Parise: ‘I never took a shot’ at Bylsma following Olympic disappointment

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American players were critical of their last two efforts in Sochi (see: Ryan Suter and Jonathan Quick), so it wasn’t surprising to see head coach Dan Bylsma come under fire in the days following a 5-0 loss to Finland in the bronze medal game.

One player who insists he wasn’t criticizing Bylsma, though, is team captain Zach Parise.

“I never took a shot at Dan, and I never would,” Parise said in an email to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I was asked about how we played in a particular game, and I said we were passive as a team, not playing a passive system. We seemed slow as a group that particular game (against Finland).”

Parise was emailed to share thoughts on Bylsma in response to pointed remarks after the Finland game. Parise said the Americans were “passive” and noted “we had one forechecker at times, and let [the Finns] break out of their zone.”

Here’s more, from the Trib’s Rob Rossi:

Members of Team USA management initially were concerned that players — specifically Parise, a face of USA Hockey — appeared to publicly poke at Bylsma in the wake of the disappointing Olympics finish. However, conversations between management and players Sunday cleared the air.

Also on Sunday, several Penguins players expressed disbelief and disappointment that Bylsma was taking heat for the Team USA’s failure to medal after a 4-0 Olympics start. Bylsma also came under public fire last June after the Penguins were swept from the Eastern Conference final by Boston and only scored two goals in that series — though, ownership quickly authorized a two-year extension and raise for Bylsma, who was named coach of Team USA a few weeks later.

Parise said he supported Bylsma during a discussion Sunday with Ray Shero, the Penguins general manager who was Team USA’s assistant for the Olympics. In their conversation, Parise offered details of what impressed him about Bylsma during the short Olympic tournament.

“He always asked for the opinion of the players on different things,” Parise said in the email. “And on the ice he let us play and demanded us to work. He was always detailed in his approach and his meetings. We were more than prepared from a scouting standpoint for each game.”

Parise finished the Olympics with just one point — the fourth goal in a 5-2 quarterfinal win over the Czechs — and posted a minus-1 rating over six games.

Watch the first episode of ‘The P.K. Project,’ an NBC Sports Digital series

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THE P.K. PROJECT is a multi-episode NBC Sports Digital series chronicling the life of the three-time NHL All-Star and Nashville Predators defenseman P.K. Subban. New episodes drop every Wednesday on NBCSports.com, the NBC Sports app and NBC Sports YouTube page.

From a guided tour of Subban’s current hometown of Nashville, to jamming with country music star Lee Brice, THE P.K. PROJECT takes viewers behind the scenes and inside the non-stop life of one of the NHL’s most popular and fashion-forward athletes.

In the premiere episode of the exclusive digital-only series, the serial entrepreneur and philanthropist journeys to Toronto as the Predators visit the Toronto Maple Leafs. Subban spends time with his parents and sisters, gets some home cooking at his parents’ house, and then the entire family gathers at the game.

In the coming episodes, THE P.K. PROJECT examines some of Nashville’s culinary hotspots and signature dishes, like biscuits, banana pudding, and Nashville hot chicken, features a music session with Brice, a two-time Grammy Song of the Year nominee, goes all-access with Subban as the Predators take on the reigning Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals, and more.

In conjunction with Glassman Media and PeeK Productions, NBC Sports will produce a special one-hour late night talk show, “P.K. Subban’s All-Star Special,”  hosted by the Predators defenseman that will air Friday, Jan. 25 on NBCSN at 11:30 p.m. ET, immediately following the conclusion of the 2019 NHL All-Star Skills. The special will feature several vignettes, as Subban interviews some of the brightest NHL stars and entertainers, amidst a backdrop of fans in the heart of downtown San Jose, Calif.

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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.

Tavares on ’emotional roller coaster’ decision to sign with Leafs

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Things can change over time, especially when it comes to star players, but as of Wednesday, it sure feels like John Tavares‘ return home to the Toronto Maple Leafs – and, thus, his decision to leave the New York Islanders – is working about as well at it could for everyone involved.

From an individual standpoint, Tavares is thriving in Toronto. He’s already scored 30 goals in his debut season with the Buds, and it isn’t even February yet.

