2010-2011 NHL season preview: Nashville Predators

sheaweber2.jpgLast season: (47-29-6, 100 points, 3rd in Central Division, 7th in Western Conference) Each and every year, people try to count out the Predators and each and every year they seem to make the playoffs. For a team that’s gotten the runaround when it comes to rumors about being moved and talk of financial instability, the Predators take care of business pretty well. A hard first-round battle with the Blackhawks left the Predators without a series win, but putting the scare of a lifetime into the eventual Stanley Cup champions is something to hang your hat on.

Head coach: Barry Trotz enters his 12th season as head coach. He’s the only coach the franchise has ever known and that consistency at the top of the organization helps Nashville stay in the hunt year in and year out. The system never changes, what’s expected is always known, and players all ideally know where they stand within the organization. Taking a team from their days as an expansion franchise to where they’re consistently a difficult team to deal with is an impressive feat. That said, more is demanded from the fans in Nashville and winning a playoff round or two would go a long way towards solidifying hockey’s hold in Music City.

Key departures: F Jason Arnott, F Dustin Boyd, D Dan Hamhuis, D Denis Grebeshkov, G Dan Ellis. Losing Hamhuis and Grebeshkov are tough blows for the defense, meanwhile Arnott’s departure was to help free up room salary-wise. Ellis’ departure opened up competition for the backup job as Pekka Rinne’s hold on the starting job was permanent.

Key arrivals: F Matt Lombardi, F Sergei Kostitsyn, D Ryan Parent, D Aaron Johnson, G Anders Lindback. Adding Lombardi was a coup for the Preds. After his big year in Phoenix his salary demands were higher than expected and he came to Nashville as a relative steal. Kostitsyn arrives looking to shake off negative opinions on his game earned in Montreal. Parent returns to Nashville to help solidify the defensive unit. Lindback is making his North American debut as Rinne’s backup.

Under pressure:  This might come off as unfair, but the most pressure is on Trotz. After all, the team still hasn’t won in the playoffs. They’ve been the prototypical really tough team for Cup competitors to face in the first round and beating the Predators in the playoffs has been the spark that both Chicago and Detroit needed on their way to winning their most recent Stanley Cups. At some point, the Predators need to stop being the tough team to face in the first round and become the team that stuns someone big on their way to making a deep run in the playoffs.

pekkarinne2.jpgProtecting the house: The Predators have handed the reins over to Rinne. After dueling with Ellis last season to see who would come out on top, Rinne’s stellar play over the inconsistent Ellis ensured that the job would be his. How much work Rinne sees this season will be interesting to watch as some suspect he’ll be the next goalie to join the 60+ starts society. Should that not pan out, Lindback will be there supporting him. Lindback was the Preds’ seventh round pick in 2008 and he played well in Sweden the last two seasons and impressed enough in training camp to win the backup job. If Rinne struggles, it’ll be interesting to see what Lindback can do in a bigger role than expected.

On defense, captain Shea Weber leads a very able and capable crew. Ryan Suter, Francois Bouillon, Ryan Parent, Cody Franson, Aaron Johnson and Kevin Klein round out a gang of seven that will play things tight to the vest. Losing Hamhuis to free agency was a tough blow, but bringing back Parent and getting more minutes from Franson should help offset his play.

Top line we’d like to see: Steve Sullivan-Lombardi-Patric Hornqvist is what we’d like to see. Sullivan is the veteran scorer leading the way, while Lombardi is the new guy coming off a hot season and Hornqvist is the big body with the goal-scoring touch in front of the net. It’s a bit of the past, present, future motif we’ve seen with other teams, except this one isn’t quite as drastic. The Preds need goal scoring and a line like this will make it happen with Sullivan’s ability to slice in and out of traffic, Lombardi’s ability to make things happen and Hornqvist blocking the goalie’s view.

Oh captain, my captain: You couldn’t ask for a guy who sets a better example of what the Predators are all about than Weber. He’s big, he’s talented, he flies under the radar for mainstream popularity — he’s the human embodiment of the Predators. He’s also playing the game with the kind of tenacity that Trotz wants out of everyone.

jordintootoo2.jpgStreet fighting man: There’s ideally a pair of candidates here. One guy does actual fighting (Wade Belak) and the other makes everyone want to fight him (Jordin Tootoo). If Belak gets into a game, you can guarantee him dropping the gloves. With Tootoo running around all game you’ll have a lot of ticked off players on the opposing team. Fact is, the Predators aren’t really a fighting team. They were third from the bottom in fighting majors last season and Belak was their runaway leader with 10 and he didn’t even play that often. Any fans that believe that fighting hockey is what’s selling in Nashville are greatly mistaken.

