Acquisition of Ryan Johansen has paid off in a big way for Preds

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The Predators stunned the NHL not once, but twice in 2016 by trading away a top defenseman. Ryan Johansen is the big center landed with Nashville’s first big trade, a move almost forgotten in all the wake of the deal that brought P.K. Subban to Music City.

With Nashville waiting for either Anaheim and Edmonton in the Western Conference finals, the deal for Johansen is looking like one of general manager David Poile’s more masterful swaps.

“Well, it was a big addition at the time,” coach Peter Laviolette said Tuesday of adding Johansen. “Pieces like that are hard to come by. He was young. He’s 6-foot-3. He’s big. He’s skilled. He’s talented. From an organizational standpoint the depth of what we needed, it made a lot of sense.”

The Predators hoped Johansen could be the top line center the franchise has been searching for since its inaugural season back in 1998-99. Poile sent young defenseman Seth Jones, who had been paired with captain Shea Weber, to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Johansen on Jan. 6.

Looking back now, it’s a move overshadowed by Poile’s other trade last June when he shocked the league by trading Weber to Montreal for fellow defenseman Subban.

But Johansen immediately moved onto the top line where he helped the Predators reach the playoffs last spring. They beat Anaheim in seven games only to lose to San Jose in seven in the second round.

Now 24, Johansen tied with linemate Viktor Arvidsson with 61 points in his first full regular season in Nashville, and he also handed out a team-high 47 assists. Only 10 players in the NHL had more this season.

“I think Ryan’s had an excellent year and just the growth for me in him as a person and as a leader as somebody who wants to be that guy, to make a difference and make sure a team moves in the right direction, it’s been noticeable this year that he’s really trying to take ownership,” Laviolette said.

Predators forward Colin Wilson called the trade another great move considering Nashville needed a big No. 1 center and got it in Johansen.

“He’s been great for us,” Wilson said. “In a game that’s gotten big and fast, it’s nice to have him there, and he’s been producing well for us and that line in general wasn’t here three, four years ago. So to have him and constantly be producing has certainly helped.”

Johansen outplayed Chicago captain Jonathan Toews as Nashville swept the Blackhawks in the first round. In one moment as they fought for the puck, the 218-pound Johansen stiff-armed Toews to the ice to grab possession.

“He’s obviously really a really big guy,” linemate Filip Forsberg said of Johansen. “And he can move well too, and I think just one of those guys that can do it all.”

Johansen also outplayed St. Louis center Paul Stastny in the second round and now is winning 55.7 percent of his faceoffs.

Johansen ranks ninth this postseason with seven assists behind Evgeni Malkin, Leon Draisaitl, Erik Karlsson, Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, T.J. Oshie and Ryan Getzlaf. He only has two goals through 10 games, but he scored the biggest yet Sunday with a backhander to finish off a 2-on-1 early in the third period for the game-winner as Nashville eliminated St. Louis in six games.

That was exactly what Nashville hoped for in trading for Johansen, who called scoring that goal a “good feeling.”

“But coming in here, I just believed in myself, and I’m going to continue believing in myself that I can get it done,” Johansen said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do to keep playing at my best.”

There is one area where Johansen might need a little help. He celebrated that goal with a big fist pump. Asked if Johansen was imitating the coach’s celebration of a big goal earlier in the St. Louis series, Laviolette said he wasn’t sure.

“It wasn’t very good if it was,” Laviolette said.

 

Canucks’ Horvat out a week with upper-body injury

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The Canucks will resume their preseason schedule on Thursday, although it appears right now that Bo Horvat will likely not be in the lineup.

Just prior to puck drop against the L.A. Kings on Saturday, the Canucks announced that Horvat is expected to be out a week with an upper-body injury.

Per Dan Murphy of Sportsnet, the injury occurred on a hit from Drew Doughty during the first game of the two-game exhibition series between the Canucks and Kings in China.

The good news for the Canucks is that their regular season schedule begins on Oct. 7, which would give Horvat two weeks to get fully healthy and ready for the opener against Connor McDavid and the Oilers.

