Weber: Forget scoring, Preds need to play better defense


If you haven’t watched the Predators closely this season, you might assume their biggest weakness remains scoring. After all, that’s the way it was last year, and the year before that…and the year before that.

But Nashville’s offense actually ranks ninth in the NHL, averaging 2.8 goals per game. More than Washington. More than San Jose.

In fact, if there’s one thing the Preds need to improve as the playoffs approach, it’s defense. In their past two games, they’ve lost 6-3 to the Oilers and 5-1 to the Penguins. Since the beginning of February, they’ve surrendered three or more goals in 10 of 23 games. They haven’t shut a team out since Jan. 19.

“We’re just not committed enough defensively right now,” said captain Shea Weber Thursday, as per

“I think we’re too worried about scoring goals. We need to figure out that our main priority is playing defense. We’re talented enough that we’ll be able to score those, but right now we’re thinking offense first and not defense.”

Pekka Rinne’s numbers have taken a hit in the process. The Vezina-caliber goalie has a .890 save percentage in March, and he’s been yanked in two of his last eight starts.

Predators beat writer Josh Cooper (The Tennessean) wonders if Rinne’s battling fatigue, and he might be on to something. Only Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller has played more games (68) than Rinne (66). And no goalie’s faced more shots (1,972).

Nashville hosts Winnipeg Saturday.

Rangers getting a good look at the future, despite playoff disappointment

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Silver linings for teams far off the playoff line are few and far between at this time of the year.

But if there is one that can be taken for any team looking at re-tooling or rebuilding for next season, it’s the ability to take a look at the future crop against NHL adversaries.

The New York Rangers are one of these teams. They declared themselves open for business prior to the trade deadline and dealt away some big names, including Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh, for some younger talent.

They’re also facing a challenge with aging goaltender Henrik Lundqvist who, as great as he is, won’t win the battle with Father Time.

Needing to fill holes at several positions, the Rangers have been able to take a good look at a couple of promising prospects, including what may well be their future between the pipes.

New York has played rookie Alexandar Georgiev six times and owns a 3-2-0 record since he played his first NHL game on Feb. 22. Despite picking up the loss, Georgiev allowed just two goals on 40 shots for a .950 save percentage.

He’d give up four in his next start the following night, but since then has amassed three straight wins, including a 37-save performance on Wednesday against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. He’ll be called upon again on Saturday, another test and another chance for evaluation.

The inital analysis is promising. Georgiev is sitting on a very respectable .929 save percentage in his brief time in the NHL and he’s already turning heads around the league.’s Kevin Woodley’s wrote that Georgiev is taking after the likes of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Semyon Varlamov and Sergei Bobrovsky — some pretty good company.

Blueshirt Banter’s Tom Urtz Jr. took a really deep dive in Georgiev, concluding by calling him a “pleasant surprise.”

There’s a lot to like about him, his potential is visible, and the circumstances are set up in his favor for him to be able to prove himself more in an extended setting next season,” Urtz Jr. wrote.

Shifting to the men in the rearguard, Neal Pionk is making the most the big minutes he’s been getting over the past 17 games, and he’s starting to produce.

Pionk is on a three-game point streak with five assists during that span.

Also 22 and also undrafted, Pionk, like Georgiev, is showing real promise on defense.

“He competes hard and he’s got a good skill set,” Vigneault told on Friday. “He can make that good pass and there’s no doubt that in his college and prior to that, he was considered an offensive defenseman. He’d join the rush and was good on the power play, so there is some upside there with him. We need to continue to work at his game and continue to improve it.”

The Rangers appear to have some budding young talent and an array of players to build around with the likes Pavel Buchnevich, Vladislav Namestnikov and Jimmy Vesey — assuming they sign the latter two who are set to become RFAs at the end of this season.

And perhaps most importantly, the Rangers, who have long held the distinction as a team where old players go to get older, seem to finally be favoring youth over past-their-prime talent.

That’s good news for Rangers fans.

