Predators facing difficult road in playoff push

Take a quick glance at the Nashville Predators’ spot in the Western Conference standings and it would be easy to conclude that they are in a lot of trouble when it comes to making the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After losing to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, they remain six points out of a playoff spot with four teams still ahead of them in the Wild Card race. Recent history suggests their chances of overcoming that deficit this late in the season would be very, very low (like under 20 percent low) because of how difficult it is to gain ground in the standings. Keep in mind that at this same point in the season last year the St. Louis Blues were only two points out of a playoff spot before going on their second half run to a championship. It’s just not something that’s easy to do.

The one thing the Predators have going for them is the fact they have more games remaining than any other team in the Western Conference, with multiple games in hand on every team they are chasing. That helps.

That is a point that forward Matt Duchene emphasized on Monday before their game against Toronto, while also talking about how he thinks the team as currently constructed can make up that gap without needing any outside help.

Via NHL.com:

“We love our group in here. I think everyone is happy with the talent we have, and it’s time to start playing the way we’re capable of. I don’t think we’re really missing anything in this room. We’re not looking at [the trade deadline] right now. We’re looking at the task at hand, and this is our group.”

“You look at us right now. You know it looks bad on paper, but with the games in hand we have, we have a great opportunity to put a little streak together here,” Duchene said.

He’s not wrong. The games in hand are a great opportunity for them, but it’s a little more complicated than just having some extra games remaining.

First, even if the Predators win all of those extra games they would still fall short of a playoff spot given their current pace. They would still need to make a couple of points somewhere else the rest of the way.

Here are the teams in the wild card race at the moment, as well as their current point paces.

They have two head-to-head games remaining against Arizona and Vegas. Winning those in regulation would be very important for the Predators’ chances.

Complicating matters even more is that the extra games in hand comes with a built-in drawback. They are playing more games in a shorter period of time, which means a condensed schedule, more back-to-backs, and less rest the rest of the way. As the folks at Predators blog On The Forecheck noted this week, the Predators have a league-high eight sets of back-to-backs remaining this season. In four of those back-to-backs, they will be playing a road game against a team that is rested, also tied for the most in the league. Those are not easy games to win.

Adding to all of that is the fact the Predators’ remaining opponents currently have a points percentage of .572, tied for the third-toughest remaining schedule in the league. They also play the majority of their games on the road.

It’s asking a lot to get through that and make up the necessary ground in the playoff race.

This remains a somewhat baffling team.

Their 5-on-5 performance has been mostly outstanding, and exactly what you would expect from a contending team with the roster that looks this good on paper. They control the pace of the game and have one of the league’s best 5-on-5 goal differentials. They take care of business when the game is even-strength.

It’s when the game turns into a special teams and goaltending matchup that they are unable to matchup with anyone.

The latter point — goaltending — has to be the big concern down the stretch. Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros both have sub-.900 save percentages on the team (both mostly hurt by their performance on the penalty kill) and given the tight schedule the rest of the way they are both going to have to play, and play a lot. Better performances from both — especially on the penalty kill — would solve a lot of the Predators’ perceived problems.

Trouble is, even if that happens the team has given itself such a big deficit to overcome, with an unforgiving schedule the rest of the way, that it is still going to take quite a run over the next few weeks to get back in this.

The door is still open, but it is closing fast.

MORE:
NHL Power Rankings: Looking at top Stanley Cup Contenders
The 6 coaches and general managers that can impact NHL playoff race
The 10 players that can impact NHL playoff race

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Players that need change of scenery; Who should go after Byfuglien?

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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.

