It’s Nashville Predators Day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Nashville Predators. 

2018-19
47-29-6, 100 points (1st in Central Division, 3rd in Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost to Dallas Stars 4-2 in Round 1.

IN:
Matt Duchene
Steve Santini
Daniel Carr

OUT:
P.K. Subban
Wayne Simmonds
Brian Boyle

RE-SIGNED:
Colton Sissons
Rocco Grimaldi
Jarred Tinordi

2018-19 Summary

If you judged the Nashville Predators’ season by the sour mood hanging over the team and fans at the end of the 2018-19, you’d almost think they were a cellar dweller.

Instead, the Predators managed to hold off the Jets and Blues to narrowly win the Central Division, and the team was able to survive some tough injuries to make the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There’s no getting around the disappointment once they got there, mind you, as falling to the Stars in a six-game Round 1 series definitely ranks as a letdown.

GM David Poile’s reaction to that letdown was to make major moves, something he hasn’t been shy about in the past.

Yet, even by Poile’s standards, he made some bold bets during this offseason.

[MORE: X-factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

The headliner, of course, was trading P.K. Subban to New Jersey for pennies on the dollar to clear up cap space for long-rumored free agent target Matt Duchene. While that move was also, in a more indirect way, meant to keep things open for a possible Roman Josi extension, many will fairly view the Predators’ overall offseason as sending away Subban so they could land Duchene.

The value proposition is debatable, but the logic makes a reasonable amount of sense.

After all, the Predators were absolutely terrible on the power play last season, and they also had trouble getting much offense outside of the top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Viktor Arvidsson. The hope is that Duchene can provide more balance to Nashville’s scoring attack, while Dante Fabbro might be able to replace some of what the Predators lost in shipping out Subban for not-much (sorry, Santini).

The Predators also made a fascinating bet in signing a quality depth player – but a depth player nonetheless – in Colton Sissons to a seven-year, $20 million contract. This is a “Poile move” as much as the bold trade, as the Predators also made a similar decision with Calle Jarnkrok a few years back.

One cannot help but wonder if the Predators are addressing personnel changes while ignoring possible structural issues.

Nashville’s power play woes could be as strategic as they were talent-related, as the Predators relied far too much upon lower-danger point shots, rather than a heavier number of attempts from better scoring areas like the slot. Will they emphasize that more now that Duchene is added to the mix? We’ll see.

Let’s not forget how much the Predators have struggled to integrate other new faces.

Mikael Granlund hopes to have a better full season with Nashville, after his first “rental” run was underwhelming. Kyle Turris had a fast start with the Predators, then went on to struggle for a year and change. Wayne Simmonds never really managed to make a mark as a rental, and now he’s gone to the Devils. Nick Bonino was also a disappointment as a free agent addition from a while back. Is anyone noticing a trend?

Will it be different this time around with Duchene, and will some of those players turn things around? The Predators are gambling big-time that the answer is “Yes.”

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Flames bounce back with Game 3 rout, push Jets to brink

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This time the Calgary Flames were able to take advantage of a shorthanded Winnipeg Jets team.

After dropping Game 2 on Monday, the Flames bounced back on Tuesday evening with a 6-2 rout in Game 3 of their qualifying round series to take a 2-1 series lead, pushing the Jets to the brink of elimination.

They will have a chance to close out the series in Game 4 from Edmonton on Thursday.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Jets were once again without the services of star forwards Mark Scheifele and Patrik Laine, and the lack of firepower caught up with them in a big way on Tuesday. Nikolaj Ehlers did strike with an early goal (his second in as many games) to give them an early lead, but it would prove to be a short-lived advantage as Calgary’s Elias Lindholm scored the equalizer just 14 seconds later.

The Jets would never regain the lead.

The Flames ended up getting goals from six different players, and it was an especially big day for some of their top stars.

Sean Monahan finished with three points (a goal and two assists), while Mikael Backlund, Johnny Gaudreau, Andrew Mangiapane, and Lindholm all had two points, while Matthew Tkachuk and Milan Lucic also added goals.

Starting goalie Cam Talbot stopped 33 out of 35 shots in the win.

This was always going to be a tough series for the Jets to get through even before the injuries started to pile up in Game 1. They have a limited defense and were going to need Conor Hellebuyck to carry them in net. When you take two players as good as Scheifele and Laine out of the equation, it eliminates pretty much any room they may have had for error. Without them recipe is going to have to look exactly like Monday’s Game 2 win with great goaltending and just enough offense to scratch out a win. They did not get either of those elements on Tuesday.

It remains to be seen if Scheifele or Laine will be ready for Thursday’s game.

(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets (Series tied 1-1)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Flames 4, Jets 1 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Jets 3, Flames 2 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames 6, Jets 2
Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Return to Play: Round-robin standings, scenarios

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While the 16 teams in the qualifying round play for the right to move on, the No. 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference and Western Conference are still up for grabs in the round-robin format of the NHL’s return to play.

The round-robin schedule resumes on Wednesday with a pair of games (Tampa Bay vs. Boston in the East and Colorado vs. Dallas in the West) and here we take a look at the impact those games can have on the standings.

Boston is basically facing a must-win game on Wednesday if it wants to earn the top spot, while the best the Stars can do at this point is second place in the West.

Below is a look at the current round-robin standings and everything at stake on Wednesday.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Current standings

Tampa Bay Lightning (1-0-0, 2 points)
Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-0, 2 points)
Washington Capitals (0-0-1, 1 point)
Boston Bruins (0-0-0, 0 points)

Wednesday’s round-robin schedule

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Boston Bruins

Scenarios based on Wednesday’s result

Boston wins in regulation

  • All teams can still earn the No. 1 seed.

