predators would be if they would have any kind of a response in the third period.

Carter Hutton opened the third period in the net for the Predators.

Fortunately, the Predators were able to keep the Penguins off the board in the third period.

Unfortunately, the Predators never threatened the Penguins net in the third. The Predators only got 3 shots on goal in the third, and were out shot 33-18 for the game.

Some observations:

  • The way this road trip ended makes a reasonable observer wonder if the wins to open the road trip were a fluke. The Predators got good scoring and were playing loose and relaxed. In the final four games, the Predators reverted to form- defensive breakdowns; spotty goaltending; and absolutely no offense. If this is the real Predators team, then this will be a long and ugly season.

  • The shaky goaltending along with the uncertainty of Pekka Rinne's health makes it almost certain that GM David Poile is going to have to make a deal for a goaltender. One has to wonder about the wisdom of entering the season with an unproven backup given the questions that surrounded Rinne's health and durability.

  • This is not a good team right now. There is no one on the roster that can be considered a consistent offensive threat or that can even possess the puck consistently. This falls on the shoulders of GM David Poile, who has built this team that is on the ice. Once an opponent gets a lead, they are able to choke off the Predators offensive efforts and the Predators do not have the personnel to create the offense necessary to get back into the game. Poile has built a team of grinders and character guys- and you have to have those- but there are no offensive players that scare an opponent. This will make for a very long and ugly season.
This team has taken a big step backwards. Right now, the team has to learn to compete and play sound, fundamental hockey and hope for the best.

Until they do, the losses will continue to pile up.

My three stars:

1. James Neal

2. Brandon Sutter

3. Evgeni Malkin

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Predators Win Their Second Straight, Defeat the Panthers 4-3

It certainly wasn't pretty.

But in the end, the Nashville Predators scratched out a 4-3 victory over a scrappy Florida Panthers squad at Bridgestone Arena. With the win, the Predators record is now 3-3.

The game opened with the Panthers controlling the puck and holding a territorial advantage over the Predators. Pekka Rinne had to be sharp to keep the Panthers off the board early.

The Predators got their legs going and started to swing momentum midway of the period. With the puck in the offensive zone, Mike Fisher slid a pass to Shea Weber, who had worked himself open on the blue line near the middle of the ice. Weber absolutely blew a rocket past Jacob Markstrom to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 9:23 of the first period.

The Panthers tied the game a t 1 at 1:16 of the second period as Jonathan Huberdeau took a pass from Scott Gomez in the high slot and cruised in on net untouched and beat Rinne over the shoulder. The Predators defense did not touch Huberdeau as he skated into prime scoring territory and he made them pay for the lapse.

The Predators regained the lead at 12:48 as Craig Smith found Mike Fisher alone in the right face off circle. Fisher skated in on Markstrom and made a nice forehand to backhand move and lifted the puck over Markstrom's pad and inside the far post to give the Predators a 2-1 lead.

The Panthers answered right back on a bizarre play. The puck was popped into the air at the top of the crease and Victor Bartley tried to bat it out of harm's way with his hand. Instead, it bounced off the helmet of a Predators defender and caromed out to the right side of the net. Former Predator Marcel Goc gathered in the puck and put a shot under the cross bar to tie the game at 2 at 13:30.

The Predators once again took the lead at 1:22 of the third period. Craig Smith fought through traffic and banged home a rebound of a Gabriel Bourque shot. This was Smith's first goal of the season.

The Predators tallied on the power play at 5:13 as Patric Hornqvist walked out from the goal line and beat Markstrom with a shot to the far post.

The Panthers made it interesting as Matt Gilroy took a shot and it hit David Legwand's stick and redirected past Rinne at 11:37 to cut the Predators lead to 4-3.

The Predators were able to hold off the Panthers for the remainder of the third period to notch the win. The Predators have won 3 of their last 4 games and are 3-1 on home ice.

Some observations:

  • The Predators were 1 for 2 on the power play. This is encouraging as the Predators need to improve their scoring with the man advantage. While they were 50%, the first power play the Predators had in the first period was a disjointed mess. The team has to get more consistent when they have the man advantage. At times, they struggle entering the zone and often the puck carrier gets outnumbered, eliminating offensive zone chances. While showing signs of improvement, the power play is still a work in progress.

  • Viktor Stalberg played only 10:07 in the game, and if I am not mistaken, did not play in the third period. He is coming back from an injury, but the Predators need him to get his game going and become a factor.

  • Craig Smith had his best game of the season. He had a goal and an assist and his speed created problems for the Panthers. Smith arguably has the best offensive skill set on the team and he appears to be playing with confidence. This bodes well for the team.

  • Congratulations to David Legwand for playing his 900th NHL game, all as a Predator. I think he used the word "obviously" at least once for each game he has played in his post game interview.

  • Mattias Ekholm and Kevin Klein continue to log big minutes and play very well in the second pairing. Klein had 24:11 of ice time and Ekholm had 21:15.

  • Fisher and Hornqvist are the only Predators with more than 1 goal. They both have 2.
This was a tough game for the Predators and one that could have easily gone the wrong way. The Panthers forechecked well and challenged throughout the game. This team responded to the challenge and refused to fold under the pressure. Florida held a 17-15 shot advantage through 2 periods, but the Predators stepped up the pressure in the third, out shooting the Panthers 15-8 and scoring 2 goals.

That is the sign of a team that is beginning to grow in confidence and develop some chemistry.

Those positive trends need to continue.

My three stars:

1. Craig Smith

2. Patric Hornqvist

3. Shea Weber

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Grading the Predators: The Defense

We continue our look at the Predators as we move to the blue liners. The defense this season took on a new look with the departure of Ryan Suter and the addition of several young players that logged some big minutes.

Just as this season was a work in progress, so next season should see some changes and some opportunities for additional playing time for some younger players.

As we look at the defense, the discussion starts with...

Shea Weber  48 GP  9G 19A 28 points  -2

Weber averaged 25:55 time on ice and played against the opponents top offensive line all season. Paired with a new defense partner in Roman Josi, his production started slowly but picked up late in the season. His 28 points would translate to 48 points over the course of a full season. Weber was solid in all phases of the game, but his power play production suffered as Josi took some time to settle in as his partner on the man advantage and teams worked to take away his booming shot from the point.

Weber's leadership is not often in the public eye, but he is a solid captain and the unequivocal leader of this team. His drive and consistent play helped to steady a team that at times was unsteady.

Because of the turnover and youth on the blue line, Weber played significant minutes but showed no signs of fatigue physically or mentally. His ability to shut down top forwards makes him one of the best defensemen in the League.

Considering the adjustment to a new partner on the blue line and the youth of the team, I believe this was actually one of the stronger seasons that Weber has produced.

Final Grade: A

Roman Josi  48 GP  5G 13A 18 points  -7

The big question for the Predators was who would play alongside Weber after the departure of Ryan Suter. That question was quickly answered by the play of Josi. He proved to be very steady, calm, and a deft puck handler. Josi rarely seemed to get rattled and was good with the first pass on the breakout. Josi showed the ability to handle the puck well and was not afraid to get involved in the offensive attack. He has a deceptively good shot, which he needs to use more.

Josi is not the physical player that will deliver a crushing check, but in general he was positionally sound. He occasionally got beaten by more experienced forwards, as his +/- rating attests, but he logged some big minutes alongside Weber against top forwards.

Josi will continue to improve his game and the experience of this season will serve him well. He needs to get stronger, but at 22 years of age, that will come.

Final Grade: B+

Kevin Klein  47 GP  3G 11A 14 points  -1

Klein had a quietly solid season, and did a good job of helping Victor Bartley settle in on the blue line. Klein is not a flashy player, but he is consistently in good position and sound in the defensive zone. Klein averaged just over 20 minutes a game in time on ice in the second D pairing.