• Here are seven cup contenders that have yet to make a trade. (TSN)

• The Hockey News provides us with a list of seven players that could benefit from a change of scenery. (The Hockey News)

• Sticking with the seven trend: ESPN shares seven trades they’d like to see happen before the trade deadline. (ESPN)

• The Canadiens and Penguins made a four-player minor-league trade. (NHL.com/Canadiens)

Connor McDavid‘s return from injury puts pressure on GM Ken Holland before the trade deadline. (Sportsnet)

• Ever wonder who the top 10 Latvians are in NHL history are? Here’s your answer. (The Hockey Writers)

Artemi Panarin still doesn’t understand why the Blackhawks traded him away in 2017. (Daily Herald)

• Here’s three teams that should trade for Dustin Byfuglien. (The Score)

• Who could the Blue Jackets move before Monday’s trade deadline? (The Cannon)

Cale Makar and Ryan Graves have been a strong pairing for the Avs. (Mile High Hockey)

• The Alec Martinez pairing could push Nate Schmidt and Shea Theodore onto the same pairing. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• How has the Jason Zucker trade affected Wild prospect Kirill Kaprizov? (Hockey Wilderness)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Scheifele lights the lamp three times; Binnington earns second straight shutout

Mark Scheifele #55 of the Winnipeg Jets
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Three Stars

1) Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg Jets

Scheifele picked up his third NHL hat trick in the Jets’ 5-1 win against the Ottawa Senators.  The overlooked centerman completed the milestone with 1:33 remaining in the third period. Nick Paul kicked off the scoring to give the Senators an early advantage, but the Jets stormed back with five unanswered. Scheifele scored his first two goals late in the first period to help Winnipeg gain control of the game. He collected a loose puck near the top of the crease and buried a wrister to even the game, 1:11 after the equalizer, Scheifele redirected Neal Pionk’s shot from the point to give the Jets a lead they would never relinquish. With the win, Winnipeg claimed the top wild card spot in the Western Conference for the time being.

2) Ben Chiarot, Montreal Canadiens

Chiarot recorded his second two-goal game of the season in the Canadiens’ 4-3 overtime victory against the Washington Capitals. The defenseman had two pretty goals, including the overtime winner when his blistering one-timer sped through the legs of Braden Holtby to help the Canadiens end a five-game losing streak. Early in the third period, Chiarot fired a wrist shot from the high slot to give the Canadiens a one-goal advantage. With two more years after this season remaining on his contract at an average annual value of $3.5 million, Chiarot is unlikely to be moved in the coming days even though the playoffs are a long shot for the Canadiens.

3) Frederik Andersen, Toronto Maple Leafs and Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues

Andersen rebounded from a tough performance against the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier this week and posted his second shutout of the season in Toronto’s 4-0 victory. It was Andersen’s first win in four starts since returning from a neck injury that sidelined him for four games. Binnington has not been tested frequently in the past two games, but two consecutive shutouts is an accomplishment despite the limited save totals. Mackenzie Blackwood’s 36 saves and Antti Raanta‘s 45 stops also deserve recognition on a solid night from a few goaltenders in the NHL.

Highlights of the Night

The between-the-legs craze continued when Nick Foligno fooled Brian Elliott with this beauty.

Chiarot is not known for his offense but hammered this one-time feed from Max Domi.

It didn’t take long for Gabriel Vilardi to score his first NHL goal.

Raanta was nearly unbeatable, but Ryan O'Reilly finished a precise pass from Brayden Schenn to lead the Blues past the Coyotes.

Kevin Hayes‘ game-winning goal wasn’t anything special, but his celebration following was something to see.

Pavel Zacha threaded a perfect stretch pass and then Jesper Bratt mesmerized Martin Jones with a series of dekes.

Stats of the Night

Scores

Toronto Maple Leafs 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 0

New Jersey Devils 2, San Jose Sharks 1

Montreal Canadiens 4, Washington Capitals 3 (OT)

Philadelphia Flyers 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 3 (OT)

Winnipeg Jets 5, Ottawa Senators 1

St. Louis Blues 1, Arizona Coyotes 0

Vegas Golden Knights 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

Los Angeles Kings 5. Florida Panthers 4


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

Ovechkin ends scoring drought in Capitals OT loss

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Alex Ovechkin inched closer to 700 career goals, but the Washington Capitals fell in overtime against the Montreal Canadiens Thursday, 4-3.

