Henrik Sedin, Shea Weber

What Went Wrong: Nashville Predators

Nashville made their deepest run in the playoffs in franchise history this year making it to the second round. They won their first overtime playoff game in team history and while it’s sad to get bounced out of the playoffs, the Predators ability to take the slow and steady pace towards overall franchise improvement continues to grind along. Much like how the team plays on the ice the Predators rise into making their presence known and felt in the NHL it’s been a rugged but rewarding affair.

Still, in spite of what they achieved this season they bowed out in six games to Vancouver and there were some obvious problems along the way.

1. Malfunctioned power play
The Predators made a living off of the man advantage against Anaheim in the first round. The Ducks would make mistakes and the Predators appropriately made them pay for it. This time around against Vancouver, facing up to a tough defense proved to be a real challenge. Vancouver’s penalty kill had a feast on the Predators holding them to going 1-21 through the six games.

Scoring on 4.7% of your power plays isn’t going to win you many games, nevermind a series. While Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were able to bomb away from the point, Vancouver’s ability to defend guys crashing the net and blocking shots (90 in the series) made life harder on them. The Canucks gave them their chances to break through and make a difference

2. Roles reversed
The Predators came into this series hoping to get big games out of Mike Fisher and Sergei Kostitsyn offensively while guys like David Legwand and Joel Ward defended against the Sedins to keep them off the board. Instead, Fisher and Kostitsyn were terrible. Each of them had just one assist in the series while Fisher was a -3 on his plus/minus and Kostitsyn was a -1 and hide-your-eyes bad when caught out in a must-defend situation.

Meanwhile, Ward and Legwand were the Predators top scorers while still shutting down the Sedins. Ward was a revelation scoring four goals and adding four assists. Legwand had four goals and an assist in the series. No other goal scorers for Nashville had more than one. If the Preds were getting that production out of Ward and Legwand in addition to their better offensive players showing up, who knows how this series turns out. Instead, they were essentially all they had. This leads us into our third point.

3. No game breaker to be found
The Predators just flat out didn’t have a dominating offensive presence. They didn’t have one all season long and relied on team play and grinding games out to survive on as few goals as possible. When you’re in the bottom third in goals scored that’s just how life has to be. In the playoffs, the lack of offensive force crushed them against Vancouver. Guys like Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp, and Marian Hossa helped raise hell against the Canucks in the first round but without a real name threat for Nashville, Vancouver could stick to their system and close up shop around Roberto Luongo.

Fisher and Kostitsyn weren’t threats, Jordin Tootoo lost his ability to generate action and no one else aside from Ward and Legwand found the net regularly. It wouldn’t kill the Predators to find a way to get a power forward force that could net 30-40 goals a year, but good luck finding one. The Predators will have to hope there’s someone in their talented system that can evolve into that game breaking force.

***

On the upside for Nashville, this playoff run has given the team and city a reason to get really excited about the team. Barry Trotz has the team well versed in his system and they play the brand of game that gives them success in the playoffs. Pekka Rinne proved himself to be a great goalie while defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber run the show along the blue line. A team filled with grinding forwards, while a pain to play against, doesn’t offer them the ability to break a game open in a big way offensively though.
The Predators have smart coaching and smart management and they’ll make the right tweaks to improve the team. They’ve been doing it all along now and there’s no reason to think they won’t keep it going now.

Flyers’ Neuvirth (lower body) will be between the pipes vs. the Devils on Saturday

Philadelphia Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth (30) of the Czech Republic stops a shot from the Dallas Stars in the third period of an NHL hockey game, Friday, Dec. 11, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Associated Press
Leave a comment

Michal Neuvirth will make his first start of the month in Saturday’s game against the New Jersey Devils.

The 27-year-old missed five games with a lower-body injury. He was activated off the injured list earlier this week and served as Steve Mason‘s backup in Thursday’s game against Buffalo.

Neuvirth has an 11-6-2 record with a 2.14 goals-against-average and a .933 save percentage in 2015-16.

He’s put up some solid numbers against the Devils in his career. Neuvirth has a 5-2-4 record with 2.03 goals-against-average and a .927 save percentage in games against New Jersey.

Steve Mason, who’s coming off a 41-save performance in a win over Buffalo, hasn’t been as good against Saturday’s opponent.

Mason is 0-7-0 lifetime against the Devils.

Puck drop is at 1:00 p.m. ET.

 

The Sharks could be looking to acquire a goalie before the trade deadline

San Jose Sharks goalie Alex Stalock (32) blocks a shot in the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh Sunday, March 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
3 Comments

In his first season in San Jose, Martin Jones has provided the Sharks with some steady goaltending.

The 26-year-old has 25-15-3 record with a 2.38 goals-against-average and a .915 save percentage in 44 games.

Jones isn’t problem, but the depth behind him could be.

After another ugly performance from backup Alex Stalock against Calgary on Thursday night, The San Jose Mercury News suggests the team could be in the market for another goalie.

Stalock has appeared in just 13 games this season, but with a busy schedule ahead, San Jose will have to rely on someone other than Jones down the stretch.

