Boyle acquisition allows Predators to bolster center depth

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Despite winning the Presidents’ Trophy last season, the Nashville Predators were bounced from the playoffs by the Winnipeg Jets in the second round. As good as their regular season was, the year, as a whole, was a disappointment. Well, general manager David Poile wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

On Wednesday, the Predators acquired veteran forward Brian Boyle from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a second-round pick in 2019.

He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season.

Having quality depth down the middle is one of the keys to winning a Stanley Cup, and the Preds landing Boyle certainly gives them deeper at center. Once Kyle Turris returns from a lower-body injury, Nashville will be able to role out Ryan Johansen, Turris, Boyle and Nick Bonino. Colton Sissons can also play center if need be.

[2019 NHL TRADE DEADLINE TRACKER]

Boyle, 34, has 13 goals and 19 points in 47 games this season. He’s also able to play on the power play and penalty kill, which makes him even more valuable to a contending team like Nashville. Six of his goals were scored on the man-advantage and he’s added a goal and three points on the PK.

This isn’t the first time Boyle has been traded as a rental player. In 2017, the Tampa Bay Lightning traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Byron Froese and a conditional second-round draft pick. He ended up finishing his short stint with the Leafs with just three assists in 21 regular season games. He then added two more helpers in six games during the postseason.

The Predators are hoping that he’ll be able to chip in a little more this time around.

After grabbing Boyle, Poile went out and brought back forward Cody McLeod from the New York Rangers, sending a 2020 seventh-round pick the other way.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks face off against Predators on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After a losing six straight games (0-5-1) in December, Nashville has rebounded with a five-game point streak (4-0-1) since New Year’s Eve. Their latest win was an impressive 4-0 victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday. Rinne had 18 saves in his third shutout of the season.

Filip Forsberg returned to the lineup on Monday after missing 17 games with an upper-body injury. The team was 8-7-2 without him. Monday was Nashville’s first game since Nov. 10 with Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and P.K. Subban all in the lineup.

The Blackhawks have climbed out of the basement of the NHL by going 7-4-2 since mid- December, but still have several teams to leapfrog if they want to make the playoffs. Still, they have become a tough out, as evidenced by their 4-3 loss to the Conference-leading Flames on Monday.

Patrick Kane has been red hot with 19 points (9G, 10A) in his last 11 games. He also has had multi-point games in four of his last six games. Jonathan Toews had a six-game point streak snapped on Monday, but still has 39 points (17G, 22A) in 45 games overall. Toews is on pace for 71 points and 30 goals, which would be his most productive season since 2010-11.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Predators-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

[P.K. Subban sends inspirational message to young fan after racist taunts]

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Alex DeBrincat – Jonathan Toews – Dominik Kahun
Artem AnisimovDylan Strome – Patrick Kane
Brandon SaadDavid Kampf – Drake Caggiula
John HaydenMarcus KrugerBrendan Perlini

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy
Brandon Davidson – Henri Jokiharju

Starting goalie: Collin Delia

PREDATORS
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin FialaColton SissonsCraig Smith
Calle JarnkrokNick BoninoAustin Watson
Ryan HartmanFrederick GaudreauRocco Grimaldi

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
P.K. Subban- Mattias Ekholm
Matt IrwinDan Hamhuis

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call from United Center. Kathryn Tappen hosts NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones, as well as NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

MORE: Blackhawks’ Alex DeBrincat can’t stop scoring

WATCH LIVE: Predators visit Blackhawks on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Tuesday night’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks with coverage beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

This is the second of four meetings between these Central Division foes. The Predators beat the Blackhawks 5-2 on Dec. 1 in Nashville. Pekka Rinne made 19 saves and five different Predators scored a goal.

During the 2016-17 season, the Blackhawks finished as the top team in the Western Conference with 109 points and faced the upstart Predators (94 points) in the First Round of the playoffs. Since Nashville delivered a surprising sweep in that series, the Preds have become one of the premiere franchises in the NHL, while the Hawks have taken a nosedive:

Last night in Ottawa, the Preds went down 3-0 in the first period and pulled Rinne, rallied back to force overtime, but fell 4-3 on Thomas Chabot’s OT winner. They have now lost seven straight on the road (0-5-2) after starting the season 8-0-0 away from Bridgestone Arena.

