Craig Smith

PHT Morning Skate: Meaning of NHL regular season; Kadri regrets cross-check

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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’s the NBC Sports Stanley Cup playoff update for April 25

• Format not to blame for wild Round 1 upsets. (Sportsnet)

• The cascade of issues that not having a Canadian team in the playoffs creates. (Angus Reid Institute)

• Perhaps your favorite team is out and you’re looking to cheat on them with a new team. Here’s a bandwagon guide. (CBC)

• The regular season means nothing. (FiveThirtyEight)

• Torn ACL likely to mean Zach Hyman will miss the beginning of next season. (NHL.com)

• Mike Modano getting himself into eSports. (TSN)

• A timeline of the recently-ended Calgary Flames season. (Calgary Sun)

• The tragic consequences of the NHL’s science denial. (The Atlantic)

• The seve…. eight deadly sins of Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. (Deadspin)

• The Washington Capitals’ Russian contingent heading to the World’s after their shocking playoff exit. (TSN)

Craig Smith is none too pleased with the Nashville Predators season ending in Round 1. (Tennessean)

• Game 7 controversy could have a ripple effect in the college game. (Jamestown Sun)

• Dubas not playing games after Maple Leafs tossed. (The Score)

Nazem Kadri regrets his silly cross-check. (TSN)


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

Where it went wrong for Predators, and how they could fix it

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There has been a changing of the guard in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins? Out without winning a single game between them.

The Winnipeg Jets, a Western Conference Finalist a year ago and a popular Stanley Cup pick this season? They are finished.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Now the Nashville Predators, one of the top teams in the Western Conference for a couple of years now, have joined them. Just like the Jets, it probably should not be a huge surprise to see them go out as early as they did because something just seemed to be off with this team for much of the season, and especially in the second half.

It’s not hard to find the biggest culprit in their demise this season, either, and it begins with an inconsistent offense that was dragged down by the league’s worst power play unit. It was a unit that hit rock bottom in their Round 1 loss against the Dallas Stars.

To say it was bad would be an understatement.

It wasn’t just bad, it was historically bad. The type of performance that would make even an objective third party with no rooting interest scream at the TV at its overall incompetence.

After finishing the regular season converting on just 12.9 of their power play opportunities, one of the worst marks the NHL has seen over the past 15 years, the Predators went 0-for-the-series against Dallas, failing to score on even one of their 15 power play attempts. This is not something that just happens. The NHL has tracked power play success rates as far back as the 1933-34 season, and the Predators were just the 11th team during that time to get at least 15 power play opportunities in the playoffs and fail to score a single goal. You probably will not be shocked to learn that none of those 11 teams advanced beyond Round 1. You don’t need a great power play to win the Stanley Cup, but you need to get something out of it on occasion.

The Predators got nothing, continuing what turned out to be a season-long trend.

Dallas’ PK deserves a lot of credit here, and especially starting goalie Ben Bishop, but Nashville’s struggles on the power play weren’t a new thing in this series, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest it wasn’t just a run of bad luck — it was simply a bad unit that needs drastically improved.

Not only did they have the NHL’s lowest success rate, but they were only 19th in the league at generating shot attempts on the power play and even worse (24th) at actually getting those attempts on net. If you can’t generate shots, and if you can’t get them on net when you do, you’re not going to score many goals.

Now comes the question on how to address it.

Injuries were a big problem for the Predators throughout the season, with Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K, Subban, and Kyle Turris all missing significant action, and when Turris was on the ice, his production took a cliff dive. It is worth wondering if they are in need of another big-time forward. Forsberg and Arvidsson are outstanding, but they might still need another impact player up front. Maybe a full season from Mikael Granlund will help (he was mostly silent after coming over from the Minnesota Wild in a pre-deadline trade), but even he is not really a player that is going to put the fear of God in an opposing defense. He is very similar to what the Predators’ forward group is already made of — really good and really productive players, but not really a game-changing, impact talent.

If there is one thing to be said about general manager David Poile it is that he is not afraid to swing for the fences in trades. He has made several blockbusters over the past few years and it has played a significant role in building the roster the Predators have today. Would he be willing to make another one, and would he consider dipping into his pool of star defenders and flipping one for another impact talent up front to help strengthen an offense that went stale this year and a power play unit that collapsed on itself from the very beginning of the year?