“My trust level’s good,” DeBoer said of his faith in Stalock. “You can see how important this guy is to the group, how hard they play for him. That’s a situation (on Thursday) where if they didn’t care about him as a teammate, they probably don’t battle back the way they did, so I think that’s a huge testament to what kind of guy this guy is.”

The 28-year-old has a 3-5-2 record with a 2.94 goals-against-average and a .884 save percentage in 2015-16. He’s also given up three goals or more in seven of his 13 appearances.

The Sharks are comfortably in a playoff spot, but the Ducks are just one point behind them for second place in the division.

Whoever finishes in second will get home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Video: Leafs prospect Marner scores an amazing goal that you’ll have to see to believe

2 Comments

The Toronto Maple Leafs have something special in prospect Mitch Marner.

The 18-year-old’s talent was on full-display on Friday night, as he scored this incredible goal for the London Knights of the OHL.

Marner made Blues second rounder Vince Dunn (no. 4) look pretty ridiculous on the play.

The Leafs prospect was one of Canada’s best forwards at this year’s World Junior Hockey Championship.

He’s second on the Knights in scoring with 32 goals and 86 points in 41 games.

Earlier this week, Snoop Dogg wore a Marner jersey on stage during his show in London.

Not a bad week for the teenager.

Schwartz scores in his return, Blues top the Panthers 5-3

St. Louis Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz celebrates after scoring during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Associated Press
1 Comment

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Jaden Schwartz‘s return to St. Louis’ lineup may be just what the Blues offense needs.

Schwartz, David Backes and Robby Fabbri scored in the first period and St. Louis rolled to a 5-3 win over the Florida Panthers on Friday night.

After missing 49 games with a fractured ankle suffered during a team practice, Schwartz scored his first goal of the season to put the Blues up 2-1 at 15:57 of the first period.

“I didn’t know what to expect, so it went well. It was fun being a part of the team again and contributing,” Schwartz said. “It was a good line rush. (Tarasenko) made a great play to (Colton Parayko). He shot and I kind of went to the net and got a lucky bounce on my stick there.”

Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen also scored for the Blues, and Parayko had two assists.

St. Louis had scored just 10 goals in its last seven games, including one or fewer in five of its last six.

Winning goaltender Brian Elliott said Schwartz brings a spark.

“Yes, especially when everybody is pulling for him,” said Elliott, who had 29 saves in his 13th straight start. “He’s been watching games for I?don’t know how many months now, so it’s good to see him get back out there and put it in right away. We obviously can’t expect that every night, but he’s a big piece to our puzzle.”

Derek MacKenzie, Aaron Ekblad and Jonathan Huberdeau scored for Florida, and Jaromir Jagr had two assists.

Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo moved past Glenn Hall into sixth in career NHL games played with his 907th appearance. He had 10 saves before being replaced after the first period by Al Montoya. Montoya stopped 13 of 15 shots.

“It was just to shake up the team,” Florida coach Gerard Gallant said. “We weren’t happy with how we were playing. It actually worked a little bit in the second.

“They come hard. They play their game. We just didn’t play physical enough in the first. After the first, I thought we were fine.”

Gallant said he would decide Saturday if the 36-year-old Luongo would return to face the Nashville Predators for starts on consecutive nights.

The game featured a matchup of two of the league’s stingiest defenses, with Florida second-best in allowing just 2.26 goals per game while St. Louis’s 2.32 ranked fifth.

However, the first period was all about St. Louis pushing forward and taking advantage of Florida’s defensive breakdowns.

MacKenzie scored 5:05 in with his third goal against St. Louis this season, but then the Blues blitzed Luongo and the Atlantic Division-leading Panthers with three goals in a 7:25 span.

Backes ended a 10-game scoreless drought with his 13th goal at 12:16 by beating Luongo on the stick side.

“That was a big monkey off my back. It’s great to contribute offensively,” Backes said.

Schwartz put the rebound of Parayko’s shot past Luongo at 15:57 for his first of the season.

Fabbri scored on the power play with 19 seconds left for his 12th goal.

Tarasenko scored his 27th goal on a rebound at 8:00 of the second period to make it 4-1 before Ekblad’s 11th goal at 10:44 cut into the lead.

Huberdeau trimmed the margin to one goal when he tallied his 11th by tapping in a pass through the crease from Campbell at 10:47 of the third.

Steen roofed his 16th goal at 12:17 to help St. Louis regain the two-goal margin and beat the Panthers again in Florida, where the Blues haven’t lost since 2011.

“They’re just a sound team,” MacKenzie said of the Blues. “They have guys who can put the puck in the net.

“When you makes mistakes or spend too much time in your end zone, sooner or later it’s going to burn you.”

NOTES: St. Louis D Alex Pietrangelo (knee) is expected to miss at least three weeks. … Last season, the Blues were an NHL-best 21-8-3 in play outside of the Western Conference but entered their game with Florida just 10-9-5 against the Eastern this year. … The Panthers recalled F John McFarland, a 2010 second-round pick (33rd overall), from Portland (AHL). The 23-year-old McFarland was scratched from the lineup. … Florida top-line center Aleksander Barkov (upper body) missed his second consecutive game after being injured in Detroit. … The club sent down F Corban Knight.