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.

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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.

Jason Zucker takes a puck to the head (video)

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How in the world did he get up?

Too many players have been getting drilled in the head lately by slap shots. It’s an ugly site to behold whenever it happens

Somehow, however, Jason Zucker of the Minnesota Wild was able to pop right back up and head directly to the dressing room. No passing GO on this one.

The puck hit him so squarely in the helmet that it ricocheted back toward the Thomas Chabot, who uncorked the shot in the first place.

Even more insane is that Zucker was able to return to the game.

Talk about hard-headed.

Who could take Taylor Hall’s place if he has to miss the All-Star Game?

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With Taylor Hall set to miss the next couple of games due to a hand injury, and with that injury putting his All-Star Game prospects in jeopardy, we look at the players who are worthy of replacing the New Jersey Devils forward if he has to miss this weekend’s festivities.

Two names that immediately come to mind are Pittsburgh Penguins forward Phil Kessel and Philadelphia Flyers forward Sean Couturier.

There was already an argument that Kessel deserved to be at the ASG over Sidney Crosby. He was leading the Penguins in points then and two weeks later, he continues to pace Pittsburgh with 21 goals (tied with Evgeni Malkin) and 54 points, three more points than Crosby.

Couturier has already smashed his previous career highs in both goals (26) and points (47). He’s been part of the reason that Claude Giroux is already headed to the ASG and deserves to be there himself.

At third would have to be Sebastian Aho. The talent in the Metropolitan is evident with his snub. He’s clearly the best player on the Carolina Hurricanes this season (no disrespect to Teuvo Teravainen).

Aho is well on his way to eclipsing his rookie-season totals and a big reason why the Hurricanes are three points back of a playoff spot.

Beyond those three guys, there’s a few that certainly deserve the honor:

  • Anders Lee has 27 goals this season, seven off the pace he set last season with half the season to go.
  • Jakub Voracek leads the NHL with 45 assists, four more than teammate Giroux.
  • Evgeni Malkin. Not having a bad year.

It’s important to remember that the at-least-one-player-per-team rule goes out the window when it comes to replacing another All-Star.

There are certainly some very deserving names that didn’t get the first call.

But life’s about second chances.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Chicago Blackhawks

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Projected Lines

Tampa Bay Lightning

Nikita KucherovBrayden PointTyler Johnson

Vladislav NamestnikovSteven StamkosChris Kunitz

Alex Killorn — Matthew Peca — Yanni Gourde

Michael Bournival — Cedric PaquetteRyan Callahan

Jake DotchinAnton Stralman

Mikhail SergachevDan Girardi

Braydon CoburnAndrej Sustr

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

NHL on NBCSN: ‘Out of sync’ Lightning look to end three-game losing skid against ‘Hawks

Chicago Blackhawks

Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsAnthony Duclair

Patrick SharpNick SchmaltzPatrick Kane

Alex DeBrincatArtem AnisimovRyan Hartman

Tomas Jurco — David Kampf — Vinnie Hinostroza

Duncan KeithJordan Oesterle

Erik Gustafsson — Brent Seabrook

Michal KempnyConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Jeff Glass

Are Penguins making the right call with Sprong demotion?

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After being a healthy scratch for two games and seemingly being in the doghouse since at least Jan. 17, Daniel Sprong is headed back to the AHL.

To some degree, the move was made because it seems like Bryan Rust is getting ready to return to the mix after being sidelined since Dec. 27. Still, it’s a frustrating development for those who believe in Sprong’s potential as the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft.

All of the 20-year-old’s points came in one game, as Sprong scored two goals and one assist against the Islanders on Jan. 5. He went without a point in his other seven appearances in the NHL this season, with six coming during his latest stint.

Sprong was in the double digits in ice time each night until the Penguins’ loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Jan. 17, when he was glued to the bench from the second period on. Considering his lack of production in general, it’s understandable that head coach Mike Sullivan is more reactive to mistakes.

Certain details make the move more debatable, though.

For those who believe that Ryan Reaves‘ role is antiquated, it must be frustrating to see Sprong get demoted. Reaves has been averaging less than seven minutes per game (6:41) despite taking a spot in the lineup for 49 contests. Pittsburgh is in a life-or-death battle for a playoff spot, and many believe that his presence (and the first rounder they gave up to acquire him) is a waste for the Penguins.

The Pens also seem like they’re taking a questionable all-or-nothing approach with Sprong.

Sprong’s most common even-strength linemates (by far) were Sidney Crosby and Dominik Simon, via Natural Stat Trick. Maybe Sprong isn’t quite the right fit for Crosby at this point in his career, but there has to be at least a chance that he could provide more punch for the Penguins’ lineup than someone like Reaves lower in the lineup?

His possession stats have been solid in a small sample size and he hasn’t been shy, firing just less than three shots on goal per game (22 SOG in eight games). Couldn’t the Penguins find room for Rust and Sprong?

These are questions at least some Penguins media members and fans are asking right now, but the bottom line is that the team clearly believes that Reaves is a difference-maker. If Sprong is going to rank as one as well, it sounds like he’ll need to earn his next chance first.

We’ll see how the Sprong-less Penguins fare against the Carolina Hurricanes in a pretty important game on Tuesday. In other Penguins news, Matt Murray was overwhelmed by the support he received from his team and teammates following his father’s death.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.