The Blackhawks snapped an eight-game losing streak last week with a 6-3 win over Pittsburgh, but have since lost each of their last two games — a 4-3 OT loss to Winnipeg on Friday and a 7-3 defeat on Sunday to San Jose. They have won just four times in their past 25 games (4-17-4) and are 4-13-3 under Jeremy Colliton.

Entering last week’s game against the Penguins, the Blackhawks had allowed the first goal of the game in 11 straight. Since then, they’ve tallied the first goal in two of their last three games. Chicago actually jumped out to a 2-0 lead against the Sharks and led 3-2 after the first period. But San Jose scored five unanswered goals from there.

When they do score the first goal of the game, Chicago is 8-2-4. When they allow the first goal of the game, they are 2-17-2.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7:30 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Tuesday, Dec. 18, 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Predators-Blackhawks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PREDATORS
Ryan HartmanRyan JohansenKevin Fiala
Calle JarnkrokKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Colton SissonsNick BoninoAustin Watson
Miikka SalomakiFrederick Gaudreau – Rocco Grimaldi

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Dan HamhuisMattias Ekholm
Matt IrwinYannick Weber

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsDominik Kahun
Dylan StromeArtem AnisimovPatrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatDavid Kampf – Dylan Sikura
John HaydenMarcus KrugerBrendan Perlini

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Gustav ForslingBrent Seabrook
Carl Dahlstrom – Connor Murphy

Starting goalie: Cam Ward

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Brad Marchand pulls a Roger Neilson, waves ‘white flag’

Fox Southwest
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It was another eventful for night for Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

After a series of penalties in the second period of his team’s 1-0 overtime loss in Dallas, he decided to pull a Roger Neilson and wave the white flag by sticking a towel on the blade of his hockey stick and … well … waving it from the penalty box. This was presumably a form of surrendering to the referees.

Or simply Brad Marchand doing Brad Marchand things.

His adventure started in the second period when he was given a double-minor for roughing Radek Faksa after Marchand came to the defense of his linemate, Patrice Bergeron, who was sent flying into the boards at the hands of Faksa. Bergeron briefly exited the game before returning.

Here is the entire sequence.

After serving his four minutes for that altercation, Marchand returned to the ice and was almost immediately sent back to the box for slashing stars goalie Ben Bishop.

Nobody from Boston liked the call at all, with Marchand at being at the top of the list.

That was when he waved the white flag and was sent off for 10 additional minutes.

That might look familiar to you because you might recall former long-time NHL coach Roger Neilson doing something similar during the 1982 playoffs when he was coach of the Vancouver Canucks.

Marchand has been in rare form this season, even for him. Earlier this month he was given a 10-minute misconduct for mocking Nashville Predators forward Colton Sissons for embellishing a high-sticking call, which came after he bloodied Washington Capitals forward Lars Eller in the season-opener after Eller taunted the Bruins’ bench.

In the playoffs the NHL had to instruct Marchand to stop licking opposing players.

No matter what you think of Marchand as a player you at least have to admit this: It is never boring with him around.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV 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.

Predators are red-hot, but there are some red flags

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At a quick glance, the Nashville Predators leading the NHL with 24 standings points makes total sense. After all, we’re talking about the deep, well-built reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners, and all the widely-mocked banners that come with it.

In defeating the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 to close out Wednesday’s NBCSN doubleheader, the Predators displayed a mix of the unexpected (Colton Sissons generating a hat trick) with what’s becoming run-of-the-mill (an explosive offense going cold against Pekka Rinne). Nashville’s show has been traveling better than the circus so far in 2018-19, as their 12-3-0 overall record is buoyed by a perfect 7-0-0 mark on the road.

Everything’s going to plan, right?

So far, sure, but there are some red flags to at least monitor. Let’s take a deeper look at the Predators’ impressive start.

Red-hot Rinne

Rinne’s been ridiculous lately, including only allowing one basically unstoppable goal in the two games since signing a two-year extension with the Predators.