Klein did an excellent job of steadying the second pairing, especially when Bartley joined the line up. Klein helped his young defensive partner adjust to NHL play and they formed a quality duo that could play some important minutes.

Klein will not put up big offensive numbers, but can score some timely goals and contribute with the distribution of the puck. His game, however, is to play sound defense and solidify the second pairing. He has done that well.

Final Grade: A-

Hal Gill  32 GP 0G 0A  0 points -3

Injuries plagued Gill this season, causing him to miss 16 games. In the twilight of his career, Gill is not going to be counted on to produce points. What he brings to the team is his leadership, the ability to play some quality third line minutes, and his prowess on the penalty kill. Gill excels in the PK, and the Predators relied heavily on the big defenseman to play some big minutes on this special team. When he was healthy, he responded well in this role.

Gill is still adept at using his physical stature at keeping the front of the net clear at even strength or on the PK. Gill will never be an exceptional puck handler or goal scorer, but his ability to provide solid third line minutes were much need by the Predators.

Gill was often paired with different partners on the blue line, and this affected chemistry. It is a compliment to his ability that he could adjust to changing partners several times throughout the course of the season.

His durability and health remain a question, and his minutes will be limited because of these factors.

Final Grade: C+

Victor Bartley  24 GP 0G 7A  7 points  +2

Bartley was called up mid-season from Milwaukee and surprised pleasantly. Paired with Kevin Klein for most of the season, Bartley showed good defensive zone presence and positioning. He has good size and used that physical presence to establish position and police the front of the net effectively.

At 25, Bartley is older than some of the more heralded defensemen in the system, and this seemed to make Bartley more determined to stick on the roster. Rarely did he fail to bring a solid effort every game, and as he settled in, he saw more ice time as the coaches grew more confident in his game.

Like any young player, Bartley was victimized by more experienced forwards and guilty of some rookie mistakes. Those mistakes were that- rookie mistakes. There would be more concern if those mistakes were from a lack of effort.

I see Bartley on the roster next season and more upside to his game.

Final Grade: B

Jonathan Blum  35 GP  1G 7A  8 points  -1

The end of last season saw Blum at a critical juncture in his career. His mandate from the coaches was to get stronger and commit to improving his game. This season, there were flashes of that off season work. Blum had third line minutes with Hal Gill and there was a short lived experiment of a pairing with Ryan Ellis. Thankfully, it was a brief experiment.

Blum still finds himself at a crossroad. As an undersized D-man, he is not going to see top line minutes. He has to be excellent at making good decisions with the puck, contribute offensively, and not be a defensive liability. Frankly, the jury is still out on those attributes. Flashes of potential have been shown, but Blum has to be more consistent in his total game.

Final Grade: C-

Ryan Ellis  32 GP  2G 4A  6 points  -2

Another undersized defenseman, Ellis was tabbed to be an offensive defenseman that could quarterback the power play, contribute points from the blue line, and use his smarts to be a solid defender.

There is no doubt that Ellis has offensive skills and talent. The problem is that there are limited circumstances where those offensive talents can shine. The grind of being an NHL defenseman may be too much for Ellis. As much as the coaching staff tried to protect Ellis by matching him against the opponents third or fourth lines, Ellis was still at times (most of the time) overmatched physically. The Predators cannot afford to reserve a roster spot for a power play specialist and a limited minute blue liner.

Although Ellis saw a lot of action this season, I will be surprised if he sticks on the roster next year.

Final Grade: D

Mattias Ekholm  1 GP  0G 0A  0 points  -1

Although Ekholm appeared in only one game, he finally made the move to North America and spent the season in Milwaukee. Ekholm has the talent and the size to be a quality NHL defenseman. The question is does he have the drive and mental edge to make it in the NHL? Ekholm's placid demeanor gives no indication of his drive or desire, and frankly, his brief appearances this season and last in Nashville give no clue.

If Ekholm can get that edge and show that he belongs on the roster, the Predators will benefit.

Final Grade: Incomplete

Up next, grading the forwards. It won't be pretty. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Hawks Heartbreaker; Predators Fall In OT

The Nashville Predators are not playing for a spot in the playoffs. They are playing for pride, and in some situations, a roster spot for next season.

So there is a lot still at stake for the Predators, and they had an opportunity to play for pride against the best team in the NHL in the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.

The Predators had Pekka Rinne in net, while the Hawks went with Corey Crawford.

The game opened with the Blackhawks flying and firing shots at Rinne. The Hawks opened the scoring on the power play as Brent Seabrook cruised down the slot and fired a wrist shot past Rinne.

The mix and match line up of the Predators responded to the opening salvo from the Hawks by scoring the next two goals in Predator fashion.

Kevin Klein pinched in from the blue line and fired a shot at the net that Crawford could not handle cleanly. Matt Halischuk was at the side of the net and was able to poke the puck past Crawford to tie the game at 1.

The Predators took a 2-1 lead as Booby Butler took a shot that Crawford could not control. New call up Kevin Henderson and Chris Mueller banged away at the puck and Henderson was able to shove it under the pads of Crawford to make it 2-1.

Two goals that were scored by going to the dirty areas and doing the hard work to score. Something that had been lacking from the Predators game recently.

The Hawks tied the game at 2 as Brandon Saad muffed a shot but got the puck back under control and beat Rinne glove side.

That was the way the first period ended. The Hawks out shot the Predators 15-8 in the period.

The Hawks made it 3-2 off a 2 on 1 break that began when Sergei Kostitsyn made an errant pass that resulted in Bryan Bickell breaking in with Patrick Kane. Kane was able to beat Rinne five hole for the go ahead score.

Matt Halischuk tied the game at 3 when Victor Bartley spotted Halischuk streaking through the neutral zone and hit him in stride with a beautiful pass. Halishcuk had his initial shot stopped by Crawford but got his rebound and banged the puck past Crawford. Kudos to Bartley for spotting Halischuk and hitting him with a great pass and to Halsichuk for staying with the play after his first shot was blocked.

The second period ended tied at 3 with the Hawks out shooting the Predators 12-9. Rinne made some big saves to keep the Predators in the game.

Perhaps more importantly, the Predators answered the Hawks goal and were playing with jump and determination. This is exactly what this squad has to do to stay in games and have a chance to win.

 The Predators made a gaffe that cost them a goal when Victor Bartley threw the puck to the middle and right onto the tape of Michael Handzus. Handzus ripped a shot from the slot top shelf to beat Rinne and give the Hawks a 4-3 lead.

The Predators once again answered as Shea Weber took a shot that caromed off bodies in front and came back to Bobby Butler, who made no mistake in burying the shot past Crawford to tie the game at 4.

Playing for pride and roster spots, the Predators kept fighting their way back into the game.

With 44 seconds left in the third, Rich Clune took a double minor for high sticking. The Predators were able to kill off the remaining time in regulation, but 51 seconds into the overtime, Marian Hossa scored the game winner to extend the Predators losing streak.

Some observations:

Henderson Helps

Kevin Henderson got his first NHL goal and played a strong game with lots of energy. The 26 year old is a big body and doesn't shy away from the physical game, and his effort in front helped the Predators notch their second goal of the game.

Butler Belongs

Bobby Butler is making a case to be on the roster next season. His game tying goal was a result of driving to the net and being in the right place at the right time. Butler needs to finish out strong to continue to make his case.

Good Jump

The Predators survived some strong pushes by the Hawks at various times during the game. More importantly, they did not quit and had the answer for every Hawks challenge in regulation. This effort is one that the team can use to build upon and should be a boost for their confidence.

Final Thoughts

There is no doubt that the injuries the Predators have suffered have affected their performance. It is not an excuse. Any player that puts on the sweater has to bring it when they step on the ice, and tonight, they did that. No one will feel sorry for them, so lace them up and play, boys. The effort tonight is what it takes to break out of this funk.

