Getty

Home ice hasn’t been huge advantage for Predators, Jets

2 Comments

NHL teams grind through an 82-game season to make the playoffs, but also to try to gain home-ice advantage, particularly if a Game 7 is needed.

Sometimes playing in front of a roaring crowd, getting that home cooking and the final change (plus a friendly call or two, depending upon who you ask) makes a big difference. Through six games of Jets – Predators, the edge has instead seemed negligible. So far, each team is 1-2 at home during this series.

We’ll find out on Thursday if that will remain the same when the two teams battle in Game 7 in Nashville.

(Game 7 airs at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN Thursday.)

Here are a few considerations going into that Game 7, from home-road stats to hypotheses.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Louder than a jet engine

Going into this series, much has been made about how loud things could get between spirited fans in Winnipeg and Nashville. Sometimes it came down to splitting hairs and counting decibels. Chris Jericho also made an offer for a friendly wager with Carrie Underwood.

High decibel levels could create some positive energy for the Predators, who’ve really benefited from scoring early goals in this series (erm, aside from that squandered 3-0 lead). Then again, such energy could also help the Jets stay aggressive, which would be to their advantage as it seems like they’ve thrived when the action is faster and more end-to-end.

But, yeah, it could be really loud. There also will probably be catfish and maybe a wild offensive lineman or two.

Good Pekka/bad Pekka

During the Predators’ run to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final, Rinne was all-world in Nashville and closer to a backup on the road:

Rinne in 11 games at home during 2017 run: 9-2 record, ridiculous .951 save percentage even without a shutout.
Rinne in 11 road games during 2017 run: 5-6 record, .905 save percentage despite two shutouts.

(Excuse Predators fans if they’re having bad flashbacks of some of those championship round struggles in Pittsburgh.)

Anyway, that home-road disparity has strangely flipped in 2017-18. Rinne was quite good at home during the regular season (25-6-2, .919 save percentage, three shutouts), yet was astounding on the road (17-7-2, .937 save percentage, five shutouts). While it’s naturally a smaller sample size through two rounds of the postseason, that pattern’s only become more pronounced during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

Rinne in six home games during this current run: 3-3, Scott Darling-like .881 save percentage, no shutouts.
Rinne in six road games during current run: 4-2, .933 save percentage, two shutouts.

Steady as Hellebuyck

While there’s been quite a difference between Home Rinne and Road Rinne, Connor Hellebuyck‘s been surprisingly steady. The American-born netminder’s home save percentage is .922 and his road mark is .923 so far in the postseason. There’s not much of a difference in home/road play during the larger sample size of the regular season, either.

Maybe the stakes will break Hellebuyck’s steady, sometimes creepy-looking focus, yet so far he’s been as reliable as a modern goalie can be (and he could really make himself some cash with a strong Game 7, considering his pending RFA status).

*shudder*

Human nature

In some ways, the Jets theoretically enjoyed a great officiating advantage, subjectively, in Game 6 for a simple reason: refs will sometimes feel pressured to “let them play” in a Game 7 situation. Whether mistakes were made or not, the Jets received four power-play opportunities in Game 6 while Nashville only enjoyed one. It’s difficult to imagine so many calls being made with both teams’ seasons on the line.

If you ask me, there’s nothing really nefarious about the way thousands of loud fans might affect officials, even if it’s on more of an unconscious level. That human-nature edge could very well be nullified by officials leaning toward not making calls.

But, much like how an early goal one way or another might affect the noise levels at Bridgestone Arena, early calls may signal what kind of night will be in store. If officials are being pretty objective about calling infractions when they see them, then home ice could be that little edge that moves the needle for Nashville.

***

Great players or even mere clutch performances can silence a crowd in a hurry or bring them to their feet.

Game 7 between the Predators and Jets would be fun anywhere, whether it happened at a neutral site or an outdoor frozen pond. It’s actually taking place in Nashville, which should make for a fun atmosphere and also another interesting narrative: will “Smashville” help the Predators break through to the 2018 Western Conference Final?

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.

Ovechkin to play role of NHL ambassador in China

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alex Ovechkin will be taking a week away from his summer break to play a different kind of role in the NHL next month.

Ovi is heading to China as the NHL’s international ambassador on the week of Aug. 4. He will travel to Bejing, China’s capital, a trip that will include the Russian superstar holding youth hockey clinics, a media tour and business development meetings.

“It is a huge honor for me to be an ambassador for the entire Washington Capitals organization and the National Hockey League for this special trip to China,” Ovechkin said in a release from the Caps. “I think it is very important to spend time to help make people all over the world see how great a game hockey is. I can’t wait to spend time with all the hockey fans there and I hope to meet young kids who will be future NHL players. I can’t wait for this trip!”

The NHL continues to try and grow the game at the international level in places traditionally not hotbeds for hockey.

China has been seeing a lot of the NHL over the past three seasons. Although no preseason games are scheduled for the 2019-20 season, the NHL has played a total of four since 2017, with the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks contesting two games in 2017-18 and the Boston Bruins and Calgary Flames playing the other two prior to last season.

The Stanley Cup found its way to the country for the first time last September, as well.

“We are very excited that Alex Ovechkin will be joining us in China this summer,” said David Proper, NHL Executive Vice President of Media and International Strategy. “Alex represents the best in sports, as he epitomizes that combination of great talent, great personality and great sportsmanship. He is the perfect person to represent the NHL’s efforts to grow hockey in China.”

China, with a population of over 1.3 billion, expects to expand its participation in winter sports, including hockey, to 300 million people by 2022.


