Pekka Rinne

2011-2012 season preview: Nashville Predators

2010-2011 record: 44-27-11, 99 points; 2nd in Central, 5th in West

Playoffs: Defeated Anaheim 4-2 in Western quarterfinals, lost to Vancouver 4-2 in Western semifinals

The Predators will look to build on their first ever playoff series win last season. Now that winning a first-round series is out of the way, Nashville will look to take the next step by following their strong defense and goaltending to the Western Conference finals and beyond. If fans around the league ever wanted to see what strong coaching, goaltending, and defense could do — look no further than the Predators. If they could only mix in a little more scoring, they’d have a little more room for error throughout the season.

Offense

No team is perfect and it doesn’t take long to figure out where the Predators weakness is on their roster. Their two leading scorers last season notched exactly 50 points last season. For perspective, Martin Erat and David Legwand, were tied for 91st in NHL scoring last season. To say the Predators are offensively challenged would be a little like saying the Boston Red Sox had a slightly below-average September.

Both Erat and Legwand missed 18 games apiece last season due to injuries; both will look to put together healthy campaigns and help the Preds for a full 82 games. Still, the team lacks that dynamic offensive talent that they haven’t seen since Alexander Radulov left for the KHL. The offense in Nashville isn’t expected to carry the team — they’re just expected to score enough to keep the team a float.

Defense

The blue line for the Predators is definitely the strong point of the team — this corps would be the strong point of just about every team in the league. Star captain Shea Weber was a Norris Trophy finalist and many people around the league will tell you that Ryan Suter is just as good. Between the two of them, they had 20 goals and 37 assists — not too bad for a defensive pair that plays over 25 minutes per game. Behind the top pairing, the Predators are going to go with some serious youth on the blueline. Jonathon Blum skated in 23 regular season games last season and showed the poise of a player who will be around for a long time. This season, the organization has left the bottom pairing open for a talented rookie — whether it be Mattias Ekholm or offensive dynamo Ryan Ellis. Either way, it’ll just be more of the same from the team that seems to have a never ending well of talented defensemen.

Goalies

When a team is built on goaltending and defense, the goaltending better be pretty good. Last season, the rest of the league discovered something fans in Nashville already knew — Pekka Rinne is an elite goaltender. He had a fantastic 2.12 goals against average and a spectacular .930 save percentage in 64 games last season. The good news is that Rinne could be in line for an even better season this year as the pending unrestricted free agent plays for a new contract. The bad news is that he’s a pending unrestricted free agent. Between Rinne and the talented Anders Lindback playing in about twenty games, Nashville is stacked in the crease.

Coaching

If Barry Trotz was coaching in Canada or the Northeast, he’d probably be mentioned with the best coaches of the last 20 years. He consistently gets more out of his players than just about any other coach in the league. Then again, there’s a reason that he’s still the only coach in Predators history. While many casual fans around the league may not know his name, the organization and fans in Nashville understand that they have a good one.

Breakout candidate

Colin Wilson is going to be given every opportunity to excel in his third full season in the NHL. The 2008 pick has shown flashes of the type of player who can succeed in the long-term. He potted 16 goals last season — yet it was his consistency that was the biggest problem for the young Wilson. If he can eliminate the inconsistency from his game, 20-plus goals and 50-plus points aren’t out of the realm of possibility. Remember, on the Preds, that would make him one of the team leaders on offense.

Best-case scenario

The best-case scenario for the Predators would be to have another season like the last one. By the end of the regular season, they had a Vezina finalist, Norris finalist, and Jack Adams finalist. Since Suter, Rinne, and Weber are all entering contract years, the trio could once again show the league that goaltending and defense is where it’s at. If they get similar seasons from their blueline and get a little added production from the likes of Sergei Kostitsyn, Wilson and Erat, the Predators could be a playoff team battling for home-ice in the first round.

Reality

The reality is that this team desperately needs a dynamic offensive talent to strike a little fear into the opposition. Both Legwand and Mike Fisher are very good NHL centers, but they thrive on the two-way game. Their power play has been a disaster for the last few seasons (26th in the league last year), and none of the offseason moves make us think they’ll be much better next season. We have the utmost respect for the strong team that David Poile and Trotz have put together on a shoestring budget, which is why we expect the Predators to make the playoffs again (despite the obvious lack of offensive talent). If they can figure out a way to score and produce on the power play, they have the potential to win a series or two in the playoffs this season. Look for the Preds to finish third in the Central and sixth in the Western Conference.

Frustrated by disallowed winner, Sharks coach calls goalie interference rule ‘clear as mud’

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The San Jose Sharks would’ve had a 3-1 series lead, if not for the referees’s decision to disallow Joe Pavelski‘s overtime goal last night in Nashville.

Instead, the Sharks are headed back to San Jose tied, 2-2, after Mike Fisher won Game 4 for the Predators in triple OT.

Not surprisingly, what happened last night didn’t sit too well with Sharks head coach Pete DeBoer, who offered a rather sardonic opinion of the referee’s decision — a decision that was upheld upon review — to disallow Pavelski’s goal due to “incidental contact” with Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne.

“I don’t understand. I guess incidental contact is you’re cross-checked from behind while you are in the air and you have the opportunity to stop. I guess that’s what it is,” DeBoer said, per Sportsnet.

