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

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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.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.