The Maple Leafs are already faring quite well. While they’re way behind the Lightning – which, frankly, everyone else is – they’ve looked like a dynamic team. They’ve done so even with Auston Matthews and Frederik Andersen missing time with injuries, and the protracted contract negotiations involving William Nylander. There are reasons to dream of big and better things, even if Tavares’ bedsheets are no longer adorned with Maple Leafs logos.

(As far as we know?)

Refreshingly, things have been splendid for the Islanders under Barry Trotz. Tuesday ended a five-game winning streak, and they’ve been red-hot in general lately. They’re still on top of the Metropolitan Division, an outcome even the organization likely didn’t expect if you shot Lou Lamoriello with truth serum.

So, with the Maple Leafs hosting the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, it’s a great time for Tavares to look back at that decision, as he did in an interview with NBCSN’s Ed Olczyk. Enjoy that clip above, if for nothing else than to soak in the excited atmosphere in Toronto, and get another look at Tavares’ sweet childhood setup, which mixed Maple Leafs and “Star Wars” in a splendid way.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

Gord Miller (play-by-play), Brian Boucher (analyst) and Ray Ferraro (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call.

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.

Something in the water: Oilers’ issues go beyond Chiarelli

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The Edmonton Oilers have been sending a lot of mixed signals before and after the firing of Peter Chiarelli, but it’s difficult not to make this read from Bob Nicholson’s press conference on Wednesday: “We still don’t get it. We still don’t know what we’re doing.”

Of course, that’s not what Nicholson said while addressing the media.

No quick fix

On one hand, it’s promising that Nicholson emphasized that the team doesn’t want to make the type of panic moves that many (PHT included) feared that Chiarelli might make at the trade deadline with his job on the line.

“We’re not going to trade away any of our assets for a quick fix,” Nicholson said. “We’ll make some trades at the deadline, if they’re the right trades to get us in the playoffs, but not giving away the future.”

Hey, that’s good. Nicholson later stated that he wants prospects to be developed until they’re “over-ripe.” There are pitfalls to waiting too long to develop young players, yet when you realize how many times Edmonton’s bungled rookie contracts and otherwise struggled to bring talent along, the slow-and-steady approach sure beats one step forward, two steps back.

But, again, there’s this tug-of-war between acknowledging reality, while also emphasizing that this front office sees things differently than many others in the hockey world.

While high-end organizations tend to weather storms and stick with plans, the Oilers often feel all over the place. After all, Nicholson himself indicated that the Oilers would allow Chiarelli to sink or swim based on whether or not Edmonton made the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Then he reversed course and fired Chiarelli soon after stating his preferences.

While Nicholson doesn’t seem to have his finger on the pulse of the actual problem, it’s at least a small victory that he recognizes that something’s wrong.

” … There’s something in the water here that’s not right,” Nicholson said. “And we got to get that figured out …”

Yet, moments later, Nicholson railed on about finding “chemistry” and “character” in the locker room, not exactly taking a much more scientific approach than Chiarelli, who hammered the old-school hockey term “heavy” 23 times during his introductory news conference.

Look, it’s great to have strong chemistry and hearty, gregarious folks in your locker room, but it would have been far more promising if Nicholson lamented, say, the lack of skill around Connor McDavid and a select few other useful players.

Don’t ask the old boys’ club about the old boys’ club

Then again, how much can anyone cope when exact problems are placed under a magnifying glass?

Nicholson bristled at the (very reasonable) criticisms of the Oilers organization being an “old boys’ club,” one that’s still dominated by relics from their past glories in the ’80s. While Nicholson said that such talk is “not true at all,” the bottom line is that Keith and Wayne Gretzky are both prominent in the organization – with Keith serving as interim GM – and maybe most troublingly, Kevin Lowe remains a high-ranking figure. Lowe’s titles have changed over the years since becoming GM in 2000, but either way, it doesn’t exactly send a message of front office accountability when failed executives merely seem to be shuffled off to different positions.

It says a lot that Craig MacTavish remains with the Oilers, while they also employ Scott Howson, who didn’t exactly set the world on fire as Blue Jackets GM.

