Getty

Predators’ ‘dog-on-a-bone mentality’ has carried them during playoff run

1 Comment

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) The instant one of the Pittsburgh Penguins passes the puck to a teammate, one of the Nashville Predators closes in, taking away any time or space to operate.

The junkyard dog approach to hockey for the Stanley Cup Final debutants has a history: It is the Predators’ on-ice version of Stanley, the blue mutt with a bone clenched between his teeth. He’s the team mascot whose picture is stuck on the Predators’ locker-room door, now with two bandages commemorating playoff-ending injuries first to forward Kevin Fiala, then center Ryan Johansen. The dog, its name tag hanging from a spiked collar, bares his teeth in photos on three walls inside, too.

Stanley is the symbol of how coach Peter Laviolette wanted his Predators to play this season. They responded with an attacking, never-stop approach that has helped Nashville go from the last team into the NHL playoffs to one that is two wins from a championship. The Predators are tied 2-2 with the Penguins with Game 5 coming up Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

“We definitely know what our identity is,” defenseman P.K. Subban said. “It’s kind of the dog-on-a-bone mentality. And we want to dictate the pace of the game, and we want to attack you in all three zones as a five-man unit and be tough to play against. And I think everybody on our team can skate, move the puck and make plays.”

Read more: Predators forecheck giving Penguins d-men plenty of problems

Stanley is more than just a cartoon dog. The Predators also award the best player in each game a heavy chain as a reward, a hockey version of a game ball. The Predators in past years have given out a construction worker’s hard hat to recognize the best player in a game.

Defenseman Matt Irwin says Stanley shows exactly how the Predators want to play.

“If you think of Stanley and you look at him, his knees are bent, he’s in an athletic stance, his mouth’s drooling,” Irwin said. “It’s the intensity he brings, and that’s the kind of intensity we want to bring to our game every night.”

That’s exactly what Laviolette wanted when the Stanley concept was introduced months ago. Irwin said winning the big chain is a very cool honor, even though he’s won it only once this season.

“Obviously when you win the chain, it’s recognition from your teammates you contributed and you had a solid night,” Irwin said.

Photos of a menacing dog and a chain can only go so far, though. The Predators finished the regular season 16th in the NHL with 94 points. They knew they would be starting on the road in every series, and the Predators responded by winning the opener of their first three series.

Now they head to Pittsburgh needing to find a way to win in the home ice of the defending champions after dropping Games 1 and 2.

The Predators are 5-5 away from Nashville this postseason. They are getting production from everyone who hits the ice, with 19 different players scoring at least one goal – two shy of the NHL record of 21 held by the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers. They also have killed 24 of 25 penalties in the Stanley Cup Final.

In Game 1, Nashville became the first team to hold an opponent without a shot on goal in a period of a Final game since the NHL started tracking that statistic in 1957, and that drought lasted 37 minutes even though Pittsburgh pulled out a 5-3 win. In Game 3, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were held without a shot on goal in the same playoff game for the first time in their careers.

Mattias Ekholm said everything is designed to make opponents work hard and fellow defenseman Ryan Ellis noted that the hard work is required of the Predators, too.

“As much as it is about skill and speed and all that, it’s the work ethic, it’s the little things, and I think that’s kind of the idea behind that is doing the right thing and working as hard as we can,” Ellis said. “I mean working hard in a game trumps all no matter skill level or this or that.”

Agent: Schultz likes Pittsburgh, but wants to be ‘rewarded’

Getty
1 Comment

Justin Schultz took a significant pay cut to re-sign with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year.

He doesn’t begrudge the deal he signed, as the Penguins have been a big part of turning his career around.

One assumes winning a couple of Stanley Cups has been pretty fun, too.

That being said, the 26-year-old defenseman wants a raise.

“We took a one-year, discounted deal to come back from last year and build upon what he did,” Schultz’s agent, Wade Arnott, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The player took a lot of the risk. The player performed. Now the player should be rewarded.”

Schultz, a restricted free agent, had a career-high 51 points in 78 games last season. Those 51 points were the seventh most among NHL defensemen — just five fewer than this summer’s biggest UFA, Kevin Shattenkirk, managed.