You have a few more chances to do that.

My three stars:

1. Marian Hossa

2. Matt Halsichuk

3. Duncan Keith

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Predators Can't Beat Bobrovsky and the Blue jackets

The Nashville Predators dropped a 3-1 decision to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Bridgestone Arena in a game that saw jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky stand tall and deny the Predators attack throughout the game.

The Predators fired 39 shots on net, and with the exception of a Kevin Klein goal in the second period, they were unable to solve Bobrovsky.

It certainly wasn't for a lack of effort by the Predators. They opened the game with good jump and attacked the Columbus net. Midway of the first period, the Predators had a 10-2 shot advantage and created some good scoring chances.

As has happened so often this season, however, the Predators were unable to finish their chances.

Pekka Rinne was in net for the Predators, and although he gave up three goals, played a strong game as the Jackets were firing pucks as often as the Predators. The Jackets finished with 38 shots on goal.

Columbus opened the scoring on the power play as James Wisniewski scored from the blue line with a shot that went top shelf past a screened Rinne at 8:36 of the second period.

The Predators answered at 12:14 of the second as Kevin Klein crept down from the blue line and took a pass from Patric Hornqvist and beat Bobrovsky, who lost his stick in the traffic in front.

In the third period, the Jackets newest acquisition, Marion Gaborik, took a pass from Brandon Dubinsky and beat Paul Gaustad to the front of the net. Gaborik lifted the puck over Rinne to give the Jackets a 2-1 lead at 4:16 of the third period.

The Jackets made it 3-1 at 10:50 of the third as Matt Calvert fired a wrist shot that Rinne got with his blocker, but it bounced over his shoulder and into the net.

Some observations:

Fish Fights Back

The Predators welcomed back Mike Fisher, who had missed 4 games with an injured hand. It was apparent that Fisher was not 100% as the Predators played him on the wing and he did not take face offs. It appeared that the injured hand was still troubling Fisher as his ability to handle the puck seemed to be limited. Although Fisher was not able to get on the score sheet, he gave a gutsy effort all night.

Failing To Finish

While I cannot fault the effort by the team, and 39 shots on net is a great effort, the fact remains that the Predators have to finish some of their chances. Part of this is obviously the play of Bobrovsky, who was stellar. The Predators desperately need someone to take the puck strong to the net and finish some of their chances. It is also telling that the top three players with the most shots on goal were defensemen (Josi, 6 SOG; Klein, 6 SOG; Ellis, 4 SOG). The Predators need their forwards to develop a goal scorers mentality and find a way to bury some shots.

I Still Have My Doubts...

about the ability of Ryan Ellis to be a full time NHL blue liner. Ellis recorded 4 shots on goal and was a -1 tonight. My doubts arise from the fact that Ellis is consistently out muscled and tonight was knocked to the ice several times during scrums for the puck. Ellis was making his first appearance after a brief stint in Milwaukee, and while he gives good effort, his lack of size is a detriment to his game. The Predators can ill afford an under-sized defenseman that cannot match up with the opponents forwards.

The Best and Most Creative Player Offensively Is...

Roman Josi. Josi is smooth handling the puck, and when he jumps up in the offensive zone, is able to create some offensive chances. The Predators forwards need to take a few lessons from Josi.

Final Thoughts

With the loss, the Predators allowed Columbus to leap frog them in the standings. The Predators now sit in the 11th spot in the West with Chicago coming to town on Saturday night. Nashville is 15-15-8 and has 38 points. In the West, Detroit is playing at the time of this post and sits in 7th with 41 points and will have played 37 games. St. Louis is 8th with 40 points and 35 games played. Edmonton is playing and has 39 points and will have played 37 games. Columbus moves into the 10th spot with 39 points and 37 games played.

You can see the problem for the Predators: having played more games than the teams in front of them and needing points to get back into the playoff picture.

The next few games are going to determine if the Predators will be a playoff team or if they will hit the golf course at the end of the month.

There is only one way to avoid an early tee time.

Bring the effort every shift.

My three stars:

1. Sergei Bobrovsky

2. Marion Gaborik

3. Matt Calvert

Monday, March 25, 2013

Predators Slide Past the Oilers 3-2

The Nashville Predators faced off against the Edmonton Oilers in a critical contest at the Bridgestone Arena. The Predators are fighting for a playoff spot, and their margin of error is razor thin. They have to win games and they have to take care of business against struggling teams like the Oilers.

Mission accomplished.

It wasn't pretty at times, but the Predators captured a 3-2 win over a potentially explosive Oilers team that has given the Predators fits at times.

Sergei Kostitsyn finally broke out of his season long funk with a goal and an assist. Kevin Klein had a goal, and Chris Mueller had a highlight reel goal to account for the Predators scoring.

Pekka Rinne outdueled Devan Dubnyk for the win, his 12th of the season.

The Oilers opened the scoring on the power play as Patric Hornqvist was in the box for interference at 7:42 of the first. Just 11 seconds into the power play, Corey Potter took a shot from the point that was deflected by Taylor Hall to give the Oilers a 1-0 lead. 

The Predators answered at 11:51 of the first period as Marty Erat worked hard on the boards in the Oilers zone and dug the puck out and got it to Mike Fisher. Fisher spotted Sergei Kostitsyn driving the net on the off wing and put the puck right on his tape. Kostitsyn lifted the puck over the shoulder of Dubnyk for his third goal of the season.

The Predators made it 2-1 at 4:31 of the second period as Marty Erat drove the puck into the Oilers zone. The puck was worked over to Kostitsyn, who drove to the left side of the net. Mike Fisher was creating havoc in front of the net, and Kostitsyn forced Dubnyk to move to front his drive. Kostitsyn found Kevin Klein pinching down from the blue line, slid him the puck, and Klein buried the puck into the open net.

The Predators stretched their lead to 3-1 at 11:33 of the second as Brandon Yip pushed the puck into the Oilers zone. He found Chris Mueller with the pass, and Mueller used his speed to avoid a hit from Mark Fistric. Mueller then beat Dubnyk over his shoulder for what would prove to be the game winning goal. Mueller's shot was a dandy, as he had a very small space in which to shoot the puck, and he was perfect on his shot.

The Oilers made things interesting in the third period as Shawn Horcoff took a shot that Rinne appeared to have smothered. Instead, the puck trickled through Rinne's pads and over the goal line to make it 3-2 at 7:03 of the third period.

The Predators were able to hold off the Oilers for the remainder of the period and had their third win in a row.

More importantly, they won a game they needed to win and should have won.

Some observations:

Good To See You

Finally! Sergei Kostitsyn got his offensive game back into gear with a goal and an assist. Kostitsyn hustled all night, made some good decisions with the puck, and was engaged throughout the game. These elements have been lacking for most of the season from Sergei, and the Predators need  this kind of effort from him in their remaining games.

Welcome Back

Patric Hornqvist returned to the line up after missing 8 games due to injury. Hornqvist was his usual crash and bang self, and the Predators need him to get his game going quickly and score those dirty goals from the hard areas. His production and grit have been missed. Badly.

Mueller Time

Chris Mueller continues to play solid hockey, using his speed and hustle to create chances. His goal tonight was a jaw dropper as he deposited the puck into a very small opening against a big goalie that was perfectly positioned. It bodes well for the Predators if Mueller can bring some of the scoring touch he has shown at the AHL level.

Fisher Is Flying

Fisher's assist tonight gives him a point in his last seven games. The Predators obviously need his production, but Fisher has been leading by example as well. His hustle is off the chart; he has been physical; and he is reliable in all zones. Fisher's line with Erat and Kostitsyn has begun to click, and the Predators need them to keep bringing that effort.