“You know what? That rule has been clear as mud to every coach in the league all year, so why should it be different tonight?”

DeBoer is not wrong that there’s been confusion. What actually constitutes goalie interference has been a hot topic since the league allowed coaches to challenge it.

For the record, here’s what would’ve been reviewed last night:

b) Scoring Plays Involving Potential “Interference on the Goalkeeper”

(ii) A play that results in a “NO GOAL” call on the ice despite the puck having entered the net, where the on-ice Officials have determined that the attacking team was guilty of “Interference on the Goalkeeper” but where the attacking team asserts: (i) there was no actual contact of any kind initiated by an attacking Player with the goalkeeper; or (ii) the attacking Player was pushed, shoved, or fouled by a defending Player causing the attacking Player to come into contact with the goalkeeper; or (iii) the attacking Player’s positioning within the goal crease did not impair the goalkeeper’s ability to defend his goal and, in fact, had no discernible impact on the play.

So, based on that, it was decided that Pavelski was not “pushed” or “shoved” into Rinne by Nashville’s Paul Gaustad. Or, at the very least, it was decided that Pavelski, after he was pushed, failed to make a “reasonable effort” to avoid contact with the goalie.

Obviously, that’s not how DeBoer saw it. He didn’t think Pavelski had a chance to avoid crashing into Rinne.

Regardless, the Sharks will need to put last night behind them and get focused on Saturday’s Game 5. It’s a best-of-three to get to the Western Conference Final now, whether they like it or not. 

Avs lose another to Europe, as Everberg signs in Sweden

Dennis Everberg, Jason Pominville
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Just four days after Joey Hishon signed with KHL club Jokerit, another Colorado player has inked overseas — on Friday, SHL club Vaxjo announced it had agreed to terms with Dennis Everberg.

Everberg, 24, appeared in 70 games over the last two seasons with the Avs. His best effort came during the ’14-15 campaign, when he scored three goals and 12 points in 55 games.

Last year, he was largely phased out of the Avalanche lineup — appearing in just 15 contests — and spent most of his time in AHL San Antonio (where, to his credit, he played well, scoring 40 points in 54 games.)

Signed as an undrafted free agent two years ago, Everberg will now return to the same league in which he first made a name for himself. The 6-foot-4, 205-pounder had played for SHL club Rogle prior to coming to North America.

Both Everberg and Hishon were set to become RFAs on July 1, and neither seemed as though they had a long-term future with the club.

As such, these departures can’t come as a big shock.

Pens want Cullen to return next season

NEWARK, NJ - NOVEMBER 14: Matt Cullen #7 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on November 14, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils shut out the Penguins 4-0.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Matt Cullen is oldest active player in this year’s playoffs, an achievement unto itself.

But the 39-year-old seemingly isn’t content with just being the resident greybeard. He’s playing at a pretty high level.

He’s racked up five points through nine games, averaging 15:22 TOI per night, and has become a real thorn in Washington’s side.

How thorny? To the point where, after Game 4, Caps head coach Barry Trotz acknowledged Cullen’s “having a hell of a series against us,” per Sportsnet.

Cullen will have a chance to extend his postseason on Saturday, when the Pens look to eliminate the Caps — but his GM is thinking about extending things well beyond these playoffs.

More, from Sportsnet:

[Cullen] has his own three sons running around the Penguins dressing room after games, and they’re old enough to experience and enjoy this playoff run, too.

The natural question is what happens next? [Pens GM Jim] Rutherford believes he’ll still be good at age 40 – “I do want him to return, but we’ll deal with that at the appropriate time” – although Cullen seems somewhat less certain about his future.

As good as he’s played and is playing, it’s not out of the question we’re watching his final games.

Cullen played this season on a one-year, $800,000 deal, which ranks among Rutherford’s best moves of the campaign. He appeared in all 82 games, scoring 16 goals and 32 points, and finished second to Sidney Crosby in faceoffs won.

Looking ahead, though, it’s fair to suggest this could be his swan song, as Pittsburgh is pretty loaded at center. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Eric Fehr and Nick Bonino are all fairly entrenched — and under contract — and it looks like young Oscar Sundqvist is ready to push for a spot as well.

There’s always the possibility of going to free agency, though that seems the least likely route for Cullen.

Report: It ‘looks like’ Sens prospect White will return to Boston College

Colin White, center, poses with Ottawa Senators executives after being chosen 21st overall by the Senators, during the first round of the NHL hockey draft, Friday, June 26, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)
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Since losing to Quinnipiac in the Frozen Four, the Boston College Eagles have also lost a bunch of their best players.

Those who made the decision to turn pro include Alex Tuch (Wild), Adam Gilmour (Wild), Miles Wood (Devils), Steve Santini (Devils), and Hobey Baker finalist Thatcher Demko (Canucks).

The good news for B.C. is that Colin White probably won’t be part of the exodus. According to TSN’s Darren Dreger, it “looks like” White will return for his sophomore season after scoring 43 points in 37 games as a freshman.

White, 19, was drafted 21st overall by the Ottawa Senators last summer. He said last month that turning pro had “definitely” crossed his mind, but then he also said, “Definitely, B.C. is a great place.”