Tampa wins in regulation

  • Boston can finish no better than third.
  • The other three teams can still earn the No. 1 seed, but Tampa Bay controls its own outcome and would earn the No. 1 seed by beating Philadelphia.

Boston wins in OT/SO

  • All teams can still earn the No. 1 seed.
  • Boston would need Washington to beat Philadelphia in regulation on Thursday to make that outcome possible for them.

Tampa wins in OT/SO

  • Boston could finish no higher than second.
  • The other three teams could still earn the No. 1 seed, but Tampa Bay controls its own outcome and would earn the No. 1 seed by beating Philadelphia

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Standings

Colorado Avalanche (1-0-0, 2 points)
Vegas Golden Knights (1-0-0, 2 points)
St. Louis Blues (0-1-0, 0 points)
Dallas Stars (0-1-0, 0 points)

Wednesday round-robin schedule

Colorado Avalanche vs. Dallas Stars

Scenarios based on Wednesday result

Dallas can finish no better than second (Colorado and Vegas each have two points and because of their remaining matchup, one of them will get to four points. Dallas maxes out at four points and will lose any tiebreaker)

Avalanche win in regulation

  • DAL can finish no better than third.
  • Other three teams can still finish with No. 1 seed, but Colorado controls its own outcome and would earn the No. 1 seed by beating Vegas.

Stars win in regulation

  • Second is still the best Dallas can do.
  • All other teams can still finish with No. 1 seed.

Avalanche win in OT/SO

  • DAL can still finish second.
  • But would need St. Louis to beat Vegas in regulation on Thursday
  • Other three teams can still finish first, but Colorado controls its own outcome and would earn the No.1 seed by beating Vegas.

Stars win in OT/SO

  • Second is still the best Dallas can do.
  • All other teams can still finish with No. 1 seed.

MORE:
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Maple Leafs even series with Game 2 shutout; Muzzin stretchered off

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For most of the opening 40 minutes, it looked at if Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo was going to steal another one against the Maple Leafs. After his 28-save Game 1 shutout, he followed that up by stopping 36 shots in Game 2, but the Columbus offense failed to provide any support.

Auston Matthews broke the goalless tie late in the second period as Toronto evened their best-of-five series with a 3-0 victory. Frederik Andersen, who wasn’t tested all that much, finished with 20 saves.

The Maple Leafs dominated across the board. They controlled possession (62%-38%), outshot the Blue Jackets at even strength (27-10) (via Natural Stat Trick), and benefited from the Blue Jackets handing them five power plays. But Korpisalo stood tall. Matthews finally provided the breakthrough after redirecting a Zach Hyman pass to finish a give-and-go.

Columbus’ penalty parade continued into the third period. Nick Foligno handed Toronto a power play just 53 seconds in. The Maple Leafs’ didn’t capitalize, going 0-for-5 on the day. The Blue Jackets were still clinging on to hope in finding a tying goal, but an offensive zone breakdown ended with an out-of-reach scoreline.

As the Blue Jackets pressed for an equalizer, all five skaters got caught in deep. That allowed Travis Dermott‘s clearance to go off the side boards and to an unmarked Tavares for a breakaway.

Said John Tortorella: “Toronto was really good. We sucked.”

Game 3 is Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Muzzin leaves on stretcher

With just under two minutes to go, Jake Muzzin had to leave the game on a stretcher. A cross-check from Pierre-Luc Dubois put the Maple Leafs defenseman off-balance and his head collided with Oliver Bjorkstrand‘s knee.

Muzzin was moving his extremities and communicating as he was being checked out.

“First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with Jake Muzzin,” said Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski. “No hockey game is as important as someone’s health so we’re thinking of him right now.”

“Very tough to see, especially with just how much you love that guy,” said Tavares afterward.

Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said Muzzin was taken to a local hospital and was responsive.

When Muzzin is ready to return, the Toronto Hub Medical Director will decide quarantine/testing protocols before he’s allowed to re-join the Maple Leafs.

“I’m not certain exactly what the protocol is in these situations,” said Keefe. “Our focus is and always will be on his well-being and that he’s okay.”

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (Series tied 1-1)

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

————

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.

Hurricanes-Rangers stream: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the NHL’s Return to Play continues with Tuesday’s Stanley Cup Qualifier matchup between the Hurricanes and Rangers. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN. Watch the Hurricanes-Rangers Game 3 stream at 8 p.m. ET on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Andrei Svechnikov scored his first career hat trick, with all three goals assisted by Sebastian Aho, as Carolina defeated New York 4-1 on Monday. It was the first postseason hat trick in franchise history. Carolina has a 2-0 series lead after losing all four regular season meetings against NYR this year.

In Game 1, the Rangers fell behind just 61 seconds into the first. In Game 2, Carolina scored 4:32 into the first period to take another early lead. With the game tied 1-1, Carolina scored twice in the opening 2:22 of the 2nd period to jump out to a 3-1 lead. Carolina has not trailed in this series.

During the regular season, the Rangers scored 3.33 goals/game (5th in NHL). However, they have scored three goals total in the first two games of this series. New York is just 1-for-11 on the power play in this series (9.1%) after finishing the regular season with the league’s seventh-best power play unit (22.9%).

Igor Shesterkin will get the start in goal for the Rangers.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WHAT: New York Rangers vs. Carolina Hurricanes
WHERE: Scotiabank Arena – Toronto
WHEN: Tuesday, August 4, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
ON THE CALL: John Forslund, Mike Milbury, Brian Boucher
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Hurricanes-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers (Hurricanes lead series 2-0)

Saturday, Aug. 1: Hurricanes 3, Rangers 2 (recap)
Monday, Aug. 3: Hurricanes 4, Rangers 1 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers*
Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule