Kevin Fiala


Why Predators are so hot right now


Last night, the Nashville Predators beat the Winnipeg Jets 3-1, reaching 100 standings points in just 69 games.

(Yes, there were a lot of “nice” responses on Twitter.)

The reigning Western Conference finalists aren’t just having a strong season, they’re also playing their best hockey of 2017-18 right now. Yes, the Jets were tired and banged up last night, yet it was another instance of the Predators sending a message that they’re for real. A 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils on Saturday ended a 10-game winning streak, but at 11-0-1, they’ve now collected points in 12 consecutive games. They have a very real chance to win the Presidents’ Trophy, as the Tampa Bay Lightning are at 100 points but have played in one more game.

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

So, which players are really driving this success? Let’s start with the obvious.

Pekka Rinne, Vezina frontrunner?

A week ago, it was noted on PHT that Rinne and other goalies were gaining on Andrei Vasilevskiy in the race for the 2018 Vezina. It’s possible that Rinne has emerged as the new leader as of today, and not solely because of Vasilevskiy seemingly hitting a wall of fatigue.

As of this writing, Pekka Rinne sports an absurd record (38-9-4) with a fabulous .929 save percentage. His backup Juuse Saros is no slouch, either, making it quite likely that Nashville’s goalies will collect the William Jennings Trophy this season, too.

Rinne’s frequently received criticism from the fancy stats community, but this season? He’s been unassailable so far:

The season’s far from over, so Vasilevskiy could regain his lead in this race. Either way, Rinne is the top reason why the Predators are running away with the Central Division crown, the first spot in the West, and possibly the Presidents’ Trophy as well.

The return

Before his 2017-18 debut on Jan. 2, a popular refrain was “Imagine how good the Predators will be when Ryan Ellis is back?”

It felt like a dangerous assumption, however, to believe that Ellis would just bounce back from knee surgery. Plenty of athletes require a year or more to recover from certain procedures, and some are never the same.

As it turns out, the Predators have indeed taken off since the underrated defenseman returned to the lineup, as Ellis has been outstanding. The 27-year-old has generated 23 points in 31 games, and he’s been especially impressive lately. Since Feb. 14, Ellis scored 15 points in 14 games, tying Taylor Hall, Matt Duchene, Anze Kopitar, Artemi Panarin, and Mark Stone during that span

Plenty of options

Ellis is a rising part of such a deep attack that Peter Laviolette is already resting players for the upcoming playoff run.

The 2017-18 season is proving that Viktor Arvidsson is a legitimate top-line forward, as he’s justified the rave reviews the Predators received for locking him down to a long-term, bargain contract that carries just a $4.25 million cap hit. Arvidsson has 16 points during the same month span that Ellis has been on fire for, and he’s on track for another 30+ goal season with 26 goals (not to mention 26 assists).

P.K. Subban is the Predators’ strongest Norris candidate with a brilliant all-around campaign that includes 15 goals and 50 points, but Roman Josi has been as explosive as ever, contributing 46 points in just 62 games.

[Earlier this season, P.K. was an even stronger Norris candidate]

Kyle Turris‘ numbers have dipped a bit since a hot start after being traded to Nashville, yet he’s been a catalyst for two Predators wingers for much of his time there, helping Kevin Fiala (22 goals) and Craig Smith (21) join Arvidsson as 20-goal scorers. Filip Forsberg‘s experienced an up-and-down season, yet he’s not that far behind them with 18 goals.

That’s the thing. The Predators boast the depth that allows for the team to navigate hurdles more comfortably than much of the league. At this current robust level, they’re simply overwhelming opponents.


This is all the masterwork of David Poile, who now boasts the most regular-season wins of any GM. In a way, this renaissance truly stretches back to the hiring of underrated head coach Peter Laviolette, who owns the distinction of bringing three different NHL teams to the Stanley Cup Final after last year’s memorable run.

It remains to be seen if Laviolette can help Poile win his first Stanley Cup, but if that happens, there’s a solid chance that they’ll get it done by one heck of a “committee.”