Best-case scenario: Hornqvist builds off his 30-goal season and adds a few more than that this time around. Lombardi builds off his big season in Phoenix to give the Predators a legitimately lethal offensive first line. Martin Erat finds a way to pot more than his customary 20-25 goals, while J.P. Dumont models his game more after Hornqvist and becomes an effective net presence. Colin Wilson becomes a breakout star and puts home 25 goals. Rinne turns into the real deal and has a Vezina-worthy season in goal while Weber and Suter become the defensive pairing for the next generation leading the Predators deeper into the playoffs than they’ve ever been before — the second round.

Worst-case scenario: Lombardi isn’t able to replicate his production from last season while Hornqvist struggles under the weight of expectation. Sullivan and Erat see their goal totals level off and the offense sputters again. Rinne tires out trying to carry the Predators. Defensive inconsistency also sets in and the Predators just miss the playoffs.

Keeping it real: I know, you want to count the Predators down and out, but let’s face it, they’re always going to be there and the team did take some strides forward last season. Rinne will be very good and Lombardi’s addition should pan out well. Getting a little something more from lifetime Predator David Legwand would be great as well. All in all, this team will be tough as always and go through fits where they look like they could be really tough in the playoffs and others where they look completely pedestrian. They’ll be a playoff team once again and the key for them is to finally get out of the first round. Whether they can do that or not is up in the air.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Predators are a perfect 3. They’re going to be a playoff team and from there anything can shake loose. I’m not one to hold a team’s past against them and assume that they’d be a ‘one round and done’ team but the team doesn’t immediately jump out at me as a Cup contender. That doesn’t mean they aren’t one, they’re just not at the top of the list. Last year proved that just about anything can happen in the playoffs, but times are tougher in the Western Conference and the road to the finals is always a bit tougher.

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    Stars’ Oduya re-injures ankle, out 2-4 weeks

    CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 10: Johnny Oduya #47 of the Dallas Stars in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 10, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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    It’s been a rough year for Johnny Oduya and, in particular, a rough year for Johnny Oduya’s ankle.

    On Thursday, the Stars announced that Oduya would miss the next 2-4 weeks after aggravating an ankle injury that saw him miss 10 games already this season.

    The latest setback occurred in Tuesday’s wild 7-6 win over the Rangers at MSG. Oduya exited midway through the contest and didn’t return.

    Oduya, 35, has only appeared in 36 of Dallas’ 47 games this season, but has been reasonably effective when in. He has a goal and seven points while averaging just over 18 minutes per night.

    Looking ahead, it’ll be interesting to see if Oduya actually finishes the year as a Star. If he’s able to get healthy and Dallas misses the playoffs — the Stars went into Friday’s action three points out of the wild card — he could be flipped at the deadline.

    Oduya is a pending UFA, in the last of a two-year deal that pays $3.75 million annually. He would likely garner some interest on the open market, given his veteran experience and the fact he won a pair of Stanley Cups with Chicago.

    Per CapFriendly, Oduya does have a limited no-trade clause. He can provide a list of 17 teams that he’d like to be dealt to.

    Ducks nip Avalanche 2-1 after ‘weird delay’ to fix glass

    Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson watches as workers remove a cracked plexiglass piece during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Anaheim, Calif. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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    ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Broken glass is a regular occurrence in the heavy-hitting, hard-shooting NHL, and shattered panes usually get replaced swiftly.

    Although an uncommon 45-minute delay at Honda Center led to an unusual early intermission, the break also interrupted the Anaheim Ducks’ second-period struggles. They warmed back up in plenty of time to snag another win.

    Nick Ritchie scored the tiebreaking goal with 2:02 to play, and the Ducks beat the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 on Thursday night.

    John Gibson made 21 saves and Hampus Lindholm scored the tying power-play goal early in the third period of the Pacific Division-leading Ducks’ eighth victory in 10 games — but the first featuring an intermission in the middle of a period.

    “I don’t think the delay did that much to us,” Lindholm said. “It was quite a weird delay, but we stuck in there. … I’ve never had one that long. I don’t think they shoot that hard in Sweden.”