Final Thoughts

The Predators are now 14-13-6 and have 34 points. They will be tied with San Jose in points for the 8th spot in the West, but San Jose has a game in hand. I still believe the cut line for the playoffs will be 56 points. If that is true, the Predators will need to win 12 of their last 15 games.

That is a very steep hill to climb.

But it can be done.

The Predators have started to get some players healthy with the return of Hal Gill and Patric Hornqvist. They have started to play Predator hockey again. They have a majority of their remaining games at home.

The task is difficult.

I think you are up to the challenge, boys.

My three stars:

1. Sergei Kostitsyn

2. Marty Erat

3. Chris Mueller

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Embarrassing Effort By the Predators as They Are Demolished by the Ducks

The Nashville Predators embarked on another West coast road trip, with their first stop at the Honda Center to face the red hot Anaheim Ducks. This road trip was going to be important for the Predators as they were looking to get consistent scoring and put some distance between themselves and the teams chancing them in the standings.

The Predators had their workhorse, Pekka Rinne, in net, while the Ducks had Viktor Fasth, he of the sterling 8-1 record, between the pipes.

The Ducks struck first at 2:48 of the first period as Pekka Rinne went behind the net to play the puck and Emerson Etem tied him up and stole the puck. He got the puck to a wide open Nick Bonino and he fired the puck into a wide open net. Rinne misplayed the puck and the defense lost sight of Bonino and he got an easy goal.

The Ducks made it 2-0 at 3:49 of the first period as Kyle Palmieri took the puck just inside of the face off circle and drove the net. He beat Shea Weber to the front and slid the puck past Rinne for anothe quick- and bad for the the Predators- goal.

For the Predators, this was an absolutely horrific start. The goals energized the Ducks and the Predators had to respond quickly or this game would be out of hand before the few fans at the Honda Center got settled into their seats.

It didn't get any better for the Predators as Kyle Palmieri scored his second goal at 16:57 to make it 3-0 Ducks. Palmieri cruised into the low slot and eleuded Mike Fisher, who had the coverage. Palmieri took a pass from Corey Perry and was totally alone and able to beat Rinne.

The Predators defensive coverage had been atrocious to start the game. It was now horrific.

Worse yet, there was absolutely no push back from the Predators.

Thankfully, the Ducks did not score again in the remainder of the period. One could only imagine what Head Coach Barry Trotz was going to say to his charges in the locker room.

Would the Predators have any kind of a response?

It was certainly going to be a test of their character.

The Ducks had 1:27 of power play time as the Predators were guilty of too many men on the ice late in the first period.  The Ducks made the Predators pay as Kyle Palmieri was alone sliding down the right side of the ice. He took a pass from Corey Perry who was driving the net and  forced Rinne to respect the shot. Palmieri had a wide open net to deposit the puck for his third goal of the game just 1:07 into the period.

The Predators were beyond awful.

They were embarrassing.

The Predators finally responded at 9:27 of the second period as Rich Clune took the puck low to the corner. He found Kevin Klein pinching from his defense position and got the puck to him. Klein quickly slid the puck to Craig Smith and he beat Fasth with a one timer to make it 4-1.

After a phantom goaltender interference call against Rich Clune, the Ducks tallied again once again on the power play as Saku Koivu got his stick on a bouncing puck in the blue paint and knocked the puck home at 19:20 of the second period.

Given the effort of the Predators through the first two periods, the best they could hope for is that the third period would end quickly and they wouldn't be further embarrassed.

Chris Mason was in net to open the third period for the Predators. While Rinne was on the bench, I hope that his teammates were apologizing for the sorry effort in front of him tonight.

The good news: the Ducks didn't score in the third period.

The bad news: neither did the Predators.

Some observations:

  • This team wasn't ready to play tonight. One can argue about where to place the blame, but ultimately, the responsibility for effort, drive, and character rests with the players. The Predators have not consistently shown the type of effort that has characterized past teams, and this is troubling. This is a problem that has to get corrected quickly, and it starts with the Leadership group of Weber, Fisher, and Erat.

  • There were too many players that were invisible on the ice. Not only with shots (that's a blinding flash of the obvious), but with grittiness and effort. For too long, David Legwand, Marty Erat, and Sergei Kostitsyn have not produced. This team will not succeed unless these players- and most of the roster- begin to elevate their game.

  • This team has relied on the outstanding goaltending of Pekka Rinne. Tonight, the first Ducks goal was off a bad play that Rinne made behind the net. The other goals? The team in front of Rinne hung him out to dry.  This team has to commit to sound defense, and recently, that has been sorely lacking. 

  • Obviously, this was an embarrassing effort. A good Ducks team took the Predators to the woodshed. But what is especially disturbing about the effort- or lack thereof- tonight was that there was no push back from anyone on the Predators roster. No anger, no emotion, no fire, no heart. This team is in trouble if this is the type of response to a debacle like this was.
  • This team is offensively challenged (another brilliant insight) and the concern is that once the Predators go down a goal, the morale of this team seems to sag markedly. It is as if they seem to believe they cannot overcome even a one goal deficit. This has to change and there has to be a more positive response to adversity.
As a fan, I am embarrassed by this non-effort. No, I am appalled, disgusted, and frustrated. And as bad as I feel, I hope that it feels even worse for this team. I hope it burns and makes them angry.

And they need to use those emotions to bring a better effort in their next game.

Or they will be embarrassed again.

My three stars:

1. Kyle Palmieri

2. Corey Perry

3. Viktor Fasth

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Youngsters Lead the Predators Past the Kings 3-0

Quality, not quantity.

That was the theme for the Predators as they tallied 3 goals on 14 shots to defeat the L.A. Kings 3-0 at the Bridgestone Arena for their 4th straight win.

The Predators are 2-0 against the Kings this season.

Pekka Rinne was in net for the Predators, and looking at the shot totals for the Kings- they had 32 for the game and 20 in the second period- one might think that he was standing on his head for this Predator victory.

Make no mistake, Rinne made some good saves, but the Predators did a good job of keeping the Kings on the perimeter and Rinne was able to see the shots from the outside and rarely gave up a dangerous rebound.

By contrast, Jonathan Quick did not face many shots, but the ones he did have to contend with were mostly in the quality scoring areas and the Predators took advantage of working the puck in close.

Gabriel Bourque opened the scoring at 2:54 of the first period. He took a pass from David Legwand in the slot and quickly ripped a shot that beat Quick low glove side.

The first period saw both teams use their forecheck effectively and limit chances. It was good to see the commitment of the Predators to the forecheck and limit the scoring chances of the Kings. Throughout the game, the Predators refused to let the Kings get inside position around the crease and forced the Kings to take numerous shots from the outside that Rinne handled easily.

Shots were 8-7 for the Kings in the first period.

That would change dramatically in the second period, as the Kings dominated in offensive zone possession and threw pucks at the net from all angles. However, the Predators were keeping the Kings from getting the puck down low and in close on Rinne, so quality scoring chance for the Kings were few.

The Kings would pour 20 shots on net in the period, but could not get the puck past Rinne.

The Predators would only get 5 shots on net in the second, but they tallied on 2 of those shots.

Colin Wilson would give the Predators a 2-0 lead as he took a great pass from Kevin Klein at the side of the net and had a tap in past Quick at 7:01.

Wilson would tally again on the power play at 13:02. With Justin Williams in the box, Shea Weber would launch a bullet from the blue line that Quick kicked out onto the stick of Wilson, who was crashing the net. Wilson deposited the puck into an open goal past an out of position Quick just 5 seconds into the power play.

The third period was scoreless, and the Predators limited the Kings to just 4 shots on goal in the period. The Predators had 2.

Colin Wilson continues to elevate his game, and it is good to see Gabriel Bourque beginning to hit his stride. Wilson has been consistently creative and dynamic with the puck, and Bourque continues to impress with his effort and speed and nose for the net.

