NHL on NBCSN: Do Predators have playoff upset potential?

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. Blackhawks-Predators coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

In going with his “heart instead of his head,” Predators GM David Poile decided not to sell at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.

Rather than trading Mattias Ekholm, Mikael Granlund, or even something bolder like moving Ryan Ellis, the Predators did little. Erik Gudbranson may cause debate in some circles, but few expect him to make a revolutionary impact.

For some, it made sense for the Predators not to blow things up. While the Predators aren’t guaranteed to beat out the Blackhawks and Stars for the final Central Division playoff spot, they’re very much in the chase.

But plenty of others will wonder if the Predators, Stars, and Blackhawks are essentially racing to collide with a freight train.

It begs the question, then. If the Predators could outlast the Stars and Blackhawks for a playoff spot, would they have any chance against the Hurricanes, Lightning, or Panthers?

Predators’ best assets for playoff upset potential: luck and Saros

After a loss to the Lightning dropped the Predators to 11-16-1, it seemed like time to sell. Instead, the Predators rattled off a surprising 14-5-0 run, including a 5-2 win vs. the Blackhawks on Monday.

With 28 points, the Predators are tied for third-most in the NHL since March 14, and the Stars needed three more games to get there.

1. Avalanche: 15-1-2 (32 points in 18 games played)
2. Golden Knights: 14-5-1 (29 points in 20 GP)
3t. Predators: 14-5-0 (28 points in 19 GP)
3t. Stars: 11-5-6 (28 points in 22 GP)

So, then, what’s driving this locomotive? Well, it’s a combination of great luck (at least with the puck) and even better goaltending.


Most obviously, Juuse Saros is saving the Predators’ season. Since March 14, Saros is tied with Philipp Grubauer for the NHL lead with 11 wins, and Saros’ .951 save percentage is easily the best of any goalie getting regular reps (5+ GP). When Pekka Rinne‘s gotten into the action, he’s been almost as impressive, sporting a .939 save percentage in four games.

NHL on NBCSN: Do Predators have playoff upset potential? Ekholm Saros
(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

All due respect to some great defensemen, but red-hot goalies likely power a penalty kill rate of 88.9% during this hot streak.

Along with that stellar goaltending, the Predators have been shooting at 10.02% at even-strength, fourth-highest in the NHL since March 14.

It’s not surprising that the Predators’ PDO — an imperfect but quick way to spot good luck — is an NHL-best 105.2 since March 14, via Natural Stat Trick.

The bad news

Whether you look at fancy stats or simpler ones, most indicate that the Predators’ play hasn’t really matched that 14-5-0 hot streak.

Since March 14, the Predators have allowed 32.7 shots per game, sixth-most in the NHL, while averaging just 27 shots for (fifth-lowest). Maybe score effects account for some of that disparity, but high-danger chances trend against them, too.

Despite changing from Peter Laviolette to John Hynes, the Predators remain puzzled by their power play. Their power-play percentage during this hotter run (15.6) is actually lower than their full-season percentage (18.3), but either way, it hasn’t been a strength.

Generally speaking, the Predators have been scoring by committee. While Roman Josi ranking second since March 14 is no surprise (12 points in 15 games played), Calle Jarnkrok leading the list is (13 points in 19 GP).

Pondering some variables

Again, that puck luck cannot be totally ignored. Yes, it’s promising to get more out of Mikael Granlund and Eeli Tolvanen, yet both players are shooting at more than 20 percent during this stretch.

But you can also start to picture ways things could look better. Granted, your heart might be influencing your head, yet consider:

  • It’s possible Saros could stay at least close to this hot for a while. RFA or not, he’s aiming for a big raise from $1.5M AAV.
  • Pekka Rinne could conceivably save the day if something happens with Saros. Yes, he’s 38, but he’s also a pending free agent. Maybe Rinne wants a couple more shots at a big run?
  • The Predators dealt with injuries before and during this run. Filip Forsberg and Ryan Ellis both only played six games since March 14. If Forsberg, Ellis, and others can get healthy, perhaps they’d offset some of the luck that might cool off?
  • Hey, refs tend to put away their whistles more often during the playoffs. That could alleviate some of the Predators’ power play concerns. Or maybe Nashville could merely become … adequate there?
  • A trio of Josi, Ellis, and Ekholm still ranks as one of the best in the NHL.

Now, do those factors make the Predators a wise upset pick if they land in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Don’t bet your mortgage on it.

They’re probably most likely to cool off in a big way, especially if they continue to get out-chanced like they were when Saros was standing on his head.

Again, though, stranger things have happened, and so have bigger upsets.

To have a chance, the Predators need to continue to take care of business against teams like the Blackhawks, who have dark horse aspirations of their own.

