Three reasons why Nashville’s in a tailspin

11 Comments

On Feb. 17, Nashville whipped San Jose 5-1 to move to 39-12-6, the best record in the league. With 84 points, the Preds had a comfortable lead atop the NHL and Central Division standings.

How times have changed.

Since that win, Nashville has gone 4-9-2 and lost its hold on both. Last night’s 3-2 OT loss to Minnesota gave a startling example of how much the Preds have struggled; on Jan. 13, Minnesota trailed Nashville by 21 (yes, twenty-one) points in the standings.

With last night’s win, the Wild had trimmed it to nine.

“It’s frustrating for everybody,” head coach Peter Laviolette told the Tennessean. “At the end of the night, you’ve got to win games.”

“We’re not playing the right way to close out games right now,” added veteran forward Matt Cullen. “And we’ve got 10 games to figure it out.”

So, what’s wrong with the Preds? Three things to consider…

1. Neal, Ribeiro and Forsberg have gone cold.

Ice cold, in fact. After combining to form one of the NHL’s top lines through the first few months, James Neal, Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg have been split up, put back together, split up again… and now Neal’s out, having missed the last three games with an upper-body ailment.

Even before the Neal injury, though, there were signs of trouble. Neal had just one goal in his last 11 games, Forsberg only has five points in his last 16 and Ribeiro has just three points in his last 11. Yes, the Preds are one of the league’s most well-balanced scoring teams — eight guys have 13 goals or more — but it’s clear that a good portion of the team’s success relies on the production of the “Big Three.”

2. They’re no longer dominating at home.

For most of this season, Bridgestone Arena has been an extremely difficult place for opponents. En route to racing out to the aforementioned 39-12-6 start, the Preds went a remarkable 25-3-1 at home — securing 51 of a possible 58 points — and their three regulation losses came against very good opponents in Anaheim, Chicago and Pittsburgh.

Lately, though, things have turned.

Tuesday’s loss to the Wild was Nashville’s fifth straight at home, its longest skid of the season. Over that stretch, the Preds have allowed 18 goals — 3.6 per game, well above their season average of 2.8 — and defenseman Roman Josi suggested part of the problem is Nashville’s failure to play a full 60 minute game.

“The last periods just have to be better,” Josi said, per the team website. “We have to go after the goal and not take a step back. We have to find a way to win these games. It is all about winning in this league.

“You don’t get points just for playing well. We have to bear down and get two points.”

3. They’ve become the hunted.

A 75/1 longshot to win the Stanley Cup at the beginning of the season, the Preds were, for quite some time, the NHL’s biggest surprise story… but surprises wear off. Around the same time they raced to the top of the NHL standings, the Preds began to be a target for other teams, like Central Division rival Chicago.

Back in mid-February, ‘Hawks d-man Brent Seabrook made mention of the fact his team was targeting Nashville, and how “difficult” it was to make up ground.

“They seem to be winning every game,” Seabrook explained.

“It’s going to be tough,” Kris Versteeg added, when asked about catching the Preds. “They’re rolling.”

Both the ‘Hawks and the Blues have managed to erase Nashville’s once-commanding lead in the Central. Heading into Wednesday night’s action, St. Louis, who trailed by nine points on Feb. 26, is now one point up with two games in hand; Chicago, meanwhile, trails by just four with three in hand.

The Buzzer: Stars Wars Storm Surge; Bob beats Blue Jackets

Getty Images
1 Comment

Three Stars

1. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes

Heading into Saturday, Aho only scored in one goal (a goal and an assist) in his past five contests. He made up for that dry spell in a big way against the Wild, generating a hat trick plus two assists.

His third goal was an empty-netter, but Aho’s first tally ended up being the game-winner. Aho was really clicking with Teuvo Teravainen, who finished the night with three assists.

Aho now has 27 points through his first 30 games in 2019-20.

2. Alex Killorn, Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning made life miserable for the Sharks on Saturday, feasting by way of a 7-1 score.

Killorn was a big part of that, generating a goal and three assists for four points. Killorn now has three goals and three assists for six points during a three-game streak, giving Killorn 22 points in 25 games in 2019-20.

As effective as Killorn has been over the years, his career-high is 47 points. Chances are, he’s going to slow down (example a 15.7 shooting percentage so far this season, against a 10.5 career average), but if reasonably healthy, Killorn should blow that previous number out of the water.

There were other Lightning players who played really well, as you’d expect from a blowout. Steven Stamkos ranked among those who collected three points, while Andrei Vasilevskiy made 37 saves to exaggerate the distance between the two teams.

3. Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh Penguins

Really, you can take your pick between Malkin and Jake Guentzel, as they both enjoyed one-goal, two-assist nights on Saturday, and they both clearly play off each other quite well. As much as Guentzel has been conjoined to Sidney Crosby during his young (and underappreciated) career, it seems like he can click with Malkin, too. Obviously, it’s not difficult to transition from one “NHL 100” player to another who should have made the “NHL 100,” yet … we’ve seen wingers who cannot find chemistry with one or more of Malkin and Crosby. So credit to Guentzel for being deadly with both, and likely making life a little easier for each of them.

Malkin now has a fantastic 26 points in just 19 games, and may very well have his biggest year in a while if he can stay healthy — an uncomfortably familiar phrase for the Penguins for quite some time. (Heck, even spanning back to Mario Lemieux.)

Guentzel now has 31 points in 30 games, and a solid chance to exceed last season’s excellent career-high of 76 points.

Highlight of the Night

Uh, you think the Kings were expecting Johnny Gaudreau to pass when he did? (Don’t lie.) This is just a tremendous combination of speed, skill, and vision as he set up Sean Monahan:

Star Wars Storm Surge

Yay or nay on the Star Wars-themed Storm Surge from the Hurricanes? I’d say solid enough, although it lacked a Bunch of Baby Yoda so … maybe not ideal.

Factoids

  • The Blue Jackets spoiled Sergei Bobrovsky‘s shutout bid a bit more than halfway through the third period. Still, Bob had a strong night with 33 saves. Hot take: Columbus is still probably relieved to not be spending to the tune of Bob’s $10M AAV, considering how infrequently Bob has looked this good.
  • NHL PR notes that the Avalanche extended a point streak to 14 games, while they also gave the Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season.
  • Brady Tkachuk received a fine from the Department of Player Safety for cross-checking Scott Laughton. More on that wild game here.
  • A bit esoteric, but interesting, from NHL PR: Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid are the fifth pair to generate at least 300 points each in 320 games or fewer. They’re the first pairing to pull that off since Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin.

Scores

PHI 4 – OTT 3
VAN 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
COL 4 – BOS 1
PIT 5 – DET 3
TBL 7 – SJS 1
FLA 4 – CBJ 1
CAR 6 – MIN 2
TOR 5 – STL 2
NSH 6 – NJD 4
DAL 3 – NYI 1
CGY 4 – LAK 3

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.

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

Getty Images
2 Comments

It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

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.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

9 Comments

The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

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.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

1 Comment

If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

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.