Preds getting offense from the defense

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By taking care of matters in their end of the ice, the Nashville Predators’ defensive corps is earning the right to contribute to matters on the offensive end.

That was evident again on Sunday when the Predators bounced the St. Louis Blues, 3-1, in Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal at Bridgestone Arena to grab a 2-1 series lead. Ryan Ellis scored the first goal while fellow defenseman Roman Josi tallied the final marker.

P.K. Subban and Mattias Ekholm each registered assists, giving the blue-liners a combined seven goals and 14 assists in seven playoff games. Ellis has scored in six straight games and leads Nashville scorers in the postseason with eight points off three goals and five assists.

St. Louis is well aware that in Game 4 Tuesday night, it will have to do a better job of accounting for the Predators’ defensemen and their ability to produce points.

“We knew that was going to be a challenge walking into this series,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said, “and obviously that’s a part of our game we’re going to have to be better at.”

Read more: Preds proving preseason hype was warranted

Subban dominated Game 1 with three point blasts, leading to a goal and two assists in Nashville’s 4-3 win. Ellis produced a goal and a helper in Game 2, staking the Predators to a 2-1 lead before St. Louis rallied in the third period for a 3-2 decision.

Nashville’s skill on the backline came to the forefront throughout Sunday’s game. The Ellis-Josi pairing and the Ekholm-Subban duo combined for 20 shot attempts, with Josi firing eight times on net.

“If we get a chance as a D corps, there are a lot of guys who can skate and we try to join the rush and make something happen,” Josi said.

A talented top 4

The Blues need to keep things from happening. Better puck possession would be one way. The Predators won 39 of 63 faceoffs Sunday, the second time in the series they dominated St. Louis in the circle.

More discipline is a second avenue to success. After avoiding the penalty box in Game 2, aside from a coincidental minor in the third period, the Blues took a half-dozen minors on Sunday. Two occurred in the first 8 1/2 minutes of the second period when Nashville buzzed their zone at will.

“You’re giving them and their skill players the opportunity to field the puck and make plays,” St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo said. “They start to feel more confident. So I think that certainly makes a difference.”

If the Blues can earn more possession time and keep penalties to a minimum, they could return to the formula that enabled them to control long stretches of Game 1 and 2 when playing 5-on-5. Any deviation from that, particularly against an opponent playing at its best with a raucous crowd behind it, is going to create issues.

And chances are those issues are going to come from Nashville’s defensemen.

“The more you have the puck,” Subban summed up, “the less defense you play.”

After playing for Canada, journeyman Chris Lee reportedly leaving KHL for NHL

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His numbers in the KHL jump right off the page.

And he just won a silver medal with Canada at the Worlds.

So it’s no huge surprise to hear, via Aivis Kalniņš, that defenseman Chris Lee has left Magnitagorsk Metallurg to pursue a shot in the NHL.

Lee, who turns 37 in October, had 65 points (15G, 50A) in 60 games for Metallurg this season. He was partnered with Viktor Antipin, the 24-year-old who will reportedly join the Sabres next season. Predictably, there has been speculation that Lee could be on his way to Buffalo.

A late bloomer, Lee was never drafted and has never played an NHL game. He spent most of his North American pro career in the AHL, after getting his start in the ECHL following four years at SUNY-Potsdam. He left for Europe in 2010 and played in Germany and Sweden before arriving in the KHL.

Lee was the only non-NHLer on Canada’s roster at the Worlds.

“Lee fit,” coach Jon Cooper said, per Sportsnet. “You wouldn’t have thought he wasn’t an NHL player.”

‘Many teams’ interested in Leafs prospect Toninato, who could go UFA

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Here’s a name to keep an eye on as this summer progresses: Dominic Toninato.

Toninato, 23, was Toronto’s fifth-round pick way back in 2012. From there, he went the collegiate route and put together a strong four years at Minnesota-Duluth. His NCAA career culminated with a senior season in which he served as team captain, set a personal high in points and led the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four final.