You can see how great Rinne’s been whether you look at simpler numbers (a remarkable .949 save percentage this season) or you dig a little deeper. From last season through this early stretch, he sports the eighth-best save percentage against high-danger scoring chances, via Corsica Hockey. You know Rinne’s on fire when he’s outpacing John Gibson and Jaroslav Halak this season, as you can see from Sean Tierney’s handy chart for Goals Saved Against Average, one of the more respected fancy stats for goalies:

For quite some time, analytics-minded people viewed Rinne as one of the league’s most overrated goalies. The argument was that the Predators provided a cocoon for the big Finn to rack up easy wins and starts, particularly when Barry Trotz’s system was at its stingy peak.

Rinne’s becoming a tougher goalie to knock, especially if inevitable jokes about the postseason are mitigated by the notion that plenty of great netminders stumble in the small sample pressure cooker of the playoffs.

If Rinne was dependent upon the team and system around him before, now I wonder if the Predators are asking too much of their veteran starter (and up-and-comer Juuse Saros).

Regression looming?

So far, the Predators lead the NHL with a +20 goal differential, as they’ve scored 51 while only allowing 31. That’s impressive, yet you wonder if Nashville’s luck could run out, possibly in troubling ways.

Via Natural Stat Trick’s numbers, the Predators have enjoyed the fifth-highest shooting percentage at even-strength (9.63-percent) and the second-best save percentage (95.18), translating to a 1.048 PDO that screams “unsustainable.”

Generally, their possession stats have been middling, and appear eerily familiar to their old, struggling buddies, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Some formulas place them very much in the middle of the pack, and you can simplify things by merely noting that they’re barely generating more shots on goal (30.9 per game) than they’re giving up (30.2).

Now, it’s not all bad, as they’ve been a top-10 team at preventing high-danger scoring chances, and none of the numbers seem outright disastrous. They don’t need to panic.

Still, these red flags should at least provide some caution, rather than inspiring the hot-starting team to rest on its laurels.

For instance, the Predators could conceivably withstand a dip in luck at 5-on-5 if they can work out what’s become a gnawing issue.

Power up that power play

It says a lot about Nashville’s strengths (and luck) that they’ve managed this 12-3-0 record despite a pitiful power-play percentage of 13, the fourth-worst efficiency rate in the NHL.

That number – if not ranking – should climb with time, even if the Predators make few adjustments. Colton Sissons’ hat-trick goal came on the power play during Wednesday’s win, for instance.

While the Predators are almost certain to get more bounces on the man advantage, it’s up to Peter Laviolette and his coaching staff to find ways to put Nashville’s power play in better situations to create and take advantage of said bounces.

Improving Nashville’s power play could be as much about massaging egos as anything else.

A deep defense that can create offense as readily as it can defuse threats makes for a splendid advantage for the Predators … most of the time. Still, having P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and to a lesser (offensive) extent Mattias Ekholm means that there’s likely pressure to run the PP through defense too often.

Looking at Tyler Dellow’s breakdown of power plays at The Athletic (sub required), you can see that the Predators:

  • Are among the team’s most likely to go with a less-explosive alignment of three forwards and two defensemen instead of four forwards and one defenseman.
  • They rank among the teams that have defensemen shooting the most often.
  • Their power play has been ineffective by many metrics.

Again, the Predators are likely to see gains just by way of puck luck rebounding, but Laviolette will probably need to make some key adjustments if Nashville wants its power play to be a greater advantage.

***

Look, the Predators often pass the “eye test,” and it’s early November, so they have plenty of time to make tweaks.

A better power play could also offset at least some of the drop-off that is likely to come from Rinne occasionally seeming human and that high shooting percentage cooling off.

Still, the Predators aren’t aiming to just be “fine.” This team has Stanley Cup aspirations, so they should pay at least some mind to weaknesses – there were worries about relying too much on Rinne last season, too – and should also take advantage of this buffer in the standings by experimenting with different strategies.

Nashville has been aggressive about improving over the years, and it’s paid off. Staying vigilant could mean the difference between another playoff letdown and truly sticking with the NHL’s absolute best.

MORE: Your 2018-19 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.