Nick Bonino

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Brent Burns and Ryan Johansen are still searching for their first goals

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Over the past two seasons Brent Burns held a commanding lead over every other defenseman in the league when it came to scoring goals.

His 56 goals during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons were 19 more than the next closest defenseman, Shea Weber, during that stretch.

The gap between him and Weber was as large as the gap between Weber and the No. 25 defenseman, John Carlson of the Washington Capitals. He has been such a dominant player offensively that he was also the seventh-leading scorer in the league regardless of position. He has produced goals and points like an elite forward and doing so as a defenseman. Other than Erik Karlsson there is not another defenseman in the league that is capable of that.

His dominance the past couple of seasons is what makes it so shocking that nearly a quarter of the way through the season he has yet to find the back of the net for the San Jose Sharks despite putting 65 shots on goal. Only eight players in the league have more shots on goal. He finished in the top-two in each of the past two seasons.

Given the standard Burns has set for himself over the past few years, as well as the fact he is still averaging more than four shots on goal per game (an absurd number for a defenseman) this drought to open the season seems to be nothing more than a cold streak due to some poor shooting luck. Burns is typically around a seven to eight percent shooter, which should have him at about five goals at this point given the number of shots on goal. In each of the past three seasons he had at least five goals at this point in the season.

Given the shot volume and his willingness to keep putting pucks on the net, as well as the fact he still has a 54 percent Corsi rating, it seems quite likely that he is probably on the verge of an offensive breakout.

Burns is not the only top player in the league still searching for his first goal at this point.

Down in Nashville, where the Predators are starting to get on a roll with wins in five consecutive games, top-line center Ryan Johansen is heading into game 18 this season without a goal.

Johansen’s goal drought is a little different than Burns’ at this point.

While Burns seems to be more about some percentage driven bad luck, Johansen simply is not giving himself many opportunities to score goals.

As of Wednesday Johansen has registered just 23 shots on goal in his first 17 games. Among forwards that have played at least 300 minutes of hockey this season only one (Valtteri Filppula) has recorded fewer shots on goal than Johansen.

Part of the lack of shots is the fact he has spent a large portion of the season playing alongside Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, two of the Predators’ best goal scorers and most willing shooters, resulting in Johansen taking on more of a playmaking role.

But he could also probably stand to be a little more selfish in some situations as he himself admitted this week to Adam Vingan of the Tennessean.

“Sometimes shooting the puck creates more opportunities for the guys on my wing and creating more opportunities to score goals,” said Johansen, who has 22 goals since being traded to Nashville nearly two years ago. “I think sometimes, especially at the start of this year, I’ve been a little too passive.

“I need to find ways to bring pucks to the net more often, which will lead to more opportunities for my wingers and more rebounds and chances and things like that.”

Overall his line is playing really well. They dominate possession, the other two guys are scoring goals, and the Predators as a team are starting to find success. After the addition of Kyle Turris and the return of Nick Bonino to the lineup they now have one of the best center trios in the Western Conference.

Still, with Johansen carrying around an $8 million per year price tag the Predators would probably like to see a little more goal production — and pucks at the net — from Johansen.

It is not like he doesn’t possess natural goal scoring ability, either. This is a guy that score 33 goals in the NHL as a 21-year-old then followed it up in his age 22 season with 26 more. When he was doing that he was averaging more more than 2.6 shots on goal per game. He is now barely averaging more than one shot per game. He can be that sort of goal scorer again, but not until he starts taking a few more shots when the opportunities present themselves.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Capitals can’t slow powerhouse Predators

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The Nashville Predators beat the Washington Capitals by a score of 6-3 on Tuesday, and it wasn’t a matter of luck.

Actually, you might argue that the Capitals were lucky … at least for a little while. Nashville stormed out of the gate in the first period, managing a hearty 18-3 shots advantage. Braden Holtby kept things reasonable in keeping Nashville’s lead to 2-0 through the opening frame, but eventually the Predators’ attack was just too much.

Washington made things interesting during a second period that was wild at times, with the two teams combining for five goals in about five minutes. They combined for seven goals overall in the middle frame. It was a good time for everyone but the goalies and coaches (and some of the defensemen):

Ultimately, the second period and game ended with the same 6-3 score, leaving Holtby & Co. bewildered. They also forced Holtby to the Capitals’ bench. Under most circumstances, it was a team-wide struggle, but goals like these probably left Holtby muttering expletives to himself:

Aside from some defensive lapses, this is the sort of night that Predators GM David Poile probably dreamt about when trying to hash out the three-team trade that eventually netted them Kyle Turris. Turris (one assist) ranked among 12th different Predators with at least one point. His presence sure seems like a benefit for Craig Smith (goal) and Kevin Fiala (goal, assist), while Nick Bonino found the net in his return to the lineup.

After a bumpy start to the season, the Predators are looking like the team that many expected to translate a strong playoff run to better results overall in 2017-18. This rise in optimism also predates Turris’ first two games in, as Nashville’s winning streak is now at five games.