Though his rights are currently owned by the Leafs, Toninato would become an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16 if he and the club don’t reach an agreement. You’d think, based on his body of work, Toninato would be a major priority for GM Lou Lamoriello, but it’s not that simple. Thanks to years of stockpiling draft picks, Toronto has a ton of prospects — but can only have 50 players under contract at the NHL level.

Adding to the complexity? There are other teams lined up to make Toninato an offer.

“Dom’s a good player. Will teams be interested? Yes. There will be many teams interested in him,” agent Neil Sheehy told the Star. “The process right now is working with the Leafs. They hold his rights till Aug. 16.

“They have a lot of things that they’re trying to figure out.”

Reading between the lines, it doesn’t sound especially promising in Toronto. The club offered Toninato a deal last summer, which he turned down to return to school. They could offer him an AHL contract — there’s no limit on those — but Sheehy said his client isn’t interested in that.

Sheehy said he hopes to have more clarity in late June, following the expansion and entry drafts.

 

 

Expansion draft will force Ducks to make some big decisions

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Bob Murray managed to keep the Anaheim Ducks together for a shot at the Stanley Cup.

But after losing to Nashville in the Western Conference Final, Anaheim’s general manager will now have to make some big decisions — especially with the expansion draft looming.

If the Ducks decide to protect seven forwards and three defensemen, the blue line will definitely be worth watching. Hampus Lindholm will be protected for sure, and Shea Theodore and Brandon Montour are each exempt. But that only leaves two spots for Sami Vatanen, Kevin Bieksa, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson.

Bieksa, 35, has a no-movement clause, so unless the Ducks find a way to get around that, they’ll need to protect him. (Chances are, they’ll seek a way around it, either via trade or buyout or just convincing him to waive.)

Fowler, meanwhile, only has one year left on his contract before he can become an unrestricted free agent. And after the season he just had, with 39 points in 80 games, the 25-year-old won’t be cheap to re-sign. For that reason, it’s possible Murray may choose to shop Fowler instead. Or perhaps it’s Vatanen that goes on the block.

Yes, there is the option to protect four defensemen and four forwards. But Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Ryan Kesler all have NMCs, and the Ducks won’t want to expose Rickard Rakell or Jakob Silfverberg.

In goal, the Ducks have John Gibson under club control for years to come, but they’ll need to choose a backup. Jonathan Bernier is an unrestricted free agent, and even though he played well during the regular season, his performance against the Predators wasn’t great. Murray may want to at least consider his options there.

Related: Fowler surprised he wasn’t traded

Carlyle says Ducks were dealt ‘tough hand’ by schedule-makers

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Call it sour grapes if you wish, but Randy Carlyle thinks the Anaheim Ducks got screwed by the NHL’s schedule-maker.

The head coach launched his complaint last night after his Ducks fell to the Nashville Predators in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final.

“I don’t think we played poorly in the series,” said Carlyle. “I think that the toughest part I have about the whole thing is that this was our seventh game in 13 days.

“Now, there’s various reasons for that, but I think there’s got to be some consideration in the scheduling in the future between series. We finished on a Wednesday and had to open again on Friday, whereas other teams had to open on Saturday. An extra day would have given us a chance to recover. And we know how tough these games are. And that was a tough hand that was dealt to us.”

The “other” team to which Carlyle was referring is Pittsburgh. The Penguins beat Washington in Game 7 of the second round on May 10, then opened against Ottawa on May 13.

The Ducks, on the other hand, knocked out Edmonton in Game 7, also on May 10, then had to start against Nashville on May 12.

Fatigue may, indeed, have been a factor early in the series against Nashville. In Game 1, the Ducks were badly outshot, 46-29, and lost, 3-2, in overtime.

Carlyle said afterwards that the extra rest had made a difference for the Preds, who’d eliminated the Blues in six and gone four days without a game.