Mike Fisher on Predators return: ‘This could be our year’

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Why is Mike Fisher (eventually) coming back to the Nashville Predators and the NHL? Well, for a lot of the reasons you’d probably expect.

Fisher, Predators GM David Poile, and head coach Peter Laviolette addressed the media about Fisher’s surprise return from retirement on Wednesday, giving some big-picture answers to some of the questions surrounding his comeback.

Why?

Poile joked that he saw photos of Fisher hunting, so he thought Fisher was “relatively happy” in retirement.

Fisher certainly didn’t paint a sad picture of retirement, noting that it was “weird” to watch Predators games as a fan. Still, around Christmas time, the absence really started to sting. He’d been having discussions with Laviolette, current Preds captain Roman Josi, and others here and there about a comeback.

“It always kind of bugged me when guys came back from retirement,” Fisher said.

” … I’m all in, I’m excited. I know it’s going to be a special year.”

Fisher explained that, even without winning the Stanley Cup during last year’s exciting run, that it was the best time of his 17-year NHL career, and he believes “this could be our year.”

(He’s already aligning with the Predators from a pronoun standpoint. That’s a good sign.)

Fisher has the support of his wife Carrie Underwood, if not the three-year-old he’s been chasing around the house in retirement, and it’s clear that the Predators wanted him back. So what’s next?

How might Fisher figure in, change Predators’ plans?

When asked about the trade deadline – which serves as something of a soft deadline for actually signing Fisher – Predators GM David Poile said that he likes where his team is, but “never say never.”

You wonder if Fisher’s return might open the door for the Predators to involve another player in a bolder move?

As it stands, Nashville already had plenty of options down the middle; from top guys Ryan Johansen and Kyle Turris, to supporting centers like Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons, with even players like Calle Jarnkrok having some experience at center.

Last season, Fisher seemingly ended his career on a high note, almost doubling his 2015-16 points total (42 to 23, with 18 of those 42 points being goals). It’s not really the points that the Predators are after, and all the leadership/character/intangibles talk isn’t the full story, either.

Fisher’s versatility could be useful, assuming he can return to game form.

In 2016-17, he won 54.9 percent of his faceoffs, and he’s won at least 52 percent of his draws since 2013-14. As you can see from Hockey Reference’s metrics, Fisher saw an increasing defensive role during his latter days with the Preds, starting just 39.6 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone last season.

Fisher stated that he’s eager to complement this team in whatever way works, and his recent play argues that point.

It will be interesting to see where he’d figure in, most likely in the bottom two lines. According to Left Wing Lock, this is what the Predators’ bottom six looks like right now:

Kevin Fiala — Bonino — Jarnkrok

Miikka Salomaki — Sissons – Austin Watson

With Filip Forsberg out, Pontus Aberg is currently occupying his spot on the top line, so Aberg would serve as another useful option. If everyone’s healthy, it could make for quite the jousting for lineup spots.

Via Natural Stat Trick’s teammate listings, Fisher’s most common forward linemates last season were Craig Smith, Colin Wilson, and Austin Watson. Perhaps Fisher would once again line up with Watson and also with Sissons, giving the Predators two faceoff options on that line? That wouldn’t be the worst scenario, considering how tweaked faceoff rules means that pivots get kicked out of the dot somewhat often.

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Again, it’s pretty easy to understand why Fisher is coming back. If you saw the wild, fun scene in “Smashville” – even on TV – you’d probably get why that pull is so strong.

Management notes that there is no specific timetable for his return, which might explain some of the vagueness about where he’ll fall in the lineup.

Those questions are tough to answer, yet it’s better to have too much of a good thing rather than not enough. When you note that the Predators came into this season with questions about center depth, the additions of Turris and return of Fisher now make an already formidable team that much more balanced.

It’s fair to say that Laviolette will have a balancing act on his hands if his team is reasonably healthy, though.

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.

Canadiens-Penguins stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBC’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Canadiens and Penguins. Coverage begins at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Canadiens-Penguins Game 4 stream at 4 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Jeff Petry scored from a sharp angle by banking it off Matt Murray’s helmet early in the third period, which proved to be the game-winner once again in this series for the Habs. Petry became the seventh defenseman in NHL history – and fourth in the modern era (since 1943-44) – to score two game-winning goals through his team’s first three contests in a postseason.

The Penguins have now lost eight of their last nine playoff games dating back to the 2018 Second Round.

Tristan Jarry will replace Matt Murray in goal for Game 4.

Although the Habs netminder allowed more than two goals for the first time this series, Carey Price had another solid performance in net, turning aside 30 of 33 shots faced. When the Habs tied the game in the second and then took the lead in the third, Price elevated his game to help preserve the win.