They’ve snagged wins against some legitimate competition, too. They beat the Ducks, Kings, and Blue Jackets on the road, got some revenge against Pittsburgh at home during Turris’ Saturday debut, and then left the Capitals shaking their heads in Nashville tonight.

And this team doesn’t even have Ryan Ellis back in the lineup yet.

Perhaps the Predators’ powerful work might make Holtby feel a little better. Coming into tonight, he was on a six-game winning streak, allowing a meager 11 goals during that run. Luckily for Holtby and the Capitals, they don’t have to deal with Nashville again until April 5.

Who knows how scary this Predators team will look by then?

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

Good and bad injury news heading into Capitals – Predators

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After seeing Kyle Turrissuccessful debut during Saturday’s shootout win against the Penguins, the Predators likely daydreamed about how their center situation would look with Turris and Nick Bonino in the mix. They got their wish, but maybe weren’t specific enough.

The good news is that Bonino was activated off of IR. The bad news is that two players went on IR today, and both are expected to miss significant time: Scott Hartnell and Yannick Weber.

Hartnell’s absence complicates things, possibly prompting a different mix than what we might expect once the Predators get close to 100 percent (or if they do, some teams just don’t have that luck … ask the Boston Bruins).

Hartnell is expected to miss three-to-five weeks, while Weber is out two-to-four.

Both players seemingly got hurt during Saturday’s victory against the Pens.

If this is when Weber got hurt, then the Predators might be lucky that he’s only expected to miss a month, tops:

The indication is that Hartnell got hurt this way:

Not great, but maybe both situations could have been worse?

So far, Hartnell’s return to Nashville has been solid, if unspectacular. The 35-year-old remains feisty, and generated seven points in 16 games, production that goes from OK to very much welcome when you consider his bargain $1M price tag.

This Fansided post by George Matarangas outlines some options to replace Hartnell. Personally, Colton Sissons and Pontus Aberg stand out as the two best possibilities to move up.

The Predators continue to use Weber, 29, sparingly; one would assume that his loss will be felt, but might not sting too badly. For the second straight season, Weber is averaging a bit more than 11 minutes of ice time per night.

A huge addition for the Capitals

The biggest injury note for Tuesday’s Predators – Capitals game (which airs on NBCSN tonight) is actually from Washington’s side: it looks like Matt Niskanen is set to return from an upper-body injury.

There’s been a lot of hand-wringing in Washington, at times, as the team adjusts following a summer of difficult losses. One thing that got lost in the shuffle is that the team’s been insanely lucky with injuries during Presidents’ Trophy runs, while they lost a key guy like Niskanen for quite some time.

In his absence, quite a bit of the burden’s fallen on John Carlson.

While the plan appears to be to ease Niskanen in, we’ll see if the Capitals can fight the temptation to rely on the versatile defenseman sooner rather than later. Either way, this is a significant boost for the Caps, as Niskanen is often underrated when people discuss some of the league’s better blueliners.

Both the Preds and the Washington Capitals figure to get some key pieces back tonight as they face off on NBCSN, even if some pieces are missing.

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

The Penguins have some major depth issues that need to be addressed

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Nearly one quarter of the way through the 2017-18 season and the Pittsburgh Penguins are probably not exactly where they want to be at this point.

Entering play on Tuesday, when they will host the Buffalo Sabres, they are 17th in the NHL in points percentage, they have the third-worst goal differential (minus-18, ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres and Arizona Coyotes) after losing games by margins of 10-7, 7-1 and 7-1, and are only a middle of the pack team in terms of their shot attempt and possession numbers. Their goals against numbers overall are ugly (largely due to the three blowout losses), but they are also only 25th in the league in goals per game.

None of that is great.

There are a lot of factors here.

The early season schedule to this point has been brutal, having already played six sets of back-to-back games (often against rested teams — including some of the best teams in the league). For a team that has played 214 games the past two seasons that is a tough way to open the season. Their backup goaltending situation early in the season was a disaster with Antti Niemi giving up goals in bunches.

It is not wrong to think that a better backup goaltending situation to start the year could have maybe produced an extra win, or that once the schedule calms down a little they will start to get back on track a little.

There is another issue at work here too that is going to need to be addressed in a meaningful way: The bottom of the roster, which was decimated by free agency and the salary cap over the summer, is giving them almost no offense to speak of. Or anything, really.

This brings back a problem that plagued the Penguins between the 2010 and 2015 seasons when they were getting bounced early in the playoffs despite having a group of All-Stars at the top of the roster.

Over the past two years general manager Jim Rutherford did a ton of work to build that depth back up and it resulted in back-to-back Stanley Cups.

This past summer a lot of that depth walked out the door in free agency with Nick Bonino (Nashville Predators), Matt Cullen (Minnesota Wild), Chris Kunitz (Tampa Bay Lightning), and Trevor Daley (Detroit Red Wings) all moving on. That also does not include the exit of Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft, a pretty significant departure given how bad Niemi turned out to be.

That is a lot of depth to replace in one offseason, and to this point the Penguins have struggled to do it.

Instead of Bonino and Cullen at the third and fourth center spots they opened the season with Greg McKegg and Carter Rowney (currently injured), then traded for Riley Sheahan, a player that has not scored a goal in 97 of his past 98 games.

