Craig Smith

NHL on NBCSN: Can Hynes, Predators warm up against hot Blackhawks?

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks and Predators both find themselves out of the playoffs, but their stories have been very different lately.

While injuries pile up, Chicago is hot by recent standards. The Blackhawks are keeping their shaky playoff hopes alive with wins in six of their last nine games, scoring enough to offset problems. Their overall record sits at 19-19-6 (44 points in 44 games).

Meanwhile, the Predators keep grasping for answers.

Predators, Hynes running out of time

Nashville fans looking for an instant success were out of luck in Hynes’ Predators debut. The Bruins dispatched the Predators by an unsettling score of 6-2.

The larger recent picture looks dim. Nashville only won once in its last five games, and that was a win against the lowly Los Angeles Kings. The Predators head into Thursday with a mediocre 19-16-7 record (45 points in 42 games).

While games in hand matter, the Predators also realize that they need to stop squandering them.

“We’ve been [saying] the same stuff over and over again,” Rinne said shortly after the Predators fired Peter Laviolette and hired Hynes. “[There’s] a lot of time, a lot of time, a lot of time. But time is running out. You’ve got to change the way you do things. The bottom line is enough talking, we’ve got to start playing.”

[Our Line Starts: Is Hynes for Predators?]

Early impressions

Of course, in Rinne’s case, it would help to … you know, get some stops.

Hynes endured terrible goaltending with the Devils. Rinne and Juuse Saros disappointed wildly so far in 2019-20, and the first game under Hynes didn’t provide meaningful changes on the scoreboard.

Then again, the Bruins rank as one of the league’s toughest opponents, and that first game was a rushed process. Even with that in mind, Hynes made some early impressions on the Predators. While Craig Smith pointed to some excessive complexity during Laviolette’s latter days, Matt Duchene and others describe Hynes’ message as “crystal clear.”

“It was simple and easy to grasp,” Austin Watson said of Hynes’s practice, via the team website. “I’m sure we’ll make adjustments as we go forward or add some different tweaks, but for today, I thought it was great. You back it up with some video and then go on the ice and just try to get better today.”

[Discussing some changes Hynes can make in replacing Laviolette]

Rinne mentioned that the Predators are running out of time. They’re also running out of excuses. While the Blackhawks are finding ways to win, Nashville cannot lose games like these. Thursday figures to be a significant test for the Predators and their new coach.

Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will call the action from United Center in Chicago. Paul Burmeister will anchor Thursday night’s studio coverage with Keith Jones and Mike Johnson.

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.

Can Hynes succeed with Predators where Laviolette failed?

1 Comment

The Nashville Predators actually did it. They fired Peter Laviolette, and then hired John Hynes in a dizzying span.

The dream is that Hynes can sculpt this lump of underachieving clay back into contending shape. How well do such imaginings line up with reality, though? Let’s consider the way things might or might not change for the Predators.

Good Cop/Bad Cop?

In sports, teams sometimes opt to rotate approaches. First, you hire a “yeller” to scream out the procrastinators. Then you soothe various wounds with a “player-friendly” coach … or vice versa.

The Predators might be aiming for such a dynamic.

While plenty (including Babcock-blasting Mike Commodore) showed fondness for Laviolette over the years, the word “intense” comes up over and over in describing the coach. The Tennessean’s Joe Rexrode summed up some of that intensity in a May 2017 column:

This is a man whose default setting is “cold glare” when he enters a room. A seemingly humorless man, a professional sourpuss, a coach who can detect bad intentions in the most harmless of questions.

When Hynes was fired, it was striking to see just how many people went out of their ways to support him. The praise ranged from players including Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier to former front office members.

Affixing Hynes with a white hat and Laviolette with a twirly villain’s mustache would, again, be a bit extreme. Laviolette showed a sense of humor in being the butt of a joke, after all, while some wonder if Hynes favored veterans over younger players in New Jersey.

Still, in a broad, “macro” sense, you could argue that the Predators shifted from a stern to a gentler touch.

Hynes upgrading offense after it wilted under Laviolette?

After hiring Laviolette, Predators GM David Poile (understandably) hyped Laviolette’s “aggressive offensive philosophy.”

Laviolette justified such claims — for a time. After all, a franchise that once spent first-round picks to land Paul Gaustad was now emphasizing offensive acquisitions from Filip Forsberg to Ryan Johansen to Matt Duchene.

Whatever happened along the way — maybe the message faded, perhaps the league passed Laviolette by — the Predators’ offense plummeted. This thread from Micah Blake McCurdy argues that Hynes may improve Nashville’s system, even just by default.