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

How will Mike Fisher fit back in with Predators?

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If you’re a fan of the Nashville Predators, you’ve probably been wondering if Mike Fisher can return from retirement and still be as effective as he was last season. Maybe you wonder if he’ll take minutes from a younger player with more to offer at this point, whether it be Colton Sissons, Austin Watson, Calle Jarnkrok now or Eeli Tolvanen later.

One cannot help but wonder if Peter Laviolette will tire of being asked if Fisher is in or out of the lineup once the playoffs kick into gear.

Friday won’t answer those questions, although we’ll at least get a look at Fisher as he makes his 2017-18 debut for the Predators, who close out a back-to-back set. They rallied from down two goals to beat the Edmonton Oilers 4-2 last night, and they turn around to face the Vancouver Canucks tonight.

Really, back-to-backs rank as no-brainer situations for Fisher. Going further, maybe you rest the veteran one night, then give someone a break by lining him up the other?

There’s also the unfortunately real possibility that injuries could always silence the debate, whether it be Fisher getting hurt or the attrition of the postseason limiting Laviolette’s options. Still, at the moment, it’s not that easy to decide who to bump from the lineup for the veteran forward. Especially if he must be at center in any situation.

[Predators bolster center depth with Fisher signing]

We haven’t gotten word about Fisher’s linemates just yet, but take a look at Nashville’s previous alignments, via Left Wing Lock:

Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenRyan Hartman
Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Scott HartnellNick Bonino — Calle Jarnkrok
Austin Watson — Colton Sissons — Viktor Arvidsson

That’s already a pretty deep lineup, with Jarnkrok, Watson, and Sissons coming to mind as possible scratches. Scott Hartnell could probably sit for a night or two, depending upon different alignments.

Even so, Hartman’s addition already caused some shockwaves. Even if Arvidsson isn’t long for the fourth line – or maybe you consider that Nashville’s third line – it’s jarring to see him outside of the top six. This also serves as another reminder that this Predators team has seen a lot of changes during these trade-happy years for GM David Poile.

For what it’s worth, the team and Fisher are saying the right things. Let’s note Laviolette’s comments, because his opening sentence (via the team website) is “very hockey.”

“Mike is another horse in the stable in there,” Laviolette said. “He brings character and leadership, and I think everybody knows the way he plays. This wasn’t a move out of desperation where we needed this, our team was moving along, but we also know Mike’s strengths and we know what he’s able to do on the ice. We know the person he is, and though conversations, it evolved to this point where it’s getting closer Mike plays … I think everybody’s excited about that and we’re happy to have him.”

Now, when you hear people praise Fisher, it’s easy to get bogged down in vague talk about “leadership” and “intangibles.”

Sometimes such language feels like a smokescreen for a limited player who brings little more to the table than grit. Maybe that’s what Fisher will be at 37 (turning 38 on June 5), but it’s worth mentioning that he really did end things on a solid note in 2016-17.

Fisher scored 18 goals and 42 points in 72 regular-season games. His 54.9 faceoff winning percentage might get excessive praise in some quarters, yet that’s actually a decent plus considering Nashville’s merely giving him $1 million prorated and devoting a roster spot to him (rather than having to spend assets on a veteran in a trade). His possession stats were acceptable, too, especially considering heavy defensive usage.

Things went sideways during the playoffs, when Fisher failed to score a goal and generated four assists in 20 postseason games despite logging 17:17 minutes per night. Then again, with forwards like Ryan Johansen and Kevin Fiala eventually injured, the Preds didn’t possess the same depth that they do now.

Situations like those might be the key, then. If Fisher flounders in important moments – which, again, would be quite understandable – will Laviolette be able to sit the veteran down for a game or more, even after the team asked him to come back? Considering the wealth of talent on hand even if Tolvanen doesn’t come to the team after his KHL season ends, that could provide quite the conflict.

That said, it’s not that difficult to imagine Fisher pushing an already-impressive Predators team over the top by providing them with jaw-dropping depth and useful minutes on the PK.