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

Ducks lose Bieksa for 2-5 weeks

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Anaheim Ducks defenseman Kevin Bieksa will be out for two to five weeks after surgery to remove scar tissue from his left hand.

Bieksa is having surgery Friday, the Ducks announced.

The 36-year-old Bieksa has eight assists in 59 games this season for Anaheim, which is fighting to get into playoff position with three weeks left in the regular season.

Anaheim recalled defenseman Korbinian Holzer from its AHL affiliate in San Diego before facing the Detroit Red Wings at Honda Center on Friday night.

The Ducks have won five consecutive Pacific Division titles and made five straight postseason appearances, reaching the Western Conference finals last season. But Anaheim (35-24-12) began this weekend out of playoff position and in fourth place in the Pacific.

More AP NHL:

Canadiens need to look in mirror before moving forward


The Montreal Canadiens have been a colossal disappointment in 2017-18. Instead of building on their first-round playoff exit from last year, the Habs have bottomed out as one of the worst teams in the league from day one of the season.

The highs have been short and the lows have been long, but it sounds like current general manager Marc Bergevin will get an opportunity to improve his underwhelming roster. As owner and team president Geoff Molson reiterated at a team foundation event on Friday morning, Bergevin isn’t going anywhere.

“It has not been a satisfactory season so far,” Molson told PHT on Friday morning. “Marc and I both know that, the whole organization knows that. And I think if you asked every player, every coach and every person that’s involved, they’d all say the same thing. We have to get better. Marc knows that and I tell him that. He acknowledges that and he agrees with it, of course.

“There’s no question that I think Marc is very capable of accomplishing that, but he and I both know that this season’s been unsatisfactory.”

Don’t be mistaken, Molson also said the team will make adjustments to the way they operate before the start of next season. Someone is going to take the fall for this disaster, but it won’t be Bergevin.

When asked if the Canadiens have to make the playoffs next season, Molson hesitated before saying that he wasn’t sure how he wanted to express himself regarding next season. Those are things he wants to answer closer to next fall, but he also added that it’s important for the team to always do everything they can to be competitive every year.

Like most teams, the Habs will be in the mix for John Tavares if he becomes a free agent on July 1st. Whether or not they rebuild or retool might depend on if they can land Tavares, which has be considered a serious long shot at this point. But if he does decide to join former Team Canada teammates Carey Price and Shea Weber in Montreal, the Canadiens would once again be seen as legitimate playoff hopefuls.

“Do we need a franchise player? Probably,” said Molson, without ever mentioning the Islanders forward’s name. “And that’s something I see as an opportunity for us.”

Who knows what the plan is if they can’t land Tavares in free agency. All we really know for sure, is that the owner expects everyone to be better heading into next season. Molson isn’t putting the blame on any one particular person, but he acknowledged several times that the way this season unfolded was not acceptable.

“I’m not really going to point any fingers,” said Molson.

“So you can look at players, you can look at coaching, you can look at scouting, you can look at player development, you can look at the general manager, you could look everywhere and say there are areas to improve, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

It’ll be interesting to see just how long it takes for those improvements to turn into on-ice success for a that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in 25 years.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Avalanche top line isn’t just about MacKinnon

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With 85 points in just 62 games played, Nathan MacKinnon isn’t just blowing away any other season he’s enjoyed in the NHL, he’s scoring at a pace that parallels some of Joe Sakic’s best moments in Colorado.

Despite missing time with an injury, MacKinnon ranks fourth with those 85 points, and his 1.37 points-per-game average is better than those of top scorers Nikita Kucherov and Evgeni Malkin. It was also clear that the Avalanche struggled with MacKinnon sidelined from Jan. 30 until Feb. 18.

Whether you go shallow or deeper, there are a lot of ways to talk up MacKinnon’s Hart credentials.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

While you can’t ignore that MacKinnon is the speedy, clever catalyst of that wrecking crew of a top line, the other key figures deserve some love, too. So consider this an opportunity to shine the spotlight on Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and fantastic Finn Mikko Rantanen.