The Capitals captain recorded his 699th career goal to open the scoring early in the first period, but Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot scored twice, including the game-winner after regulation.

The Pittsburgh Penguins took over the top spot in the Metropolitan Division earlier this week, and the Capitals’ recent slump could cost them home-ice advantage in the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Additionally, the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets and trail the Capitals by five points for second place in the division.

Shea Weber and Brendan Gallagher also scored for the Canadiens as they snapped a five-game losing streak. Carey Price made 29 saves in his 25th win of the season.

Capitals forward Tom Wilson evened the score in the final minute of the third period to force overtime and help Washington earn at least one point. The power forward jammed a puck past Price to give Ovechkin another shot at 700 in the extra session.

However, less than a minute into the three-on-three portion, Chiarot hammered a feed from Max Domi through the legs of Braden Holtby. The defenseman scored his first of the evening early in the third period when he wired a wrist shot from the high slot to give Montreal a 3-2 lead.

Ovechkin scored goal No. 699 to break a five-game streak without a point. No. 8 controlled a rolling puck after Nicklas Backstrom won a faceoff cleanly in the offensive zone, then fired a wrist shot past Price.

Weber knotted the game at 1-1 when he notched his 14th of the season late in the first period. The Canadiens captain was originally expected to miss 4-6 weeks due to an ankle injury but returned to the lineup Tuesday after missing only six games.

Ovechkin’s chase for 700 continues Saturday when the Capitals square off with the New Jersey Devils.

 

Ovechkin’s quest for 700:


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

WATCH LIVE: Ovechkin continues chase for 700 vs. Canadiens on NBCSN

Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates
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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Washington hosts Montreal in D.C. tonight in what will be the third and final meeting between the two clubs this season. All eyes will be on Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin as he continues his quest for 700 career goals.

Ovechkin is now goalless in five straight games after registering a hat trick against the Kings on Feb. 4. Of the seven members in the 700-goal club, five players took five games or longer to go from 698 to 700 career goals – Jaromir Jagr (5 games), Marcel Dionne, Wayne Gretzky, Mike Gartner (6 games), and Brett Hull (12 games).

The Capitals have struggled in the midst of Ovechkin’s trek towards 700 goals. For the first time since mid-October, Washington no longer owns at least a share of the Metro Division lead as Pittsburgh now occupies the top spot.

Tuesday afternoon, the Capitals acquired defenseman Brenden Dillon from the San Jose Sharks for a 2020 second round pick (originally acquired from Colorado) and a conditional 2021 third round pick.

Montreal lost 4-3 at Detroit on Tuesday night after blowing a two-goal third period lead. The Habs led 3-1 entering the third and gave up three unanswered goals to pick up their fifth straight loss. To make matters worse, the Red Wings swept the Habs in the regular season (four games) for the first time in franchise history. Four of Detroit’s league-worst 15 wins this season have come against Montreal.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Montreal Canadiens at Washington Capitals
WHERE: Capital One Arena
WHEN: Thursday, Feb. 20, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Capitals-Canadiens stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

CANADIENS
Tomas TatarPhilip DanaultBrendan Gallagher
Jonathan DrouinNick SuzukiJoel Armia
Artturi LehkonenMax DomiIlya Kovalchuk
Paul ByronNate ThompsonNick Cousins

Ben ChiarotShea Weber
Brett KulakJeff Petry
Xavier OuelletChristian Folin

Starting goalie: Carey Price

CAPITALS
Alex Ovechkin – Nicklas BackstromTom Wilson
Jakub VranaEvgeny KuznetsovT.J. Oshie
Carl HagelinLars EllerRichard Panik
Travis BoydNic DowdGarnet Hathaway

Brenden Dillon – John Carlson
Dmitry OrlovNick Jensen
Michal KempnyRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Braden Holtby

Joe Beninati and analysts Craig Laughlin and Alan May will have the call from Capital One Arena.