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.

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    Malkin’s late goal lifts Penguins past Ovechkin, Caps 4-3

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    Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin remains a live wire. Even now, 17 seasons into a career that is likely destined for the Hall of Fame, there’s an unpredictability the Pittsburgh Penguins star plays with that can be both endearing and exasperating to teammates and coaches alike.

    The latest proof came against Washington on Saturday.

    An untimely roughing penalty in the third period helped spark a Capitals’ rally from a three-goal deficit. Malkin made up for it by burying a breakaway with 1:20 left in regulation that lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

    “His care factor and his compete level for me is off the charts and that’s what I love about him and usually when the stakes are high that’s when he’s at his best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He gets a huge goal for us tonight at a key time.”

    Malkin’s 25th goal of the season – a low wrist shot to the far post – helped the Penguins avoid a potentially messy collapse. Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to cruise to victory after Jake Guentzel‘s power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period made it 3-0.

    Washington instead stormed back, with Alex Ovechkin right in the middle of it. Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season and 822nd of his career from his favorite spot in the left circle with 6:42 to go in regulation. Washington drew even when Dylan Strome flipped the puck into an open net with 2:44 to go in regulation.

    Yet instead of sagging, the Penguins surged. Malkin stripped Washington’s Anthony Mantha near center ice and broke in alone on Kuemper. Seconds later, the puck was in the net and Malkin was on one knee celebrating while pumping his fists, the kind of display of raw emotion that’s become one of his trademarks.

    “It’s a huge goal for me, and two points for the team,” Malkin said.

    Pittsburgh moved three points clear of Florida after the Panthers lost to the earlier Saturday. Both teams have nine regular-season games left.

    Ryan Poehling and Chad Ruhwedel scored a little over two minutes apart in the second period for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel added his team-high 32nd goal early in the third before Washington scrambled back. Casey DeSmith played spectacularly at times while finishing with 31 saves.

    Tom Wilson started the Capitals’ comeback with his ninth goal of the season 5:19 into the third. Kuemper stopped 36 shots, but was outplayed by DeSmith as Washington’s hopes of making a late push for a playoff berth took a serious hit. The Capitals are six points behind Pittsburgh with only eight games remaining.

    “It’s a tough one,” Washington center T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t think that last play was the only thing that lost the game for us. I know that (Mantha) feels terrible about it, but we trust him with the puck. It just wasn’t a good enough 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there.”

    It felt like old times for much of the night for teams that usually enter late March battling for a spot near the top of the Metropolitan Division.

    Not this season.

    While the 35-year-old Crosby is averaging over a point a game as usual and the 37-year-old Ovechkin is steadily making inroads on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, their teams have spent most of the year skating in place.

    Pittsburgh has been wildly uneven thanks in part to goaltending that has fluctuated between solid and shaky, the main reason a 17th straight playoff appearance is hardly assured. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be pointing toward the future after injuries and a small sell-off at the trade deadline.

    Pittsburgh put itself on slightly firmer footing with DeSmith making a compelling case that he should supplant Tristan Jarry as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender down the stretch.

    DeSmith was spectacular at times, including stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway near the end of the second period in which Ovechkin deked DeSmith to his knees, only to see DeSmith extend his left leg just enough to knock the puck out of harm’s way.

    “I’m not very tall,” the 6-foot DeSmith said. “But I had that one inch that I needed.”


    Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

    Penguins: Visit Detroit on Tuesday.

    Devils defeat Senators 5-3, clinch playoff berth

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    NEWARK, N.J. — Jack Hughes had a goal and an assist, Mackenzie Blackwood had 25 saves and the New Jersey Devils defeated the Ottawa Senators 5-3 and clinched a playoff berth on Saturday night.

    “It means everything to the group. I went into the dressing room after the game and just said that I was proud of the work that was put in, proud of where we got to clinch tonight to be one of three teams that have an X next to their name,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said. “All the work that’s been put in, the adversity they face during the year. The adversity they face right at the start of the season to where we’ve got to now.”

    New Jersey could have clinched its first postseason berth since 2018 with a win, but it happened before their first intermission when the Florida Panthers lost to the New York Rangers in regulation.

    “I had a lesser role then,” said Jesper Bratt, who was a rookie for the Devils in 2017-18. “I would say at a younger age, it’s kind of like you think that just because it happened your first year that it might happen every year. And then it goes pretty fast with reality that was not the case and you got to work extremely hard for it.

    “It’s a really tough league. So this feels really good. It’s been a lot of years with struggle, not winning, and it’s just awesome coming out now playing these kinds of games and getting that.”