The 22-year-old Horvat enjoyed a 20-goal, 52-point season in 2016-17, emerging as the team’s leading scorer and one of the few bright spots during another disappointing season for the Canucks. As a result, he signed a six-year, $33 million contract extension earlier this month.

Related: Horvat believes he is ‘just scratching the surface’

Report: NHL has already made adjustment on slashing, faceoff calls

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The NHL preseason began with the league trying to crackdown on slashing and faceoff violations.

The early results were a lot of confusion, a ton of penalties, and a lot of griping from players, former referees and media about the confusion and the number of penalties.

Former NHL referee Paul Stewart griped on Twitter that it was taking away from the officials ability to call a game by feel and hockey sense. The Winnipeg Jets brought in retired referee Paul Devorski to work with their players in an effort to help them gain an understanding of what the league was looking for and to cut down on penalties.

It was obvious that something was going to have to give.

Either the players would have to adjust to the new standard implemented by the league, or the league would make its own adjustment and scale things back a bit.

In most matters like this in the NHL, it usually tends to be the latter.

That also seems to be the case here as Sportsnet’s John Shannon Tweeted on Saturday morning that the league has already sent a note to its officials to “dial it back” a bit when it comes slashing and faceoff violation calls.

Well, that was fast.

The enforcement of the faceoff rule seemed like a minor thing that really wasn’t going to make much of a difference, but the emphasis on slashing is one that needs to be kept (and extended to interference, holding, hooking or any other sort of obstruction), especially given the way some of the league’s star players are defended where slashing down on their hands or stick seems to be the preferred way of playing them. Not only from a player safety standpoint to help reduce injuries (getting hit with a stick can break bones … or fingers) but because the drop in power plays over the past decade (the “let them play” mindset) has been one of the many factors in the continued decline in goal scoring across the league.

If the NHL is serious about changing this stuff the onus needs to be on the players to adjust, not the officials. Set the standard. Call it consistently. The players will figure out what they can and can not do.

Anything less than that basically just amounts to the league saying, “hey guys, we would really like you to cut down on the slashes” and hoping that the players listen. But as long as they can get away with it, they will not listen.

Capitals’ Tom Wilson has a discipline hearing today for interference

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The NHL’s department of player safety announced on Saturday morning that it has scheduled a disciplinary hearing with Washington Capitals forward Tom Wilson as a result of his late hit on St. Louis Blues forward Robert Thomas on Friday night.

It will be the first hearing for the department under the direction of its new leader, George Parros.

This particular incident happened early in the third period of the Blues’ 4-0 win on Friday night.

Here is a look at the entire sequence, including the fight that Wilson found himself in with Dmitri Jaskin in response to the hit.

It is clear that Wilson delivered his hit long after Thomas was in possession of the puck.

Even though Wilson always seems to be getting attention for some of his hits and physical play he has never been suspended in his career. His only punishment from the league has been in the form of two fines — one for diving/embellishment, and another for kneeing Pittsburgh Penguins forward Conor Sheary during the 2015-16 playoffs.

The fact that he has a hearing for his hit would seem to indicate a suspension might be on the horizon. The only question is whether or not it will just end his preseason (the Capitals still have four more games) or if it will carry over into the regular season.

Antti Niemi had to make a save with his bare hand

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Antti Niemi made 31 saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night, and 30 of them were pretty standard.

The one that wasn’t came in the third period when he lost his glove during a scramble around the net and still managed to instinctively make a save on the puck. With his bare hand.

Niemi said after the game, via the Tribune Review, that he thought the referees would stop the play after his glove came off, and when they didn’t “I just kept playing.”

You can watch the play by clicking here.

Probably not the type of thing you want to see happening because that looks like a great way to break a bone (or the entire hand) and get sidelined for extended period of time. Niemi said the officials told him there will no longer be an automatic whistle for goalies losing a glove or a blocker, but that one will remain for when they lose their helmet.

The Penguins signed Niemi to a one-year contract this summer as a replacement for Marc-Andre Fleury after they lost him in the expansion draft to the Vegas Golden Knights. Niemi is looking to rebound from a tough year in Dallas. He will serve as Matt Murray‘s backup for the season.