He already did it once when he traded Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen, and it might be worth at least considering again. It is a delicate balance to strike because the Predators’ defense, especially their top-four of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm is a huge part of what has made the team so good. But it is also a very clear strength and could be used to maybe help address what is now looking like a pretty significant weakness.

The other option is to keep your All-Star defense, shed salary elsewhere on the roster (Turris, if you think he is done as a top-six performer; maybe a Craig Smith or Nick Bonino?) and try to position yourself for a run at an Artemi Panarin or Jeff Skinner in free agency.

Whatever path they choose, it would be awfully difficult to come back next season with the same collection of forwards after they struggled so much this season and helped assemble such a dreadful power play unit. They simply need another finisher somewhere on the roster that can bring a level of consistency to the offense and improve a power play that failed the team all season.

Related: Stars eliminate Predators in overtime thriller

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.

‘Grind’ games likely to continue as Predators-Stars series shifts to Dallas

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The Dallas Stars put up a strong defensive showing during the regular season, which saw the team finish just behind the New York Islanders in goals allowed. While Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin did a good job keeping pucks out of the net, the team as a whole still let plenty of shots through (31.6 shots allowed per game).

That’s continued into their Round 1 matchup against the Nashville Predators. As the series is split 1-1 with Game 3 Monday night in Dallas (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream), Bishop’s been stingy in net, allowing four goals through two games, but the Stars as a whole have allowed 74 shots so far and 101 even strength shot attempts.

Five of those shots for came in overtime during Game 2, with the winner coming off Craig Smith’s stick after five minutes.

“They’re difficult to generate against,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette. “Good team defense, they have good goaltending, and our team is built a lot of the same way, and so that probably leads itself to some low-scoring games. We’re able to get one in overtime, and it was a big goal to tie and crack one in overtime. The difference between 2-0 and 1-1 is a big difference especially going on the road.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

While Nashville has done a fine job creating chances on Bishop, they’ve also done good through two games at limiting the Stars’ opportunities on Pekka Rinne. Via Natural Stat Trick, Dallas has 70 attempts at 5-on-5 through two games and their power play was fruitless in Game 2, failing to capitalize on all six of their opportunities.

“When you go 0-for-6, a couple good chances, but you got to come through,” said Stars head coach Jim Montgomery. “Need to think shot-first. I thought we were all looking for the next play instead of looking to score. That’s power play, but also 5-on-5. I thought we passed up too many shots.”

Both games have been decided by a single goal, a trend that wouldn’t be surprising if it continued for the rest of the series.

“We kind of expected it with these two defensive teams,” said Stars forward Tyler Seguin after Game 2. “It was a grind game, it was a hard, compete game. We’ve done a pretty good job at keeping them to the perimeter. We’re expecting, maybe, a little different game now that we’re going home. We’re going to have the juices going for sure.”

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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.

‘No easy shifts’ as first-round series get tight and nasty

It wasn’t long after celebrating Craig Smith‘s overtime goal that P.K. Subban zeroed in on the cold reality of Nashville’s playoff series against Dallas.

”There are no easy shifts out there, no easy games and no easy plays,” he said. ”It’s hand-to-hand combat out there.”

Subban and the Central Division-winning Predators needed to work overtime just to even things with the Stars at a game apiece, and the Colorado Avalanche got a sudden-death goal from Nathan MacKinnon to tie up their series against the Western Conference top-seeded Calgary Flames. In the East, the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals needed extra time to take a two games to none lead on the Carolina Hurricanes, and the Boston Bruins are going blow-for-blow with the Toronto Maple Leafs in series that’s all square and looking like it could be a classic.

”It’s nerve-racking, but it’s definitely fun,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said.

None of these first-round series are going to be easy – even for the Capitals, who will go into a madhouse Monday (7 p.m. EDT, CNBC) for the first Hurricanes home playoff game in a decade.

”Absolutely no quit in that team,” Washington coach Todd Reirden said Sunday about Carolina. ”They’re not going away.”

This isn’t a time of year for shrinking from challenges, and the Bruins showed in their Game 2 against the Maple Leafs that they’re not going anywhere. As the series shifts to Toronto, the Maple Leafs will be without center Nazem Kadri for at least Game 3 (7 p.m. EDT, NBCSN), who has an in-person hearing with the NHL’s department of player safety earlier in the day for cross-checking Jake DeBrusk in the face.

Kadri was suspended three playoff games for boarding Boston’s Tommy Wingels when these teams met in the first round a year ago and could be banned for the rest of this series, if not longer. It’s no surprise the tensions are high between the Bruins and Maple Leafs.