Pekka Rinne tracked the puck well and was in control of his game. His play gave the Predators confidence and as the game wore on, frustrated the Kings.

With this win the Predators are 5-2-3

The Predators are not the most talented team in the League, and they are certainly not the most offensively dangerous. But when this team is forechecking aggressively and creating chances, they can score goals. They have done that in the last two games, and the confidence this should create will serve the team well.

The task will be to continue this level of play.

Do this, and the wins will follow.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Colin Wilson

3. Gabriel Bourque

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Predators Go to the SO (Again), Lose to the Ducks 3-2

The Nashville Predators were looking to rebound from a 3-0 drubbing by the St. Louis Blues as they traveled to the Honda Center to take on the Anaheim Ducks. The Ducks were flattened by the Vancouver Canucks 5-0 in their last game on Friday night.

The Predators have won 6 consecutive regular season games against the Ducks and were attempting to keep that streak alive in their first meeting of the season.

The Predators had Pekka Rinne in net, while the Ducks went with Viktor Fasth as Jonas Hiller had the start the night before.

The key to the Predators getting back on track was simple: they had to control the puck, get through the neutral zone, and get shots on net.

The Predators did just that with their fourth line on the ice as Brandon Yip broke in 2 on 1 with Rich Clune. Fasth stopped Yip's initial shot but gave up a juicy rebound that Yip gathered in a fired into the net to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 1:52 of the first period. This was Yip's first goal of the year.

The remainder of the first period saw both teams trade some good scoring chances. In particular, Pekka Rinne had to come up with a big save off a flurry in front of the net to keep the Ducks off the board. The shots on goal were 7 apiece in the first period.

For the Predators, they had better jump and skated much better than they did in the game against the Blues.

The Predators opened the second period with good jump and had a decided advantage in the offensive zone. Although they peppered Fasth with shots, they couldn't get a puck past the rookie netminder. It was going to be important for the Predators to keep up the offensive pressure in this game.

Although the Predators had the 1-0 lead and had controlled much of the play in the second period, the lead felt uneasy as the Ducks were just one good shot from tying the game. That sense of foreboding became a reality with just 32 seconds remaining in the period as Cam Fowler took a hard wrist shot from the point that was re-directed by Stompin' Bobby Ryan past Rinne to tie the game at one.

The shots were 6 for each team in the second period.

The third period was going to be a test of character for the Predators. They had to keep up the pressure and continue to skate hard. 

The third period was wide open, with both teams getting some good scoring chances and both keepers equal to the task.

The Predators broke the tie at 10:09 of the third period as they had good offensive zone presence. Kevin Klein took a shot from the high slot and Fasth gave up a rebound that David Legwand gathered in slid a backhand in to give the Predators a 2-1 lead.

The Ducks tied the game just over a minute later as Corey Perry drove the left side of the Predators defense and was able to get a pass to Daniel Winnik. Winnik out worked Hal Gill to get his stick on the puck and tipped it past Rinne, who had no chance on the shot.

Neither team could score, although each had several good chances, and for the third time in five games, the Predators were heading to overtime.

Shots were 19-19 at the end of the regulation time.

The Predators lost Patric Hornqvist in the third period as he took a Shea Weber slapshot off his thigh and was able to fight through that injury, but was lost when Ryan Getzlaf fell on his leg at an awkward angle.

In the extra period, both the Predators and the Ducks had some glorious scoring chances, but neither team could capitalize. So for the third time this season, the Predators were heading to a shootout and were looking for their first victory in the skills competition.

The Predators sent Marty Erat, Mike Fisher, and David Legwand out in the shootout, and all were stopped by Fasth. Ryan Getzlaf was stopped by Rinne, but Corey Perry scored the lone goal to give the Ducks the win.

This was a much better effort by the Predators. Once again, they desperately need to finish some of their scoring chances, but I cannot fault their jump and their effort.

This is a team that continues to gel. It is going to be important for them to gel quickly and begin to get some regulation wins.

My three stars:

1. Viktor Fasth

2. Brandon Yip

3. Daniel Winnik

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Predators Pick Up First Regulation Win, Defeat the Wild 3-1

The Nashville Predators ventured out on the road for the first time in this young season, traveling to the XCel Energy Center to take on the Minnesota Wild and former teammate Ryan Suter. While many have focused on the story line of the Predators facing their former co-anchor on the blue line, the real story for the Predators was attempting to elevate their game to the level to which they are accustomed.

For the Predators, Chris Mason was in net and Niklas Backstrom was in net for the Wild.

The Wild opened the scoring at 6:02 of the first period as Dany Heatley skated just inside the Predators blue line and lofted a shot toward the net. The puck appeared to glance off Kevin Klein and re-directed past Mason, who had no chance on the shot.

Once again, the Predators were at a decided territorial disadvantage for most of the first period, being out shot 9-2 through the first 16 minutes.

That would change at 16:31 of the first period as the Predators gained the zone and controlled the puck. Kevin Klein let a shot go from the blue line, and Backstrom was able to block the shot coming through traffic, but Nick Spaling pounced on the rebound and slapped it past the sprawling netminder to tie the game at 1.

The first period ended tied at 1. The Wild out shot the Predators 12-5.

For the Predators, their struggles to clear the zone and establish offensive zone presence continues to be a problem. However, they were able to capitalize on some puck possession time to tie the game, and it was good to see Spaling get on the score sheet. The Predators have to have production from their third and fourth lines.

The Predators also welcomed back Gabriel Bourque, and he was dynamic. He had a break away chance that was stopped by Backstrom, but was on the ice and kept the puck alive for the Predators goal.

The second period would open with 4 on 4 hockey as Patric Hornqvist for the Predators and Mikko Koivu picked up coincidental minors for roughing at the end of the first period.

The Predators opened the second period with better jump and created some chances with traffic to the net. They had a chance to take advantage of a Minnesota penalty with their first power play of the game, but quickly short circuited that effort as Shea Weber was called for interference just 20 seconds into the man advantage.

The Predators had a much better effort throughout the second period. The Predators got their legs and skated much better, and this was reflected in the shots on goal as the Predators out shot the Wild 10-7. While the Predators created some scoring chances, the Wild did as well, and both netminders came up with some good saves to keep the game tied.

The second period ended with the Predators killing off a Brandon Yip roughing penalty, and the Wild would open the third period with a fresh sheet of ice and 1:17 of man advantage time.

The Predators opened the third period by killing off the Yip penalty, but the Wild used the man advantage to quickly re-establish their offensive zone presence, and the Predators were once again having difficulty establishing their offense.

Although the Wild had stretches of the game in the third period where they were clearly skating better and stronger on the puck, the Predators kept pushing and their effort was rewarded as the puck was chipped out of the defensive zone and into open ice. Marty Erat was in pursuit but Backstrom came out of the net and beat Erat to the puck. His clearing attempt from between the face off circles hit Erat in the chest, and he was able to get control of the puck and stuff it into the open net to give the Predators a 2-1 lead at 11:45.

An improbable goal?

Absolutely!

But a goal from effort and hustle, a goal that came from not wilting under the pressure the Wild were putting on the Predators.

The Predators continued to withstand the pressure from the Wild and thwarted their scoring chances. Chris Mason came up with some big saves to keep the Wild off the board.

With Backstrom pulled for the extra attacker, the Wild were pressuring the Predators when they were called for slashing with 23 seconds remaining. On the ensuing power play, the Predators capitalized as David Legwand took a nice pass from Nick Spaling and buried the one timer to give the Predators a 3-1 lead and their first regulation win of the season.

This was a character win as the Predators withstood the pressure the Wild brought throughout the game and persevered in a hostile environment.