It should be an interesting dynamic to witness, starting with tonight’s game against the Canucks.

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

Rinne, Predators hand Blues their sixth straight loss in 4-0 win


The thought of the St. Louis Blues missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs a couple months ago would have been brushed fiercely, and with good reason.

Even with a packed infirmary, the Blues managed to hang with the big boys atop the Central Division, a testament to their depth. Everything was pretty much status quo, what we’ve come to expect from the Blues as a perennial playoff team with lots of talent.

And then the wheels fell off.

The Blues lost their sixth straight game on Sunday, a 4-0 defeat to a Nashville Predators team that they previously shared a table with in the NHL’s toughest division.

Now, the Blues are now fighting for a playoff spot. They sit a point behind the Anaheim Ducks for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference and two points back of the Minnesota Wild for third in the Central Division.

The Blues are now 0-5-1 in their past six and have scored two goals or fewer in seven of their past 10 games, including being shutout twice. The once-reliable scoring well has dried up. St. Louis was shutout 4-0 on Friday night against Winnipeg in an embarrassing effort. Sunday’s wasn’t much different.

Nashville, meanwhile, continues to cruise and regained sole possession of top spot in the Central Division, two points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets with a game in hand.

The win also put the Predators a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights for tops in the Western Conference and two points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning at the summit in the NHL.

Along with Sissons’ goal, Kevin Fiala notched his 20th to five the Preds a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.

Everything went right for the Preds, even when they were shorthanded.

Watson’s shorty made it 4-0 after Scott Hartnell gave Nashville a 3-0 lead 1:20 into the second period.

That nice orange-red circle in front of Jake Allen is pretty telling.

Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, was solid in the crease for the Predators, picking up his sixth shutout of the season and 49th of career in a 27-save performance.

The Predators, who have now won four straight, get their stiffest challenge yet against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. On the line is first place in the division, a spot both teams will likely duke out for heading down the home stretch.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues vs. Nashville Predators

Getty Images



St. Louis Blues


Ivan BarbashevPaul StastnyVladimir Tarasenko

Jaden SchwartzBrayden SchennVladimir Sobotka

Alexander SteenPatrik BerglundNikita Soshnikov

Scottie UpshallKyle BrodziakDmitrij Jaskin


Carl GunnarssonAlex Pietrangelo

Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko

Vince DunnJordan Schmaltz

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

Nashville Predators


Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson

Kevin FialaKyle TurrisCraig Smith

Scott HartnellNick BoninoCalle Jarnkrok

Miikka SalomakiColton SissonsAustin Watson


Roman JosiRyan Ellis

Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban

Alexei EmelinYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

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

The Buzzer: Connor McDavid drops four on the Lightning

Associated Press

Players of the Night:

Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers: Oilers haven’t had much to smile about this season. Lacklustre play, lacklustre results and a season likely devoid of the playoffs. But on Monday, they got a chance to flash a grin. McDavid went into McJesus mode and dropped four goals and five points on the Tampa Bay Lightning. McDavid now has 21 goals and 40 assists on the season. Smile, Edmonton, even if only for a while.

Kevin Fiala, Nashville Predators: Fiala must like New York. It seems New York likes him. Fiala scored twice on Monday against the Islanders, two days after he put up a brace against the Rangers on Saturday. Fiala is now up to 17 goals on the season, six more than he had in his rookie season last year. And there’s lots of time left to keep advancing that number.

Auston Matthews and William Nylander, Toronto Maple Leafs: Both scored twice, both added an assist and the Maple Leafs won a shootout 7-4 against the Anaheim Ducks.

* Honourable mention goes to Corey Perry, who recorded an assist on each of Anaheim’s four goals in the game.

Highlights of the Night:


Dan Hamuis getting his due on Monday night:


If you think McDavid’s hat-trick goal was filthy, check out this one:

Factoids of the Night:



Maple Leafs 7, Ducks 4

Predators 5, Islanders 4 (OT)

Stars 2, Rangers 1

Oilers 6, Lightning 2

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