Nashville leaning heavily on defense corps against Penguins

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Roman Josi downplays the production of the Nashville Predators’ defensemen as simply the product of their system.

“Our system allows defensemen to jump on the play and make something happen in the offensive zone, too,” Josi said. “And our forwards (are) doing a great job getting pucks to us, and yeah, tipping pucks, getting screens from that, and our job is just to get the puck through.”

Yes, the Nashville Predators lean on their defensemen not only to smother the NHL’s best attackers, but also to score in bunches. They combined for five points Saturday night to help Nashville pull within 2-1 of the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.

Game 4 is Monday night.

Josi leads the unit with 14 points, followed by defensive partner Ryan Ellis with 12 and P.K. Subban with 11. Mattias Ekholm had a goal and an assist Saturday night for 10 points, making Nashville the third team in NHL history with four defensemen to reach double-digits in the same postseason, along with the 1984 Edmonton Oilers and 1993 Los Angeles Kings.

On top of that, the Predators helped hold Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin without a shot on goal for the first time in their lengthy careers in the same playoff game.

“Amazing, amazing job,” Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne said. “I mean, they been doing that all playoffs long, so it’s obviously our backbone is our defense. And they do a tremendous job defensively and creating offense.”

When general manager David Poile started putting this expansion franchise together nearly 20 years ago, he focused on building from the goaltender out to the defense. Poile hired coach Peter Laviolette three years ago, and the coach brought in a system that allows everyone but the goalie to join the rush and try to score.

The Predators tied for the league lead with 181 points from their defensemen this season, and their 50 points this postseason tops the NHL with 14 goals and 36 assists. The Penguins’ defense corps has nine goals with 41 points in the playoffs.

Josi, who has six goals in these playoffs, had three points in the second period Saturday night with a goal and two assists. He became the first defenseman with three points in a period in a Stanley Cup Final game since Larry Murphy had three assists for Pittsburgh on May 23, 1991, against Minnesota.

“As you can see by the way we play, our defensemen have the green light to add to the rush or lead the rush, take charge offensively in the offensive zone,” Laviolette said Sunday. “That kind of takes the restriction off of just playing on the blue line in the offensive zone.”

The defensemen have helped Nashville outshoot Pittsburgh in each of the first three games. They’ve also stuck so closely to the Penguins that Pittsburgh went 37 minutes without a shot in Game 1. The Penguins also have managed just four shots on goal in 13 power plays in the series with just one goal with the man advantage.

“They just skate themselves out of trouble,” Crosby said. “They don’t spend a lot of time in their end. So I think the times we do get the puck … we’ve got to challenge them and force them to play defense.”

So far, Josi and Ellis have gone against Crosby often, with Subban and Ekholm hitting the ice against Malkin. Crosby has just three assists with no goal yet despite having 23 points this postseason. Malkin has two goals.

“This coaching staff has never been one to take our team out of the flow to try to chase matchups,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “We believe in the group we have. We know they can play against anybody. When they’re at their best, regardless of who their opponent is, they’re going to have their hands full.”

The Predators are 8-1 at home this postseason, while the Penguins are 13-2 in the playoffs coming off a loss under Sullivan. Goalie Matt Murray, who allowed five goals in the span of 15 shots, also has never lost when starting a game either after a Pittsburgh loss (9-0) or a playoff loss of his own (7-0).

Nashville will be leaning again on its defense corps to try to send this series back to Pittsburgh all tied up.

“All of our defensemen, if I’m being honest, even from a team concept defensively, it’s been pretty good in the playoffs to this point,” Laviolette said.

 

Canucks name new head coach of AHL affiliate

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The Vancouver Canucks have finally settled on a head coach for their AHL affiliate.

Today, Trent Cull was named new bench boss of the Utica Comets.

Cull replaces Travis Green, the new head coach of the Canucks.

“Trent is a passionate head coach with significant AHL experience,” Canucks GM Jim Benning said in a release. “He understands the development path of a young player, including the challenges they face, and has been a part of many successful organizations. Trent is a teacher with a positive, energetic work ethic. We’re excited to welcome him and his family to our organization.”

The past four seasons, Cull has been an assistant coach for AHL Syracuse. The Crunch made it all the way to the 2017 Calder Cup Final, where they lost to Grand Rapids.

Cull, 43, has never been a head coach in the AHL, though he did hold that role for three years with the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves from 2010-13.

It’s believed the Canucks’ first choice for the Utica job was Rocky Thompson. However, Thompson chose instead to become head coach of Vegas’ AHL affiliate in Chicago.

Construction worker dies after fall at Detroit arena

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DETROIT (AP) A worker has died after falling 75 feet at the Little Caesars Arena worksite north of downtown Detroit.

Deputy Detroit Fire Commissioner David Fornell says the 46-year-old man was in cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived about 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Other workers had started cardiopulmonary resuscitation which first responders continued. The man was taken to a Detroit hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Fornell says officials were told the man was an electrical worker and may have fallen from a catwalk. He says the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration likely will investigate.

The arena will be home to the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings and the NBA’s Pistons. It is scheduled to open this fall.

More on the story from the Detroit Free Press

Habs extend De La Rose — one year, $725,000

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Montreal secured some forward depth on Wednesday, agreeing to terms with Jacob De La Rose.

De La Rose, 22, was taken 34th overall at the 2013 draft and has appeared in 64 games for Montreal over the last three seasons. He had a nice debut for the club in ’14-15 — appearing in 33 regular-season contests, and 12 playoff games — but has since spent the majority of his time in AHL St. John’s.

That might not be the case moving forward, however.

De La Rose’s deal is worth $725,000 (per TSN) and, importantly, is of the one-way variety. There could be more opportunities at forward next season. Montreal has already said it’ll pass on bringing back UFAs Brian Flynn and Dwight King, and it’s unclear if the club will get a deal done with Alexander Radulov.

It’s also unclear what GM Marc Bergevin plans to do with Alex Galchenyuk, who’s been the subject of numerous trade rumors.

Even after bad season in Buffalo, Kulikov generating strong interest as UFA

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Dmitry Kulikov had a bad season in Buffalo. There’s no debating that.

Not only did the defenseman struggle statistically, finishing minus-26 with just two goals and three assists, he also had trouble staying healthy, appearing in just 47 games for the Sabres.

But despite all that, Kulikov seems to be generating plenty of interest as an unrestricted free agent. Presumably, the hope among his many suitors is that he can bounce back, so long as he’s put in a better situation.

Kulikov is still just 26. And before he was traded to Buffalo a year ago, he’d had a number of respectable seasons with the Florida Panthers.

It’s why the Sabres were so happy to get him.

“He’s a good player,” then-GM Tim Murray said last June, per NHL.com. “I like guys that are honest, I like guys that are hard to play against, I certainly like guys that can make a tape-to-tape pass, and with our forwards, I think if he can make a tape-to-tape pass, good things are going to happen in transition with the skill and speed we already have here, so he’s just a great fit.”

Of course, it wasn’t a great fit, and Murray is no longer the GM.

As for Kulikov, there’s “about a dozen” interested teams, according to his agent. Ottawa and Winnipeg are believed to be among them.