As the game wore on, the Predators begin to assert themselves. After a slow first period in which the Preds were out shot 12-5, the Predators out shot the Wild 21-18 over the final two periods. This is the type of win that the team can use to build their confidence and their belief in their system and each other.

They will need it in this short season.

My three stars:

1. Chris Mason

2. Nick Spaling

3. Marty Erat

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Coyotes Outwork and Outplay the Predators, Take 2-0 Series Lead

The Nashville Predators looked to even their second round series with the Phoenix Coyotes in the second game of this semi final match up.

The Predators needed to have sense of desperation and intensity in this contest. Going back to Nashville down 2-0 would not bode well for the Predators.

The Predators were once again going to rely on Pekka Rinne in net, while the Coyotes had their stalwart Mike Smith manning the pipes.

Both teams started the game skating well and throwing shots on net, but both goaltenders were able to handle the offensive thrust.

The Coyotes struck first at 8:32 of the first period as Keith Yandle took the puck just outside the right face off circle and found Antoine Vermette streaking to the net. Yandle's pass across the slot was right on the tape of Vermette's stick and he had a wide open net in which to deposit the puck. Vermette beat Marty Erat, who was late getting back in coverage and left his man wide open.

Phoenix seized momentum and were peppering Rinne with shots and being much more physical than the Predators. The Predators looked as if they were just holding on and trying to survive the Coyotes pressure and get out of the period.

That changed Kevin Klein took the puck through the neutral zone and went into the Phoenix zone. As Klein was being checked to the ice, he slid a pass to Andrei Kostitsyn. AK46 broke in alone on Smith and buried a forehand to tie the game at 1 at 17:13.

This was a huge goal by the Predators to take back momentum and give them some confidence. Responding as they did shows the fight in this group, and they will need it against the tough Coyotes.

The first period ended tied at 1. The Coyotes out shot the Predators 12-9.

The Coyotes took a 2-1 lead at 3:47 of the second period as Radim Vrbata drove to the net and was forced wide by the Roman Josi. Vrbata centered the puck from behind the net through the legs of Rinne and onto the stick of Martin Hanzal, who beat Kevin Klein driving to the net. Hanzal had an open net to shoot the puck into as Rinne could not recover after sliding to the post on Vrbata's drive.

Both Coyotes goals had occurred because the Coyotes beat Predator defenders to the net. This was not the type of hockey that the Predators had typically played, and if they did not correct these mistakes, then this series would end quickly.

The Coyotes stymied the Predators, who had a great flurry in the offensive zone but could not get the puck past Smith. The Coyotes  got control of the puck and came in the zone 2 on 2. A shot fluttered over the and the puck came to David Legwand, who inexplicably threw the puck over  his own net. Rinne certainly did not expect that, and he was bumped off balance as the puck landed on the tape of Radim Vrbata. Rinne was sprawled on the ice and Vrbata flipped the puck into the top of the net to give the Coyotes a 3-1 lead at 7:05.

There are no words to describe the stupidity of the play by Legwand.

Ray Whitney was called for slashing, and the Predators power play was dominant, controlling the puck for the entire power play in the Phoenix zone. As the power play was winding down, Ryan Suter took a shot from the point  and Patric Hornqvist deflected the puck past Smith to make it 3-2 at 11:20.

The Coyotes answered the Predators goal almost immediately as Shane Doan drove down the wing past Roman Josi and put a shot on Rinne that he deflected out into the slot. Taylor Pyatt was able to drive the slot unmolested and he batted the rebound out of mid-air past Rinne to give the Coyotes a 4-2 lead at 11:50.

The inability of the Predators to keep Phoenix from scoring after their tallies was frustrating to say the least. In this game, the Predators defense had been uncharacteristically loose and sloppy, and it had cost them.

Down 4-2 at the end of the period, the Predators were facing a desperate 20 minutes of hockey. They had been out shot 31-24 and had ceded the physical play to the Coyotes. Their defense was woeful to this point, and the hole they had dug was deep.

It would be a blinding flash of the obvious to say that the Predators had to play their best 20 minutes of the season to have a chance to win this game.

The Predators started the third period 4 on 4, but quickly got a power play. With the Predators moving the puck, Ryan Suter got open and blasted a shot off the shoulder of Smith and into the net just 53 seconds into the period.

THAT was certainly the start the Predators needed.

Now they had to play solid defense and play their style of hockey.

That didn't happen. The Coyotes once again answered the Predators goal as Derek Morris took a shot that was re-directed by Shane Doan to make it 5-3 Coyotes at 3:36. The play was set up by a clean face off win in the Predators zone by Antoine Vermette.

The Predators inability to keep the Coyotes from scoring when they get close is a matter of desire, in my opinion, and effort. To this point in the series, the Coyotes have outworked the Predators and their effort has been rewarded with goals.

As much as the Predators needed offensive push to get back into this game, they were thwarted by the forecheck and the work of the Coyotes. The pressure the Coyotes put on the Predators suffocated any offense the Predators tried to generate. After the initial goal to open the period, the Predators rarely pressured Smith, and appeared to be completely knocked out of kilter by the Coyotes forecheck.

Pekka Rinne was pulled with 2:13 to go in the game, and even with the extra attacker, the Predators were still being outworked by the Coyotes and could not set up their offense. The Coyotes beat Predators to the puck and out manned the Predators on the puck. There was absolutely no offensive flow at all from the Predators.

David Legwand took a penalty with 46 seconds remaining and Boyd Gordon took a coincidental high sticking penalty. Nashville now had a 5 on 4 with Rinne pulled, and still the Predators could not get their offense going.

The Predators could not threaten Smith, much less score, and the game ended with Coyotes dominating the Predators and the scoreboard 5-3.

This game was particularly disappointing for the Predators, as their defense was horrific. The guys in front of Pekka Rinne owe him a big apology for their sloppy play.

Also disappointing is the fact that throughout the game, the Predators were outworked. The Coyotes forecheck dominated the Predators and they had no answer. The Predators have long prided themselves on their work ethic, and tonight, the Coyotes showed the Predators what a real work ethic looks like.

Having dug a 2-0 hole, the Predators now face a gut check. They can come back to Nashville and play Predator hockey and make a commitment to outwork the Coyotes. If they do, they can capture the games on home ice in front of their raucous crowd.

If they do not, then the Predators are looking at embarrassingly getting swept with this kind of play.

The choice is yours, boys.

My three stars:

1. Radim Vrbata

2. Antoine Vermette

3. Ryan Suter

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Coyotes Go to OT (Again), Outlast the Predators 4-3

The Phoenix Coyotes outlasted the Nashville Predators in a game that has become a regular occurrence for the Desert Dogs, going to overtime and defeating the visiting Predators 4-3.

Phoenix was dominated in the third period and in the OT session, but managed to get a puck past Nashville goaltender for the game winner at 14:04 as Ray Whitney slipped a puck in on the backhand for the winner.

How did we get here?

As expected, special teams would play a critical role in the outcome of the game.

Phoenix tallied first in the first period as Radim Vrbata would launch a puck at Rinne that hit his shoulder and caromed under the crossbar to give the Coyotes a 1-0 lead at 7:23. Kevin Klein had put the Predators down a man when he turned the puck over at the Predators blue line and was guilty of tripping to prevent a breakaway. The potent Coyote power play went to work and made the Predators pay for their transgression.

The Predators tied the game up at 1 on a goal that was a fluke. Francis Bouillon dumped the puck into the Phoenix zone, and it appeared that it was going around the glass and behind the net. Phoenix netminder Mike Smith went behind his goal to play the puck, but the puck ricocheted off the glass and back to the slot, where Brandon Yip gathered in the puck and slapped it into the open net at 14:09 of the first period.