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

Report: Police say Greg Johnson’s death an apparent suicide

Getty Images
Leave a comment

DETROIT (AP) — A police report says the death of former Nashville Predators captain Greg Johnson was an apparent suicide, according to the Detroit News.

The paper said Wednesday it had obtained a Rochester Police report, and that Johnson was found by his wife shortly before 10 a.m. on July 7. A gun and a single bullet were found near him. No suicide note was left.

The Oakland County Medical Examiner declined to discuss findings from an autopsy, according to the paper.

Johnson was with Nashville for the franchise’s first season in the league. He spent the last seven years of his career with the Predators. He also played for Detroit, Pittsburgh and Chicago during his 12 years in the NHL.

The Detroit News said Johnson’s agent, Tom Laidlaw, declined to discuss the specifics surrounding the former player’s death. Johnson was 48.

PHT Morning Skate: Penguins need summer miracle again; Devils begin new chapter

Getty Images
1 Comment

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Pens need to make another mid-summer magical change. (Pensburgh)

• Maple Leafs almost certain to lose any trade involving Mitch Marner. (Editor In Leaf)

Zack Kassian to get his chance to play alongside Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl. (The Hockey Writers)

Ryan Spooner heading to Switzerland next season. (Sportsnet)

• The RFA waiting game for big-name players is the norm now, in Winnipeg and the rest of the NHL. (Winnipeg Sun)

• Each team’s worst contract heading into the 2019-20 season. (Puck Prose)

• Biggest fantasy winners thus far in the offseason. (Yahoo Sports)

• Devils begin a new chapter with additions of Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban. (NHL.com)

• Oft-Overlooked Hurricanes On the Rise. (Featurd)

• The oddsmakers are taking the Colorado Avalanche seriously, and so should you. (The Hockey News)

• NHL Network analyst believes Andre Burakovsky will score ‘a minimum’ of 20 goals next season. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

• The Nashville Predators should go all-in and trade for William Nylander. (Pred Lines)


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

Analyzing the Avalanche after Colorado re-signs J.T. Compher

Getty Images
3 Comments

The Colorado Avalanche’s offseason continues to come into focus, even as we’re in more of a housekeeping mode, rather than a more exciting time of dramatic renovations.

Earlier, the Avalanche signed intriguing new addition Andre Burakovsky at a bargain $3.25 million rate. While I would’ve been even more excited if the Avalanche would have bought more term, it’s still a nice move, and Burakovsky’s still slated to be an RFA after this one-year re-up expires.

The medium-sized moves continued on Wednesday, with Colorado handing forward J.T. Compher an interesting four-year deal reportedly worth $3.5M per season.

Overall, it’s fairly easy to understand. Compher scored both 16 goals and assists on his way to 32 points last season, despite being limited to 66 games. He quietly logged a lot of minutes (17:29 TOI per game), and had some utility, although the Avalanche might be wise to ease some of his PK duties going forward.

You can dig deeper into certain numbers, or make some tough comparisons, and start to feel not-quite-as-good about Compher’s new contract.

After all, Compher possesses the same contract as now-former teammate Alex Kerfoot, who will carry $3.5M for four seasons with Toronto. On one hand, it’s not as though Colorado necessarily chose to keep Compher over Kerfoot; it’s very plausible that the analytics-savvy Maple Leafs wanted Kerfoot to make that Nazem KadriTyson Barrie deal work, in the first place. On the other hand, the comparisons are natural when you consider their identical deals. Comparing the two using visualizations including Evolving Hockey’s Regularized Adjusted Plus/Minus (RAPM) makes this contract look less appealing:

via Evolving Hockey

Compher doesn’t need to equal or exceed Kerfoot’s value to be worth $3.5M per year to the Avalanche, though, and there’s a solid chance that they’ll be fine with this contract.

It does open up an opportunity to ponder where Colorado is, though.

The Avalanche still have a big-ticket item to re-sign, as Mikko Rantanen is one of the many RFAs heading for a big raise alongside the likes of Mitch Marner and Brayden Point. If Colorado can convince Rantanen to sign somewhere in the team-friendly range that the Carolina Hurricanes enjoy with Sebastian Aho, or the borderline insane deal the San Jose Sharks landed with Timo Meier, then Colorado would continue to look like one of the smartest people in the room.

But how many steps have the Avs taken after upsetting the Flames in Round 1 and pushing the Sharks hard in Round 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Tom Hunter of Mile High Hockey projected next season’s lineup, figuring that Compher will center a third line with two sneaky-good analytics wingers in Colin Wilson and Joonas Donskoi, while Kadri could center a second line with Tyson Jost and Andre Burakovsky around him.

Losing Kerfoot stings, but on paper, that does seem like a middle-six that could ease some of the burden for that all-world trio of Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog. It’s also plausible that the Avs could try to move different pieces around to see if one of MacKinnon or Rantanen could carry their own line, thus diversifying the Avs’ attack.

Yet, with the Central Division continuing to look like a beastly group, it’s tough to say where Colorado fits. Is this team more wild-card material, or will a boosted supporting cast push them to a new level? There’s also the possibility that things don’t work out the same way as they did in 2018-19, from that MacKinnon line slowing to maybe the goaltending falling short.

Whatever value Compher ultimately brings, along with newcomers like Burakovsky, Kadri, and Donskoi, a mild itch for something bolder remains for some of us (I blame the NBA’s run where the West is revolutionized every week, seemingly). At least Avs fans can let their imaginations run wild, as there could be some space left over, even after Rantanen gets paid:

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.