Through three games this series, Price has a .937 SV% and a 2.19 GAA.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Friday, August 7, 4 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: Gord Miller, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Canadiens-Penguins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens (MTL leads 2-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens 3, Penguins 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Penguins 3, Canadiens 1 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Canadiens 4, Penguins 3 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins* if necessary

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Barzal, Beauvillier help Islanders eliminate Panthers

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The Panthers had no answers for Anthony Beauvillier and Mathew Barzal in Game 4. The Islanders duo combined for three of their five goals during a 5-1 series-clinching win.

The 23-year-old Beauvillier put Florida on their heels midway through the first period with a pair of goals 3:38 apart. He surprised Sergei Bobrovsky on his first goal, whipping a backhand from just below the circle towards the unsuspecting netminder.

“Mistakes is mistakes,” Bobrovsky said. “It’s a game of mistakes.”

Beauvillier, who finished the series with three goals and five points, doubled the lead minutes later when he connected with a fantastic saucer pass from Barzal.

“I just think right now that Beau is enjoying playing good hockey and he’s getting rewarded for it with production,” said Islanders head coach Barry Trotz. “He is skating on the puck, he’s working, he’s just focused on his job in that moment.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Panthers would get one back late in the first, but Brock Nelson answered midway through the second. Not long after the Islanders reinstated their two-goal lead, Aleksander Barkov had a great chance to cut the lead to one, but Ryan Pulock had other ideas.

“You look back on it, it should’ve been a goal 10 times out of 10,” Barkov said afterward.

Semyon Varlamov bounced back from a Game 3 defeat to stop 24 out of 25 shots faced.

New York has won a postseason series for a second straight year, and it’s only their third series victory since 1992-93. Who they will play in the First Round next week is still up in the air, but it will be one of Tampa, Philadelphia, Washington, or Boston.

The loss extends the Panthers’ postseason woes. Florida has not won a playoff series since their 1995-96 run to the Stanley Cup Final. It’s the longest active drought in the NHL.

(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers (NYI win series 3-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Islanders 2, Panthers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Islanders 4, Panthers 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Panthers 3, Islanders 2 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders 5, Panthers 1

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

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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.

Not just Price is right: Canadiens have Penguins on brink

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It seemed like any hope the Montreal Canadiens had of beating the Pittsburgh Penguins rested on the shoulders of goaltender Carey Price.

Price has shouldered a big load in net, but he’s not the only reason the high-powered Penguins are on the brink of elimination, down 2-1 in the best-of-five qualifying round series. Montreal has held star Russian center Evgeni Malkin to zero even-strength points with one power-play assist through three games and can knock out Pittsburgh with one more victory in Game 4 Friday (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN; livestream).

“Pricey’s been really solid: He’s making some key saves for us,” center Phillip Danault said. “But yeah, he’s not alone in this and it’s important for him to know. We show some character, we go toe to toe. We embrace the challenge.”

The Eastern Conference’s 12th (and lowest) seed has shut down the NHL’s best team that didn’t get the luxury of a bye into the traditional first round of the playoffs. Beyond Price’s 104 saves on 111 shots to match the lofty expectations for his game, the Canadiens have held the Penguins to three power-play goals in 15 chances and bottled up an opponent that won the Stanley Cup twice in the previous four seasons.

Two-time playoff MVP Sidney Crosby has scored twice and added an assist, though Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust are also tied with him for the most points on the Penguins with three. The team defense in front of Price has been suffocating and explains why the Canadiens are a win away from advancing.

“We’re definitely aware when Malkin’s on the ice or Crosby’s on the ice and we try and limit their chances and take their space away as quick as possible,” Montreal defenseman Ben Chiarot said. “But they’re world-class players and they’re going to get their opportunities, and that’s when Carey steps in and does what he’s been doing for us. It’s five of us out there working together, playing defense and we’re just trying to keep it as tight as possible when those guys are on the ice.”

Coyotes-Predators stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

Coyotes-Predators stream
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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Friday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Coyotes and Predators. Live look-in coverage begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Coyotes-Predators Game 4 stream at 2:30 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After winning Game 1 by scoring four goals, Arizona did the same in Game 3, coming away with a 4-1 victory on to take back the series lead. Darcy Kuemper made 39 saves in Game 3; he made 40 saves in their Game 1 win.

The Coyotes wore their retro Kachina jerseys Wednesday and will continue to wear them in all “home” games (including today) throughout the playoffs.

A win in Game 4 will give the Coyotes their first series win in eight years. Since moving to Arizona from Winnipeg in 1996, the Coyotes franchise has won just two playoff series – both in 2012, when they defeated Chicago in the opening round and the Predators in the second round.

WHAT: Arizona Coyotes vs. Nashville Predators
WHERE: Rogers Place – Edmonton
WHEN: Friday, August 7, 2:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN (live look-in)
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Coyotes-Predators live look-in stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes (ARZ leads 2-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes 4, Predators 3 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Predators 4, Coyotes 2 (recap)
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Coyotes 4, Predators 1 (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (live look-in stream)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators* if necessary

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule