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.

Malkin is ‘not happy’ with the way he’s been playing lately

CALGARY, AB - NOVEMBER 7: Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on November 7, 2015 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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Evgeni Malkin is back in Penguins training camp after a stint with Team Russia at the World Cup.

Malkin and his team reached the tournament’s semifinal before being knocked out by the eventual champions, Team Canada.

The Pens forward collected three points in four games, but he wasn’t satisfied by his overall performance.

“I need to start now,” Malkin said on Saturday, per the Tribune. “I’m not playing great. I’m not happy with my game at the World Cup. I will play better here and now.”

When he’s at his best, Malkin is fully capable of taking over games. That’s easier said than done in a best-on-best tournament, but those are the standards he’s set for himself.

So, what does he have to do to get back to that elite level?

“Play more with the puck. That’s my game always, if I have the puck and I spend more time with the puck. The last four, five games in the World Cup, I tried to use my partners, but my confidence when I play with the puck.”

The 30-year-old dealt with some injuries last year, but still managed to produce 58 points in 57 games during the regular season and 18 points in 23 games during Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup playoff run.

Video: Incredibly awkward ceremonial puck drop before KHL game in China

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KHL hockey is still relatively new in China and it showed prior to Kunlun Red Star’s game against Lada Togliatti earlier this week.

Prior to the game, the team organized a ceremonial puck drop, which ended up being a little awkward to say the least.

You can watch the entire thing by clicking the video at the top of the page.

That’s pretty funny!

The awkward look the two captains gave each other was priceless too.

After suffering ‘a bruise on his backside’ on Friday, Dmitry Kulikov misses practice

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Even though it’s just the preseason, the Sabres had a night to forget on Friday.

Not only did they get clobbered 8-1 by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they also lost Dmitry Kulikov to injury.

Kulikov left the game in considerable pain after being hit by Colin Greening in the third period. As the Sabres defenseman went into the boards, the door to the Leafs bench opened.

Here’s how it looked:

After the game, head coach Dan Bylsma downplayed the injury.

“He’s got a bruise on his backside, but at this point in time it’s not more than a bruise,” Bylsma said, per the Buffalo News.

According to beat reporter John Vogl, Kulikov wasn’t on the ice for his team’s practice this morning.

It’s still unclear how long he’ll be out exactly. It’s good to know that the Sabres don’t appear to be overly worried about this injury though.

It’s an important year for 25-year-old. He’s entering his first year with the Sabres, but he’ll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Patrick Kane, Erik Karlsson, P.K. Subban to make preseason debuts on Saturday

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 15:  Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks celebrates after scoring a goal in the third period against the Tampa Bay Lightning during Game Six of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the United Center  on June 15, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The deeper we get into the preseason, the more we’ll see star players being integrated into their team’s lineups.

On Saturday, three big names will make their 2016-17 debuts with their respective teams.

After a stint at the World Cup with Team USA, Patrick Kane will be in Chicago’s lineup for their game against the St. Louis Blues.

Kane and the Americans had a disappointing tournament, as he failed to score a goal and the team failed to win a round-robin game.

Erik Karlsson, who was at the World Cup with Team Sweden, will also play his first exhibition of the season, as the Senators take on the Canadiens this afternoon.

Sens head coach Guy Boucher wasn’t planning on playing his captain this early, but Karlsson changed his mind.

“I was thinking of maybe giving him a break and then taking him on the trip (to Winnipeg and Saskatoon) next week,” Boucher told the Ottawa Citizen. “He had two hard practices. I was impressed by his leadership. He wanted to be playing in front of our fans.”

Finally, P.K. Subban will make his Preds debut against the Lightning.

Subban was acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for Shea Weber this off-season, but he was held out of games because of general soreness.

It sounds like Subban will play on a pairing with Mattias Ekholm.

“It’s great having a partner like that,” Subban said, per the Tennessean. “I’ve had some great partners in the past, but he’s definitely right up there with the best that I’ve played with. I’m not sure exactly what the partners are going to be come the regular season. Those things can switch, but I’m happy to be playing with him.”