Hynes provides a clean slate for those who fell in Laviolette’s doghouse

Following Sunday’s uglier-than-it-seemed shootout loss to the Ducks (which may have been the final straw for Lavy, depending upon whom you ask), Preds winger Craig Smith implied that Nashville’s system became bogged down by details.

“Sometimes maybe we overthink our system and play a little (lax) and sit back on our heels,” Smith said, via The Tennessean’s Paul Skrbina. “In the third (period Sunday) I think we just said eff it; let’s get after it a little bit. Read and react. Just play hockey, making hockey plays. That’s what we did.”

Could Hynes help them just play hockey? Maybe, maybe not.

In a fascinating discussion of Hynes’ Devils days, CJ Turtoro told On the Forecheck that Hynes’ system could also get too complicated.

Turtoro: One weakness for this particular team seemed to be complexity. As I mentioned, his system aims to create space, but that can create chaos that makes it difficult for players to support one another if they’re not on the same page, or not where they’re supposed to be …

The dream would be for Hynes to boost the Predators’ offense without taking away too much defense. Basically, the fantasy would parallel Craig Berube finding the right mix for the Blues after Mike Yeo leaned too defense-heavy. File that under easier said than done, of course.

Either way, the Predators may simply get a boost from Kyle Turris and others getting a clean slate.

Personally, I get the impression that Turris has paid for past sins. He struggled last season, injuries or not, but there’s compelling evidence that he shouldn’t have been a healthy scratch. Certainly not a frequent one.

Don’t underestimate the power of getting out of the doghouse.

Plenty of work to do

It’s kind of cruel that Hynes is going from one of the worst goalie duos to one of the league’s other terrible tandems.

If nothing else, it’s far more surprising to see Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros struggle that it was to see the Devils’ motley crue produce dismal results. So maybe Hynes can help them achieve more, particularly behind a far, far superior defense than the one he deployed in New Jersey?

Hynes and the Predators don’t have much of a margin for error, so this should be interesting to watch.

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.

Ducks dominate, but Predators steal a point

The Nashville Predators had no business being in much of Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. Despite a terrible start and an ugly middle, the Predators salvaged a point, though, falling 5-4 to Anaheim via a shootout.

To reiterate: this was a pretty putrid Predators performance. That said, squeezing charity points (or more?) out of clunkers like these might make the difference between Nashville making or missing the playoffs.

Plenty to chew on for Predators fans who want Laviolette gone

Peter Laviolette’s critics may circle this game, even if the result could have been worse for Nashville.

The Ducks generated a lopsided 21-4 shots on goal advantage during the first period, yet Juuse Saros bailed Laviolette & Co. out. Remarkably, the game entered the first intermission tied 1-1.

It seemed like some of those bounces balanced out during the middle frame. After Craig Smith gave the Predators a head-shaking 2-1 lead, the Ducks scored three goals in a row to go up 4-2 to end the second period. Nashville’s opening 40 minutes felt like a referendum on what’s been wrong with this team, aside from the notion that their goalie (largely) saved the day.

(For most of 2019-20, Saros and Pekka Rinne have been a big part of the problem, however critics felt about Laviolette.)

The Predators hung in there, though, even if it was rarely pretty.

A few heroes steal that point for Predators

Laviolette should thank a handful of guys for helping him save face.

  • Again, Saros made the biggest difference. Maybe this performance will help the Predators’ smaller Finnish goalie to turn things around, as 2019-20 has not been kind to him?
  • Laviolette should also thank the Predators’ penalty kill. With the score tied 4-4 late in the third, the Predators were whistled for a too many men on the ice penalty. Imagine how ugly the discussion would be around Lavi if that was the way Nashville lost?
  • Smith scored two goals. The winger ranks as one of the team’s most underrated players once you start digging into advanced stats.
  • Rocco Grimaldi scored the game-tying goal and also generated an assist. The undersized winger loomed large in overtime, generating a golden overtime breakaway opportunity and crashing into the Ducks’ net on another chance.

Grimaldi couldn’t score, however, thanks to a spectacular save by John Gibson:

Incredible.

Getzlaf makes the difference

Ryan Getzlaf entered Sunday’s game suffering through a brutal slump.

Failing to score in eight consecutive games was bad enough. Getzlaf also absorbed a -10 rating during that span. Plus/minus stinks as a broader stat, but it can tell a different story sometimes: that things just hadn’t been going well for Getzlaf and his team.