Chiarelli’s history shows that he’s had a terrible knack for trading away high-end talent for dubious returns, with mistakes stretching back to giving up the likes of Tyler Seguin and Blake Wheeler during his Bruins days. So Chiarelli wasn’t just a scapegoat; he made some big, forehead-slapping blunders. The punchlines were justified over the years.

Yet he’s not the only problem in Edmonton, and what evidence is there that this team is really learning from its mistakes? Do they even think they’re making any mistakes?

On one hand, it was nice that Nicholson said:

  • This isn’t a rebuild. (Oilers fans can’t be expected to endure another stitled reboot.)
  • That there are some good elements to this team. That’s not untrue.

But it would have been nice if Nicholson mixed in:

  • That the Oilers fundamentally failed to embrace both Connor McDavid and the larger trends in the NHL by emphasizing speed and skill. It was frustrating not to hear much of that, but a lot about the “real good” elements of the team and front office. (Warning: do not take a shot every time Nicholson says “real good.” If you do, you will not feel real good.)
  • At this point, it would be refreshing for the Oilers to explicitly state a greater interest in analytics, rather than merely saying that this isn’t an old boys’ club, and that they’ll listen to other voices. Maybe there’s a soft subtext there, but in desperate times, sometime you want people like Nicholson to flat-out state “we’re going to get fancy with our stats.”

Nicholson’s press conference wasn’t all doom and gloom, but only a few comments inspire confidence that this organization is learning from its mistakes. After all, things were messy long before Chiarelli became GM, and there’s an unsightly mess to clean up now that he’s gone.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: yes, people are running with that “something’s in the water” line.

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.

Golden Knights favorites hosting Predators on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Disparate divisional trends and a strong bounce-back pattern seem to be riding with the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights are the -130 home favorite on the NHL odds with the Nashville Predators coming back at +105, while there is a 6.0-goal total for their matchup on Wednesday at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The second-year Golden Knights, who are 9-4 in their last 13 regular-season home games against the Central Division, will be looking to avoid their first back-to-back home defeats to teams from the other half of the Western Conference after losing 4-2 against the Minnesota Wild on Monday. The Predators are 0-5 in their last five road games against Pacific Division teams, but prior to that had won six in row dating to January 2018.

The Predators are 29-18-4 this season, including a 13-9-4 road record, but are just 2-4 over their last six games according to the OddsShark NHL Database with one of the victories being a 4-1 win on Monday against the Colorado Avalanche, whom they have long dominated.

Only two goals have been scored in the first periods of the last four Predators-Golden Knights contests, so it is not out of the realm that Nashville’s top scoring threats such as center Ryan Johansen and right wing Viktor Arvidsson will have to be patient to wait for opportunities. Another challenge for Nashville is that its power play, converting at a 13.3 percent clip, is 29th in the 31-team NHL whereas the Golden Knights’ penalty kill is fifth (83.8 per cent).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

The Predators are among the NHL teams moving toward a true two-goalie system. Pekka Rinne handled their most recent game but has had a below-par month, going 3-3-1 with a 3.33 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. Juuse Saros is 3-2 with a 1.58 average and .947 save percentage.

The Golden Knights are also 29-18-4, but are 16-5-3 at T-Mobile Arena. While Vegas has been in win-one, lose-one mode with a 3-3 record across its last six games, some positive signs are that they haven’t dropped two in a row, or allowed more than four goals in any of the losses.

The Golden Knights, whose leading scorers are right wing Alex Tuch and left wing Jonathan Marchessault, roll four lines with speed and often create an edge in offensive zone pressure and shot attempts. Whether that lends itself to scoring a lot of goals can depend on the quality and the form of the opposing goalie. The Golden Knights will have an 18th-ranked power play (18.5 percent) facing Nashville’s 16th-ranked penalty kill (79.9 percent).

Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is 5-3 with a 2.28 goals-against average and .913 save percentage in eight games so far in January.

The total has gone OVER in eight of Nashville’s last 10 road games at sports betting sites. The total has gone UNDER in four of Vegas’ last seven games as a home favorite.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Kenny Albert (play-by-play), Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. Nev.