”Things were getting pretty amped up there towards the end of the game and a lot of emotions, and that’s what playoff hockey is all about,” Bruins agitator extraordinaire Brad Marchand said after Game 2. ”It’s going to happen on both sides. There’s going to be a lot of physicality the rest of the series.”

The Capitals will try to keep up the physicality against the small and quick Hurricanes, who have shown they can come back on Washington. Center Jordan Staal said, ”We’re right there,” and there’s no shortage of belief that they can make it a series.

”I don’t think we played our best game,” center Sebastian Aho said. ”It’s just trying to believe that when we play our best, we have a better chance to win.”

Stars-Predators is anyone’s series going into Game 3 Monday night in Dallas (9:30 p.m. EDT, NBCSN). Each of the first two games was decided by a goal, and players expect the low-scoring trend to continue as the series wears on.

”It’s not obviously open like the regular season,” Stars goaltender Ben Bishop said. ”Everybody finishes checks, everybody’s going 110 percent. It’s not going to be that up-and-down style that you’re used to.”

Bishop clearly isn’t watching Avalanche-Flames, which finally opened up in Game 2 after a shutout by Calgary’s Mike Smith in the series opener. Led by MacKinnon, captain Gabriel Landeskog and now-healthy Mikko Rantanen, Colorado looks like it can push the Flames with the series shifting to Denver for Game 3 (10 p.m. EDT, CNBC).

”We’ve always had the confidence in this room,” forward Matt Nieto said. ”Down late or running into a hot goalie, we know we can win games against this team. We’re thrilled to be going back 1-1 and get back in front of that Pepsi Center crowd and try to get a lead in the series.”

The Capitals know from their own experience in the first round last year that a 2-0 series lead doesn’t mean a whole lot. They came back from down 2-0 to beat Columbus on the way to winning the Cup and were pushed to seven games by Tampa Bay after leading the Eastern Conference final by that same margin.

They know better by now than to underestimate the Hurricanes.

”There’s a lot of desperation whether you’re down two or you’re starting the series, but there might be a little extra,” Washington winger T.J. Oshie said. ”feels good to be up 2-nothing, but I think we can still do a lot better job and we’re going to have to if we want to go get a win there.”

LATE ADDITIONS

The Avalanche could have top prospect Cale Makar in their lineup sooner than later after signing the 20-year-old defenseman to a three-year, entry-level contract Sunday. Makar, who won the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA player of the year, is fresh off a loss with UMass in the Frozen Four title game Saturday and could be a big boost for Colorado.

”It’s my job to make sure I’m putting him in a position to succeed,” Bednar said. ”I think he’s an elite talent and a real special player. So I have hopes he can come in and help us in this series.”

Colorado isn’t the only team adding a player with the playoffs underway. The Blue Jackets signed defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov to a two-year deal and the Vegas Golden Knights signed forward Nikita Gusev for the rest of the postseason after their seasons in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League ended.

”Vladislav is an outstanding defenseman who excels at both ends of the ice,” Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. ”He is big, strong and mobile and has enjoyed a successful career in the KHL and in international competition, including winning an Olympic gold medal last year. We are very excited about his future with the Columbus Blue Jackets.”

AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Pat Graham in Denver, Joedy McCreary in Raleigh and Jimmy Golen in Boston and The Canadian Press contributed to this report.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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

The Playoff Buzzer: Working overtime; Kadri over the line

  • The Scrappy Hurricanes forced overtime, but the defending champs persisted (with a Brooks Orpik OT game-winner[!]), as the Capitals came up clutch.
  • In a grinding affair where every goal mattered, the Predators tied things up with the Avalanche via Craig Smith‘s OT heroics.
  • The only Saturday game that didn’t go to OT, and wasn’t really competitive, involved the Bruins dominated the Maple Leafs. The violence was as much the story as anything else.
  • Calgary couldn’t steal one from the Avalanche, thanks to Nathan MacKinnon and Philipp Grubauer.

Capitals 4, Hurricanes 3 [OT] (Washington leads 2-0)

The Capitals are up two games, and in each case raced off to leads, but the Hurricanes have shown that they aren’t going down without a fight. Actually, without fights. They pushed this one to OT, but a broken stick and a broken play opened the door for Brooks Orpik to be an unlikely hero. Can the Hurricanes “storm surge” back into this series? Maybe, but Washington held serve … at worst.