The big center dominated the Predators, though. Getzlaf generated three assists, and he also scored the shootout-deciding goal. Gibson and Getzlaf ended up making the ultimate difference, and Nashville is lucky it went as far as a shootout.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Predators visit Ducks on NBCSN

Getty Images

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Anaheim has lost three straight games and six of their last eight (2-5-1). They currently sit in last place in the Western Conference, 10 points outside the 2nd Wild Card. They saw their run of six-straight playoff appearances snapped last season, and are in jeopardy of missing out on the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1999-00 to 2001-02 (three straight seasons). In their last game at Arizona, the Ducks dropped a 2-1 lead, allowing three goals in the third period to lose 4-2.

For a second straight season, the Ducks are at the bottom of the scoring charts in the NHL. After finishing last in the league last season (2.39 goals/game), they are currently 30th in the league in scoring (2.49 goals/game – only DET is averaging fewer).

Speaking on Thursday, GM David Poile said that while he is not planning on firing head coach Peter Laviolette, there may be changes ahead if the Predators do not improve as the trade deadline approaches in February.

“I met with [Laviolette] this morning,” he said. “We had a long talk about lots of different situations going forward. I’m not contemplating making any coaching change at this time… We’ve really got some soul searching to do right now. I have to do some real thinking about where we’re going for the rest of this year… Right now, we’re not in the playoffs and I’m open for business, if you will… I guess the point I’m saying today is, sitting here outside of the playoffs, we have for the last several years been buyers at the trading deadline. If we don’t improve here shortly, we might be a seller for the first time in a number of years. I’m hoping that’s not the case, but as I said, I am open for business and I’m certainly going to be willing to listen to different teams’ thought processes on any of our players at this point.”

Ryan Ellis was placed on Injured Reserve on Friday after the defenseman took an elbow to the head from Dallas’ Corey Perry less than three minutes into the Winter Classic. Ellis needed help leaving the ice and did not return to the game, while Perry was handed a five-game suspension for elbowing. Ellis is tied for second on Nashville with 28 points and has averaged 23:24 TOI per game this season. Alexandre Carrier was called up from the AHL on Friday, with Jarred Tinordi, who was recalled from Milwaukee on Dec 26, expected to see some time in the lineup.

With his defensive partner Ryan Ellis sidelined, even more pressure will be on captain Roman Josi to produce. Josi, who signed an 8-year, $72.472M contract in October, leads the Predators in points (14G-27A, 41 points) and is averaging 25:36 TOI per game this season (fourth in NHL). Josi enters Saturday’s game against Los Angeles riding a career-long eight-game point streak (7G-8A, 15 points), which includes five multi-point games. Only one defenseman in franchise history has ever had a 9-game point streak (Shea Weber in 2010-11). Josi was selected to the All-Star Game this season, the 3rd selection of his career (second straight).

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: Nashville Predators at Anaheim Ducks
WHERE: Honda Center
WHEN: Sunday, Jan. 5, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Predators-Ducks stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PREDATORS
Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenViktor Arvidsson
Calle JarnkrokKyle TurrisMikael Granlund
Rocco GrimaldiNick BoninoCraig Smith
Yakov TreninColin BlackwellAustin Watson

Roman Josi – Yannick Weber
Jarred Tinordi – Mattias Ekholm
Dan HamhuisMatt Irwin

Starting goalie: Juuse Saros

DUCKS
Adam HenriqueRyan GetzlafSam Carrick
Max Jones – Sam SteelOndrej Kase
Max Comtois – Isac Lundestrom – Jakob Silfverberg
Nicolas DeslauriersDevin ShoreCarter Rowney

Hampus LindholmJosh Manson
Cam FowlerErik Gudbranson
Jacob LarssonKorbinian Holzer

Starting goalie: John Gibson

Alex Faust and analyst Brian Hayward will call the action from Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

PHT Morning Skate: 2020 wish lists; Backstrom’s contract negotiations

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.

• ESPN’s latest power rankings break down a wish in 2020 for every team in the NHL. (ESPN)

• The Hockey News breaks down the top 10 individual performances of the decade at the World Juniors. (The Hockey News)

• Who is the most valuable player to his team? (Sportsnet)

• Why haven’t the Caps and Nicklas Backstrom come to an agreement on a new contract? (Washington Capitals)

• The Devils continue hesitating when it comes to shooting the puck. (NJ.com)

• Check out the New York Rangers’ top 10 trades of the decade. (Blue Shirt Banter)

• Panthers forward Jonathan Huberdeau should be at the NHL All-Star game. (Rat Trick)

• What should Anthony Duclair‘s next contract look like? (Silver Seven Sens)

Jeff Skinner‘s 5-on-5 impact on the Sabres goes beyond points. (Die By the Blade)

• Craig Berube might become the best coach in Blues franchise history. (Bleedin Blue)

• As weird as this may sound, the Golden Knights are a force at 4-on-4. (Sinbin.Vegas)

Craig Smith is about to erupt for the Predators. (Predlines)

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.