    Bratt, Dawson Mercer and Dougie Hamilton scored for the Devils and Tomas Tatar scored an empty netter with 42.3 seconds left to put things away.

    Brady Tkachuk, Thomas Chabot and Mark Kastelic scored for the Senators and Dylan Ferguson had 30 saves.

    Tkachuk scored his 33rd goal of the season to give the Senators the 1-0 lead 3:14 into the first period. The Devils responded midway through the first period with Hughes’ 40th goal of the season on a breakaway, going five-hole to tie it.

    Nick Holden gave the puck away and Bratt scored his 31st goal of the season on the breakaway 2:24 into the second period to give New Jersey the 2-1 lead. Mercer’s 23rd of the season came just over a minute later.

    The Senators answered midway through the second period when Thomas Chabot scored his 11th goal of the year to cut the deficit to 3-2. They knotted things up 16:03 into the second when Kastelic scored his fifth of the season.

    “We were confident going into the third period. We felt like the game was there for our taking,” Travis Hamonic said. “They score on their chance, and that’s game.”

    Hamilton scored 3:34 into the third period to give the Devils the lead. His 19th goal breaks the franchise record for goals in a season by a defenseman, surpassing Scott Stevens – the Devils great whose number is hanging in the rafters – record of 18 in 1993-94.

    NOTES: This was the first game for the Devils backup Blackwood since Feb. 19. … Nico Hischier has a six-game point streak after recording two assists.


    Senators: Host the Florida Panthers on Monday night.

    Devils: Play at New York Islanders on Monday night. —

    AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

    Kings tie franchise mark with point in 11th straight game

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    LOS ANGELES — Viktor Arvidsson had two goals and the Los Angeles Kings matched their longest point streak in franchise history with a 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon.

    Drew Doughty had a goal and an assist and Alex Iafallo netted a power-play goal for Los Angeles, which has earned points in 11 straight games for the fourth time. The last occurrence was 2013-14, when the Kings won their second Stanley Cup championship.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped 25 shots for Los Angeles.

    Pierre-Luc Dubois scored for Winnipeg and Connor Hellebuyck made 25 saves.

    Arvidsson – who has 22 goals on the season – has four in the last four games while Doughty has found the net four times in the last five games.

    Arvidsson’s first goal came 82 seconds into the game. Trevor Moore won the faceoff in the offensive zone and made a backhand pass to Arvidsson, who snapped it into the net from the back of the left faceoff circle.

    He also had an empty-net goal late in the third period.

    The Kings extended their lead to 2-0 five minutes into the second period on the power play. Phillip Danault made a great pass between Jets defenseman Brenden Dillon and Hellebuyck as Iafallo buried it into the short side of the net.

    Doughty extended the lead to 3-1 27 seconds into the third period with a wrist shot from outside the right faceoff circle near the boards after Anze Kopitar won the faceoff.


    Winnipeg got its first power-play goal in seven games with 1:23 remaining in the second period when Dubois took a cross-ice pass from Kyle Connor and scored from the left faceoff circle to get the Jets within 2-1.

    The Jets got a five-minute power play after Los Angeles’ Blake Lizotte received a five-minute match penalty for a vicious cross-check to Josh Morrissey’s face. The goal came with 33 seconds left in the man advantage.

    NOTES: Danault picked up his 300th career point and 200th assist. … Winnipeg’s Connor set a career high for most assists in a season when he got his 47th on Dubois’ goal.


    Jets: Travel to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

    Kings: Host the St. Louis Blues on Sunday.

    Coyotes minority owner suspended by NHL following arrest

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    NEW YORK — Arizona Coyotes minority owner Andrew Barroway was suspended indefinitely by the NHL on Friday following his arrest for domestic violence in Colorado.

    Online court records show Barroway was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of second-degree assault strangulation, a felony, and third-degree assault, a misdemeanor. He appeared in court Friday to be advised of the possible charges he is facing and is scheduled to back in court on April 3.

    Barroway spent Thursday night in Pitkin County Jail after police arrested him at an Aspen hotel, according to a police report obtained by the Aspen Daily News.

    “The National Hockey League is aware of the arrest of Arizona Coyotes’ minority owner Andrew Barroway,” the NHL said in a statement. “Pending further information, he has been suspended indefinitely.”

    The 57-year-old Barroway was arrested after a verbal altercation with his wife turned physical, according to the police report. He is prohibited from having contact with his wife, except when it involves their children, and can’t consume alcohol under a court order.

    A prominent hedge fund manager, Barroway owns 5% of the Coyotes.

    “We are aware of the allegation regarding Mr. Barroway and we are working with the League to gather more information,” the Coyotes said in a statement. “When we have enough information, we will have an appropriate response. Until the investigation is complete, we will have no further comment.”