Strong support

Much like MacKinnon only being 22, the youthfulness of this line is the first thing that stands out.

Landeskog has been around the block already, so it might be surprising to realize that the sturdy Swede is only 25. He made an immediate impact in the NHL, going from being the second pick of the 2011 NHL Draft to winning the Calder Trophy in 2011-12. Amusingly enough, Landeskog collected exactly the same goals (22) and points (52) during that rookie campaign as he has so far in 2017-18, although in this case he’s gotten there in 66 instead of 82 games.

Rantanen, 21, is quickly developing into one of the better young scorers in the NHL.

After failing to score a point during a nine-game audition back in 2015-16, Rantanen emerged as one of the lone bright spots for the Avalanche last season, scoring 20 goals and 38 points in 75 games, averaging more than 18 minutes of ice time per night.

This season, Rantanen’s made another quantum leap. He already has 25 goals and 74 points in 69 contests. Rantanen was especially impressive during last night’s 4-1 win against the Blues, scoring two goals and two assists.

That game also provided a moment that illustrated that they’re dangerous in their own right, as Landeskog sent a tremendous stretch pass to Rantanen, who finished the play with a great backhand goal.

While we’re at it, MacKinnon’s brilliance and an injury absence also pushes Tyson Barrie‘s explosive output under the radar. Consider how big of a gap there is between Barrie, the Avalanche’s top line, and Colorado’s other scorers:

MacKinnon: 85 points, 35 goals
Rantanen: 74 points, 25 goals
Landeskog: 52 points, 22 goals
Barrie: 48 points, 10 goals in 56 games

Alexander Kerfoot: 36 points, 15 goals
Carl Soderberg: 33 points, 15 goals

MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog are the only Colorado players with 20+ goals so far in 2017-18. Despite being limited to 56 games, Barrie is tied for 10th place among NHL defensemen in scoring with 48 points. His .86 point-per-game pace is the best among all NHL defensemen who’ve played in at least 20 games.

Now, it’s totally valid to point out that MacKinnon is still the driving force; this post is by no means a way of refuting his MVP argument. Both Landeskog and Rantanen saw their scoring rates slow down with MacKinnon on the shelf for a couple weeks, for example. Instead, the point is that MacKinnon is the leader of a truly impressive trio, with Rantanen in particular standing out as a fantastic “Robin” to his “Batman.”

Contract concern

Actually, the Avalanche may want to find out how Rantanen might operate without MacKinnon, even if they wait until 2018-19 to do so. So far, Rantanen’s been tethered to MacKinnon. According to Natural Stat Trick, only about 96 minutes of MacKinnon’s even-strength ice time has come without Rantanen. The two joined forces for most of 2017-18, too.

The Avs are fighting for playoff positioning, so it would be foolish to gamble on this current chemistry by breaking up lines right now.

But, in 2018-19, it might be wise to see how Rantanen can produce without MacKinnon. The Avalanche already have Landeskog ($5.57 million cap hit through 2020-21) and MacKinnon (ridiculous bargain of $6.3M through 2022-23) locked up to long-term deals, yet Rantanen’s rookie deal runs out after 2018-19.

The risk is that, by chaining him with MacKinnon, Rantanen’s value might be inflated. You could see such a scenario play out with the Oilers, as Leon Draisaitl was able to ramp up his stats during his contract year riding shotgun with Connor McDavid.

Finding two forwards with high-level chemistry is fantastic, yet in a salary cap league, sometimes you want to spread the wealth. If Rantanen ends up costing a lot of money, the Avalanche would be wise to gauge how much offense he could produce as the driving force of his own line.

Again, you can file this under “good problems to have” but it’s something GM Joe Sakic, head coach Jared Bednar, and other Avalanche front office members should at least consider.


To reiterate, MacKinnon is “the guy” for the Avs. As he goes, so does Colorado.

Even so, Rantanen and Landeskog deserve a cut of the credit, too, as they’re enjoying fantastic seasons in their own right. This trio could very well make the Avalanche an upset threat in the playoffs as well.

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