Schultz then added 13 more points in the playoffs, as the Penguins managed to win it all without Kris Letang.

For the record, Schultz wants to stay in Pittsburgh. The question is whether the Pens can afford to keep him, or if they’d be better off selling high in a trade.

“We’ll probably have some more direction here this week with where we’re going with [a possible extension],” Arnott said. “But we’ve had some good discussions.”

After Stepan trade, Zibanejad negotiations become even more crucial

Getty
1 Comment

For a good while, the center position in New York was largely carried by the one-two punch of Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan.

Now, the Derick & Derek show is no longer.

Stepan was shipped out during draft weekend in a blockbuster deal with Arizona. Brassard exited a year earlier in a move to Ottawa that brought Mika Zibanejad to the Blueshirts.

Zibanejad, 24, was acquired by GM Jeff Gorton in the hopes of one day becoming New York’s No. 1 center. He certainly showed he was capable this season — despite missing nearly 30 games with a broken fibula, he put together a fine offensive regular season and then surged in the playoffs, finishing with nine points in 12 games.

And now, a big negotiation sits on the horizon.

Zibanejad is a restricted free agent coming off a two-year, $5.25 million deal with a $2.625M cap hit. As we wrote earlier, Gorton is “open to anything” with regards to the extension, saying he’d be willing to go either short- or long-term.

One has to think Zibanejad has a ton of leverage. His acquisition price (Brassard) was significant, Stepan is now gone, and so too is depth center Oscar Lindberg, who was acquired by Vegas at the expansion draft. Right now, New York’s center depth consists of Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes and maybe some spot duty from J.T. Miller.

Lias Andersson, taken seventh overall at Friday’s draft, said he wants to make the Rangers this year. But there’s no guarantee he’ll even play in North America this season, as Gorton could opt to send Andersson back to the Swedish League for further development.

The free agent market isn’t especially inspiring down the middle, unless someone thinks they can land Joe Thornton, and there’s no doubt Zibanejad’s seen the paydays scored by some other good, young, top-line centers. Winnipeg gave Mark Scheifele $49 million over eight years, while Calgary gave Sean Monahan $44M over seven.

Is Zibanejad at their level? If you surveyed folks around the league, the answer would be probably no. But he could be soon and, what’s more, the Rangers may be forced to pay him as if he already is.

Sabres bring back defenseman Fedun on two-year deal

Getty
Leave a comment

Taylor Fedun, the Sabres depth defenseman that was set to become a UFA on Saturday, has agreed to a two-year, two-way extension, Buffalo announced on Monday.

Fedun, 29, appeared in 27 games for the Sabres last year, splitting time between the NHL and the club’s AHL affiliate in Rochester. He was a very productive player for the Amerks, scoring 23 points in 29 games.

Moving forward, most expect Fedun to continue in the same role he served this year — a guy that can provide veteran stability at the minor league level, and fill spot duty at the NHL level when injuries strike.

Ottawa extends Pyatt — two years, $2.2 million

Getty
Leave a comment

Tom Pyatt, the veteran forward who enjoyed some success reuniting with Guy Boucher in Ottawa last season, has re-signed with the Sens on a two-year, $2.2 million deal, per TSN.

Pyatt was a steady contributor for the Sens, scoring nine goals and 23 points while appearing in all 82 contests. He averaged over 15 minutes per night and was a vital part of the club’s penalty kill, leading all forwards in blocked shots.

He also appeared in 14 playoff games, scoring twice.

Prior to playing in Ottawa, Pyatt had skated under Boucher in Tampa Bay. They spent parts of two years together with the Lightning, before heading off to Switzerland — Pyatt with Geneve Servette, Boucher with Bern SC.

Pyatt was set to become an unrestricted free agent on Saturday, but clearly liked the fit in Ottawa. He’ll get a pay bump — up from the $800,000 he made last year — a bit more long-term security, and possibly a bigger role with the Sens moving forward.

Ottawa has already stated it will cut ties with veteran tough guy Chris Neil, and decisions are still looming on UFA forwards Viktor Stalberg, Chris Kelly and Tommy Wingels.