    The game was scoreless when Colorado defenseman Eric Gelinas‘ shot put a large starburst in a pane of glass behind Anaheim’s net with 9:48 left in the second period. The Honda Center crew tried to put up a replacement pane quickly, but soon discovered it needed to be cut to fit next to the camera that sits on a stanchion next to the pane.

    Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen joked that he should have helped out the arena crew.

    “I used to be good at school with my hands,” Vatanen said. “I wanted to go out there, but I had to focus on the game.”

    Referees eventually told the teams to take their second intermission while the crew finished their work, apparently cutting one pane too short to use. After play finally resumed and the second period ended, they paused only for a dry scrape of the ice before playing the final 20 minutes of regulation.

    “It helped us,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said of the delay. “We weren’t playing very good in the second period. They were coming at us, and it broke up the period. It gave us an opportunity to reset ourselves. It did us a favor.”

    Ritchie dramatically rewarded the Ducks for a strong performance when Nikita Zadorov turned over the puck in the slot. Ondrej Kase tipped it to Anaheim’s power forward, and he fired a shot through traffic for his 11th goal.

    “The final (goal) is just a bad bounce, that’s all it is,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “That one just took a bad bounce off Zadorov and ended up in the back of our net.”

    Calvin Pickard stopped 34 shots for the NHL-worst Avalanche, who have lost four straight and 21 of 25.

    Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog scored a power-play goal in the second period to break a scoreless tie shortly after the delay, but the Ducks replied with two third-period goals and incredible defensive plays in the final minute by Gibson and Vatanen, who stopped Jarome Iginla from hitting an open net.

    “It was a long break and a different third period,” Landeskog said. “Other than that, I thought it was pretty funny. Most of us did. We didn’t take it too seriously.”

    Pickard followed up a 35-save performance in his previous start with another gem, and Landeskog scored his ninth goal shortly after the delay.

    But Anaheim finally cashed in on its 2-to-1 shots advantage when Lindholm beat Pickard from the blue line with an exceptional slap shot, which was still rising when it sailed past Ritchie’s screen.

    Colorado’s Tyson Barrie missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury, leaving the Avalanche to face the Ducks without arguably their top two defensemen. Erik Johnson, who missed his 20th straight game with a broken leg, is likely out until mid-February.

     

    Latest concussion will sideline MacArthur for the rest of the season

    MONTREAL, QC - APRIL 15:  Clarke MacArthur #16 of the Ottawa Senators skates during Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Bell Centre on April 15, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Canadiens defeated the Senators 4-3.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
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    It sounded like Clarke MacArthur was making significant progress from the concussion he suffered during training camp, but on Friday morning, Senators GM Pierre Dorion announced that MacArthur’s season was over.

    The news isn’t surprising given the Sens forward’s history with concussions (it’s believed he suffered four different concussions during an 18-month span), but the fact that he had been cleared for contact in December led people to believe there was a chance he could come back.

    According to the Ottawa Sun’s Bruce Garrioch, Dorion said MacArthur is “devastated” by today’s news.

    It certainly seems like the Senators are doing the right thing by shutting him down. The 31-year-old also missed all but four games in 2015-16 because of a head injury.

    As of last September, MacArthur said he didn’t plan on hanging up his skates.

    Dorion said he’s trying to acquire another forward via trade to replace him, but with limited teams willing to be sellers, the prices are extremely high.

    In other Sens news…

    Dorion told members of the media that goalie Craig Anderson will return to Ottawa’s crease in late January or early February.

    Anderson has been with his wife, Nicholle, who was diagnosed with cancer in 2016.

    Video: Jonathan Drouin turns on the jets, scores ‘big time’ goal vs. Sharks

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    Earlier this week, Jonathan Drouin turned in an assist of the year candidate on Tyler Johnson‘s goal against the Kings.

    Last night, he used his speed to score one of his own, and you’ll want to watch it over and over again.

    With the Bolts trailing 1-0 in the second period, Drouin skated through the neutral zone before re-entering the Sharks’ territory and going around Marc-Edouard Vlasic like he wasn’t even there. As he got around Vlasic, he cut to the net and beat San Jose backup goalie Aaron Dell (top).

    The 21-year-old has carried a lot of the offensive burden with Steven Stamkos out of the lineup. He’s collected seven points in his last seven games, and he’s up to 14 goals and 30 points in 39 games this season.

    Unfortunately for the Bolts, that was the only offense they could muster in this one, as they ended up losing the game 2-1.

    “That’s just a big time skill play by a big time skill player,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said of the goal, per the Tampa Bay Times.