Predators 2, Stars 1 [OT] (Series tied 1-1)

Nashville is a defensive-minded team, but compared to the Stars, they’re basically pushing the pedal to the metal. The Predators dominated the game from a shots on goal standpoint, yet it seemed like Ben Bishop might just steal a 2-0 series lead for Dallas. The Preds found a way to beat Bishop twice, and that was enough in a tight-checking, testy Game 2.

Bruins 4, Maple Leafs 1 (Series tied 1-1)

The final score was accurate, if not generous to a Toronto team that wasn’t often overmatched in Game 2. The Bruins stormed off to an early lead, and rarely looked back. It’s possible that both teams won’t be the same for a while after this one. Nazem Kadri could receive a significant suspension for his misdeeds. Other players might be injured thanks to the assorted violence, particularly Torey Krug and Connor Clifton. It was just a nasty, nasty affair.

Avalanche 3, Flames 2 [OT] (Series tied 1-1)

Mike Smith was brilliant once again, but so was Grubauer. It seemed like Calgary would gain a 2-0 lead, as the Flames went up 2-1 with less than eight minutes remaining in regulation. J.T. Compher‘s tying goal came in the closing minutes of the third, and then MacKinnon turned on the jets to win it for Colorado in Game 2. An impressive outing by the Avs, although there’s concern on defense if Samuel Girard is injured. MacKinnon’s up there when it comes to Avs stars producing early in their playoff careers.

Three Stars

1. Evgeny Kuznetsov/top Caps

It’s difficult to put together a consensus top three because a) no one scored more than two points and b) the best goalie performances probably came from Mike Smith and Ben Bishop, who were in net for losing teams. So let’s go with players who made the biggest difference in winning games, particularly the three of four Saturday Game 2 matchups that went to overtime.

You could make arguments for multiple Capitals; both Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie managed a goal and an assist apiece, while Alex Ovechkin and Kuznetsov managed two-point games. I’m giving Kuznetsov the nod because he set the table for Brooks Orpik’s overtime game-winner by recognizing that the Hurricanes were borderline-shorthanded with a broken stick, and making a great pass to land the primary assist.

I mean, just look at Orpik’s face.

2. Mikko Rantanen/MacKinnon

MacKinnon nabbed the highlight reel OT-winner, and that shot really was a work of art. Like Predators OT hero Craig Smith, MacKinnon also felt “due,” as he generated seven SOG. if it weren’t for Smith’s strong performance, MacKinnon likely would have finished with more points than that one goal.

Rantanen got an extra point, though. He had two assists in Game 2, helping to set up MacKinnon’s breakaway tally, and was also involved in the late third-period goal that sent the contest to overtime in the first place.

If Rantanen is close to 100 percent along with Gabriel Landeskog (who were both hurt and missed key games late in the regular season), then he can help open things up for MacKinnon, which means Colorado’s elite top line could be “back.” Not a ton of lines are better than Johnny Gaudreau‘s top line, but at times, that Mac-Rant trio can be just tat. And that could really swing things if Philipp Grubauer keeps up his outstanding play.

3. Brad Marchand

OK, Marchand’s assist – the second of his two points – basically came during the playoff equivalent of “garbage time.” And the Bruins didn’t quite need Marchand’s points like the players above were needed. You could probably argue that Calle Jarnkrok deserves this, or maybe Marchand’s goalie pal Tuukka Rask (30 out of 31 stops).

But Marchand had a goal and an assist with six SOG, and he didn’t do something reckless when a lot of reckless things were happening. He didn’t even get a penalty. Maybe Marchand truly has this whole reformed thing … licked.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Highlight of the Night

MacKinnon’s OT goal is just a delight to watch, and Sam Bennett‘s first of two assists was a no-look looker. So let’s just enjoy the highlights from the Avs’ 3-2 OT win, in general.

Lowlight of the Night

There were some questionable hits on Saturday, but Nazem Kadri’s was the most blatant, and might draw a significant suspension from the Department of Player Safety.

Fact of the Night

At 38 years and 199 days old, Brooks Orpik became the oldest defenseman in NHL history to score an overtime goal in the playoffs.

Sunday’s schedule

Game 3: Islanders at Penguins, 12 p.m. ET (Islanders lead 2-0) [NBC; Live stream]
Game 3: Jets at Blues, 7:30 p.m. ET (Blues lead 2-0) [CNBC; Live stream]
Game 3: Sharks at Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET (Series tied 1-1): [NBCSN; Live stream]

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.