In the second period, the Coyotes took a 2-1 lead as Rusty Klesla was able to bury a shot off a puck that was blocked by Roman Josi. Klesla tried to slip the puck across the slot, but it was blocked by a sliding Josi. The puck came right back to Klesla and he had an open net to fire the puck as Rinne had slid across his crease to play the pass. The Coyotes score came at 3:05 of the second period.

Once again, the Predators tied the game as Andrei Kostitsyn corralled a rebound of a Patric Hornqvist shot and slipped the puck past Smith at 11:19 of the second period.

The Coyotes regained the lead at 16:27 of the second period as Mikkel Boedker continued his strong play. Boedker was able to get a puck past Rinne for his third goal of the post season and give the Coyotes a 3-2 lead. Boedker broke in on a 2 on 1 as Andrei Kostitsyn, who had rotated to the blue line for a pinching Francis Bouillon, fell and the Coyotes blue line. Kevin Klein was back on defense, and took away the pass, but Boedker dangled the puck and beat Rinne to the far post.

The third period was all Predators as they out shot the Coyotes 16-1. That offensive pressure finally paid off with Marty Erat tallying on the power play at 15:18. For Erat, this was his first goal of the post season, and it was a result of the pressure that the Predators exerted on Smith and the Coyotes defense. Boyd Gordon was in the box for holding the stick, and the Predators did a good job of moving the puck and were rewarded as Erat was able to tally.

Once again, the Coyotes were heading to overtime, familiar territory for this team. The Predators had a decided territorial advantage, and out shot the Coyotes 9-6, but it was the Coyotes that capitalized as Ray Whitney slid a backhand shot past Rinne for the game winner at 14:04 of the the OT.

For the Predators, this is a disappointing loss. They played well enough to win, but this is a series that will be decided by which team makes the fewest mistakes. Tonight, this was the Coyotes. More importantly, the Coyotes capitalized on the mistakes that the Predators made.

The Coyotes are an opportunistic team, and the Predators gave them the opportunities they needed to win this game. For the Predators, the key to winning game 2 will be eliminating some of the mistakes that victimized them in game 1 and capitalizing on the opportunities they have.

There is no doubt that Mike Smith is a good goalie, but when the Predators put pucks on net and crash, they can create scoring opportunities. They have to do that in game 2, and do it more consistently, to have success.

This will not be an easy series for either team. The first blood was drawn by the Coyotes, as they made the most of their chances.

The Predators put 42 shots on net in this game to 24 for the Coyotes. The difference was that the Coyotes made the most of their chances. The Predators did not.

That has to change for the Predators in game 2.

My three stars:

1. Mike Smith

2. Mikkel Boedker

3. Marty Erat


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Predators Outlast the Wings, Take 2-1 Series Lead

Well, that was exciting!

The Nashville Predators faced the Detroit Red Wings at the Joe, a place where they had never won a playoff game, tied at one game apiece in their playoff series, and the two teams engaged in a back and forth contest that went down to the final seconds before the Predators captured a 3-2 victory.

Entering this game, the Predators knew they were going to be in a spirited contest, to be sure.

No, actually, it was going to a war.

The Predators knew they were going to need to come out strong, take the Wings and the crowd out of the game, and play a solid 60 minutes of hockey.

Oh yeah, Pekka Rinne had to be stronger than his counterpart for the Wings, Jimmy Howard.

Getting their dormant power play going was essential for the Predators, and they did that on their second power play opportunity. With Drew Miller in the box for goaltender interference, the Predators swarmed the Detroit net. Shea Weber, crashed the net and gathered in a rebound of an Andrei Kostitsyn shot and slammed the rebound past Howard to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 2:48 of the first period. Finally, the Predators were able to convert on the man advantage, and the 0-12 monkey was off their back.

The first period settled down to playoff hockey, as both teams created some good chances. Both Rinne and Howard turned aside the shots that each team fired. Rinne in particular looked sharp and relaxed in net.

The first period ended with the Wings out shooting the Predators 11-9.

Just after a Jordin Tootoo penalty had expired early in the second period, Kevin Klein split the Wings D with tremendous speed and buried a shot over the shoulder of Howard to give the Predators a 2-0 lead at 3:50. Klein was sent into the zone off a nice pass from Marty Erat, and Klein's speed into the zone surprised the Wings defense. More importantly, Klein finished the play, and that goal was huge for the Predators to give them some breathing room.

The Predators needed that breathing room as Pavel Datsyuk absolutely undressed Roman Josi and stole the puck from him behind the Predators net. He beat Rinne, who was looking the other way expecting the puck to go to his right. Datsyuk tucked the puck under Rinne's pad before he could recover to make it 2-1 Predators at 15:03 of the second.

It goes without saying that Josi cannot let that play happen, As it was, the Wings now had life, and it was going to be important for the Predators to respond.

Sergei Kostitsyn took a penalty late in the period, and the Wings were swarming the Predators zone. Rinne fought off a shot by Nick Lidstrom and the rebound kicked out to Johan Franzen, and he made no mistake in depositing the puck into the back of the Predators net.

Just one problem.

The clock had just expired before the puck went into the net.

And the Predators had caught a huge break.

The Wings had out shot the Predators 13-9 in the second period, but they were energized and would have 1:49 of power play time to start the third period. It was going to be critical that the Predators respond, and especially not sit back on their heels in the third.

Detroit opened the third on the power play, and the Predators were able to kill off the penalty, but the Wings were rolling. They opened the third out shooting the Predators 7-0 and were dominant in the Predators zone. Rinne made some huge stops to keep the Wings off the board, but the Predators were going to have to begin to mount some offensive pressure. Sitting back like they were doing was going to be disastrous for the Predators.

The Predators finally got a couple of shots on net, but the Wings held a 13-2 shot advantage with just over 7 minutes remaining in the third period. The Predators tactic of sitting back and playing prevent defense was both frustrating and dangerous.

The Predators once again got some breathing room as Sergei Kostitsyn broke in on a 2 on 1 and instead of passing the puck snapped a shot over the shoulder of Howard to give the Predators a 3-1 lead at 16:30 of the third.

The Predators would need that goal as David Legwand was called for holding and the Wings tallied on the power play  as Henrik Zetterberg walked into the zone and rifled a shot over the shoulder of Rinne short side to make it 3-2 with 52 seconds remaining.

Detroit came with the full court...uh, ice press in the remaining seconds, but the Predators did a good job of controlling and clearing the puck, and the Wings could not get a shot on goal.

The final horn had sounded and for the first time ever, the Predators had won a playoff game at the Joe.

It goes without saying that Rinne was magnificent in net. His play is so strong and it has to affect the Wings, leaving them wondering if they can get an even strength goal past him (Datsyuk's flukey goal not withstanding).

How strong was Rinne? Detroit fired 43 shots on net. By contrast, the Predators managed just 22 for the game.

It is good to see Sergei Kostitsyn get on the board. He had been invisible up to this point, and finally getting on the board will hopefully get his game rolling.

The play of Kevin Klein was outstanding as he scored a beautiful goal and came up with a huge save when Rinne was out of position, stopping Cory Emmerton with a nice block of his shot. A very good game by Klein today.

The significance of this win at the Joe cannot be understated. For the Predators, it lifts that 800 pound gorilla of never winning there off their back. And for the Wings, it cracks their veneer of invincibility at home.

Yes, Detroit is a veteran team, and I expect them to come out flying in game 4. I also expect the Predators to be more calm and composed and their compete level to be extremely high. Now they know they can win at the Joe.

More importantly, they know they can win this series.

The time to take control is Tuesday.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Kevin Klein

3. Sergei Kostitsyn

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Predators Lock Up 4th Seed in the West, Bury the Avalanche 6-1

The Nashville Predators traveled to the Pepsi Center to take on the Colorado Avalanche in the last- and thankfully- anticlimactic- game of the regular season. Thanks to Detroit's shootout loss earlier in the day, the Predators entered the game knowing they had locked up the 4th seed in the Western Conference and home ice for the first round of the playoffs.