Ryan Reaves, brought in to add toughness, is playing just seven minutes per night and has replaced Kunitz.

Looking at it from a numbers perspective it is not hard to see how much of a drop this is has been for the offense.

Let’s break their forwards and their production down into two groups of six: The top-six in terms of ice-time and the bottom-six in terms of ice-time.

During the 2016-17 season the Penguins forwards that were 7-12 in ice-time averaged .445 points per game as a group.

So far this year? The 7-12 group is at just .201. A player that averages .201 points per game over 82 games scores just 16 points in a season. A .445 player scores 36.

That is a pretty substantial drop. To be fair we are also comparing a 19-game sampling with a full season. A lot can happen over the next few months. The table below breaks down the past two full seasons, as well as this one, to show where the Penguins were after 19 games and where they ended up.

In each of the past two seasons both groups were slow starters relative to where they ended up at the end of the season. But it wasn’t just a matter of players getting better or seeing their production in crease. In both instances there were pretty significant changes made to the roster.

In 2015-16 pretty much everything about the team changed after the first quarter of the season, from the head coach (Mike Johnston to Mike Sullivan) to almost half of the roster (Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, Justin Schultz all being called up or added to the roster during the season).

In 2016-17 it was the call-up of Jake Guentzel that ended up making a huge difference (as well as the return of a lot of injured player).

The point here is if the Penguins are going to have any chance of another repeat run they are going to need to make similar changes at some point before the trade deadline.

In their two years as the Penguins’ third-and fourth-line centers Bonino and Cullen each averaged 15 goals and between 30-40 points.

Right now McKegg and Sheahan are on a four-goal and 11-point pace … combined.

The Penguins didn’t go from postseason disappointments to Stanley Cup champions the past two years because players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin got better or became better leaders or became more clutch. They were the same as they have always been (great). They became Stanley Cup champions again because players like Crosby and Malkin were still great, and they had a great supporting cast of players around them.

This is not to suggest the Penguins would necessarily be in a better situation with Bonino and Cullen and Kunitz at this point. Cullen is 41 years old and has one goal so far in Minnesota. At some point he will slow down. Bonino has played in just five games for the Predators due to injury and the Penguins never could have matched that contract offer under the salary cap. (Keeping Kunitz instead of adding Reaves probably would have been smart).

Their production from the past two seasons still existed and was a big part of the Penguins success. That is production they are not getting and are unlikely to get from the current cast of players in those roles as replacements.

There are some areas where improvement can come from. Sidney Crosby is going to play better. Kris Letang can (and probably will) play better. Prospect Daniel Sprong is off to a great start in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and could be on the Guentzel path to the NHL at some point later in the season.

The third-and fourth-line center spots, however, have become offensive black holes and with Reaves only playing seven minutes a night (sometimes significantly less) they are pretty much playing with an 11-man forward group.

All of those areas need to be addressed if another postseason run is going to happen this season.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Turris on Ottawa contract talks: ‘very apparent things weren’t going to work out’

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The negotiations were “healthy,” as Ottawa Senators general manager Pierre Dorion described, but while the team and the camp of Kyle Turris agreed on dollars, the term was a sticking point in trying to agree on an extension.

Turris was seeking the maximum term possible in eight years, but Dorion wasn’t too keen on investing in the player for that long.

“When it came to the contract negotiation, we just felt that there wasn’t going to be a lot of movement from 7-8 years,” Dorion said Monday morning. “Six years was never put on the table. At the same time, we’re OK with that.”

Turris confirmed during a conference call that six years wasn’t discussed at all by either side. “It was very apparent that things weren’t going to work out in Ottawa,” he said.

Six years, $36 million was what Turris ended up signing for after the three-way trade with the Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators was completed on Sunday. When Predators GM David Poile was asked about any hesitance inking a 28-year-old to a long deal like that, he said they felt comfortable with the length.

[Breaking down blockbuster Matt Duchene, Kyle Turris trade]

Turris only had a few hours to process and agree to a contract with the Predators, so after talking it over with his wife they agreed that Nashville would be a good fit.

“We’ve heard so many great things about the city, the people there, the neighborhoods, the school systems and obviously, the franchise is in such a great place,” he said.

The biggest deal of the young NHL season wouldn’t have been consummated, however, if Turris didn’t sign that extension. Poile said he started talking with Turris’s agent after the three teams agreed to the trade, and that the whole thing wouldn’t have gone through unless he had the center’s signature on a contract.

Turris, who likely won’t debut with his new team until the weekend, was in the final months of a five-year deal he signed with the Senators in 2012. Poile said that after the dust settled during free agency over the summer and he saw how the 2018 unrestricted free agent center market was shaping up, that’s when Turris jumped onto their radar.

This move strengthens the Predators down the middle adding Turris to a group that features Ryan Johansen, Nick Bonino, Colton Sissons and Calle Jarnkrok. Depending on how head coach Peter Laviolette sets it up, Bonino could move to a top-six wing spot, according to Poile.

MORE: Turris trade shows Predators are going all-in for Stanley Cup

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.