With that in mind, Head Coach Barry Trotz decided to rest some of his starters, giving the night off to Pekka Rinne, Mike Fisher, Marty Erat, Hal Gill, and Francis Bouillon.

Anders Lindback got the start in net, and the Avalanche went with J.S. Giguere.

Regardless of the fact they had clinched the 4th seed, the Predators still wanted to play a solid game and they knew the Avalanche, who had missed the playoffs, would want to give their home crowd something to cheer about in their last game of the season.

The Predators opened the scoring at 3:39 of the first period as Gabriel Bourque worked hard in the Avs zone on the boards and was able to control the puck in spite of the defensive pressure. He spun and found David Legwand in the slot, and Legwand's wrist shot beat Giguere to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.

The Avs tied the game at 8:09 of the first period as they swarmed the Predators net on a 3 on 2 rush. Lindback made 2 stops but Matt Duchene buried the third attempt, lifting the puck over a sprawled Lindback and under the crossbar.

The Predators had a glorious scoring chance with a 2 on 1 rush by Craig Smith and Matt Halischuk, but Smith's pass to Halsichuk was tipped away at the last second. Halsichuk did not give up on the play, and retrieved the puck in the corner and got it to Smith, who ripped a slap shot off Giguere and into the net for his 14th goal of the season. The score came at 12:10, and it is good to see the Honey Badger contributing when he is getting ice time.

The Predators stretched their lead to 3-1 when Kevin Klein took a shot from the blue line that deflected off the stick of Patric Hornqvist and past Giguere with just 1.2 seconds remaining on the clock in the first period.This was Hornqvist's 27th goal of the season.

Solid start?

Check.

The Avs out shot the Predators 14-12 in the first period, and Lindback had some big saves to thwart some good scoring chances by Colorado.

The second period saw the Avs take it to the Predators. They dominated play and fired numerous shots on the Predators net. Lindback had to make some big saves to keep the Avs from tallying a score that would have put them back in the game. The Avs dominance was such that they out shot the Predators 16-3 through the first 16 minutes of the second.

The Predators opportunistically struck at 16:09 of the second as Craig Smith found Roman Josi pinching in from his defensive position and fed a great pass to him at the side of the net. Josi made no mistake, finding the back of the net on just the Predators 4th shot of the period.

With 14 seconds to go in the period, Craig Smith saved a goal by hooking Matt Duchene, who was looking at a wide  open net off a rebound given up by Lindback.

The second period ended with the Predators being out shot 17-9, and they would be on the penalty kill to begin the third. For the Predators, it was important to come out and play a solid 20 minutes of hockey and put this game in the books.

The Predators killed off the penalty to open the third period, and as the power play ended, Lindback kicked out a long rebound that sent Brandon Yip on a breakaway. Yip was stopped by Giguere, but the Predators kept control of the puck. Patric Hornqvist battled for the puck and got it back to Yip, who banked the puck off Giguere and into the net off the wrap around to make it 5-1 Predators at 1:57 of the third period.

How sweet this goal must have been for the Yipper.

Shortly thereafter, Lindback collided with both Jack Hillen and Ryan Ellis as well as Cody McLeod of the Avs and was injured on the play. Pekka Rinne had to come into the game as Lindback was taken back to the dressing room.

Matt Halischuk stole the puck and broke in on a 2 on 1 and rather that pass (!) picked the short side over the shoulder and buried the shot to give the Predators a 6-1 lead at 6:20 of the third period. For Halischuk, this was his 15th goal of the season.

 The remainder of the period was spent playing some wide open shinny as both teams went up and down the ice, but neither could find the back of the net, and the 6-1 score was a final.

The Predators were out shot by a wide margin, 45-29, but the count that mattered was the goals scored.

For the Predators, this was a good tune up for the playoffs. More importantly, the young guys that were inserted into the line up played with jump and determination, a good sign that they have a lot of fight in them for those coveted- and limited- roster spots with the playoffs upcoming.

The Predators finish the regular season with a 48-26-8 record, good for 104 points and cleanly in 4th place in the West. Pekka Rinne had more wins than any other goaltender in the NHL.

Those accolades are great.

Now the real season starts.

My three stars:

1. Craig Smith

2. Anders Lindback

3. Roman Josi






Saturday, March 24, 2012

Predators Ground the Jets 3-1

Late in the third period of the Nashville Predators game with the Atlanta Thrashers Winnipeg Jets at the Bridgestone Arena, numerous Thrashers sweaters were tossed from the stands onto the ice. Perhaps symbolically, it was jilted Thrashers fans shedding the last vestiges of their star crossed relationship with their team that was relocated to Winnipeg.

On the ice, the Predators were able to shed the scrappy Jets by a 3-1 margin.

The Predators were looking to end a two game losing streak, while the Jets were desperately clinging to a slim playoff hope and were looking to build on their comeback win against the Capitals the previous night.

The Predators had Pekka Rinne in net, while the Jets went went Ondrej Pavalec, who was the starter last night.

The first period was scoreless due to some great saves by Pavalec and Rinne, along with Kevin Klein of the Predators.

Kevin Klein?

Yes, the Predators defenseman came up with a great stop on Andrew Ladd with Rinne out of position after a collision. Rinne made a stop on a shot by Ladd, and was bumped as he was trying to get back into the crease. Klein went to one knee and was able to block the follow up shot by Ladd, who gathered in his rebound and had a yawning net in front of him.

The Predators did a good job all game of breaking the Jets trap and getting through the neutral zone. The first period saw them set up their offense and establish a good cycle, which created some good scoring chances. Pavalec made some great saves, including robbing Patric Hornqvist from the low slot and Gabriel Bourque with a good glove save.

Rinne was also strong and in control of his game, giving up few rebounds and tracking the puck through traffic.

This game was taking on the tenor of a game that would be decided by which team would make the first mistake.

That team would be the Jets.

In the second period, Alexander Radulov carried the puck through the neutral zone and hit Matt Halischuk in stride with a pass. Halischuk launched a slap shot from the face off circle that beat Pavalec over his glove to give the Predators a 1-0 lead at 2:56 of the second period.

The Predators would extend that lead to 2-0 at 10:01 of the second as Gabriel Bourque gathered in a rebound of a Nick Spaling shot and backhanded the puck past Pavalec. Bourque continues to impress with his play, and his game continues to mature.

In the third period, the Jets made it very interesting when Tim Stapleton split Francis Buillon and Ryan Ellis and came down the low slot unmolested. He took a nice pass from Spencer Machecek and beat Rinne from close in with a quick wrist shot.

The Predators closed the game out at 19:50 of the third period and on the power play. The Predators won the face off and Weber fired the puck into the empty net from the center red line for the final tally and a 3-1 victory for the Predators.

The game tonight was a different game for the Predators. They were aggressive on the forecheck and established territorial advantage for much of the game. They out shot the Jets 28-25, and although the shot differential was not that great, the Predators did a good job of moving the puck and controlling the play.

On defense, the Predators forced the Jets to the outside for much of the night and limited quality scoring chances.Save for one defensive breakdown, this was a solid effort defensively by the Predators.

This is the kind of game they are going to have to play in the remainder of their regular season games, beginning tomorrow night in Chicago.

It was good to see the Predators get scoring from their third and fourth lines tonight. These lines have been absent from the score sheet recently, and for the Predators to be successful, they must have contributions from those players.

The Predators now have 94 points, good for 5th place in the West. They are one point behind 4th place Detroit and 2 points ahead of 6th place Chicago.

Think these remaining regular season games aren't important?

They start tomorrow.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Gabriel Bourque

3. Matt Halsichuk