Juuse Saros

Andy Greene #6 of the New Jersey Devils is congratulated by his teammates after scoring a goal
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The Buzzer: Devils end Lightning winning streak; Predators shut out Jets

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Three Stars

1) Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers

The Atlantic Division playoff race will be fascinating down the stretch. The Panthers captain tallied a goal and two assists as Florida skated to an entertaining 8-4 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Barkov’s goal in the opening period was not anything spectacular, but his assist in the second period to set up Frank Vatrano was impressive. Barkov batted a puck out of mid-air as he intercepted a pass then raced up ice to set up Vatrano to extend the Panthers’ lead to 5-0 at the time.

2) Andy Greene, New Jersey Devils

Every individual has their own leadership style or opts to use different methods depending on the situation. Greene implemented a lead-by-example process when he clobbered a one-timer in the Devils’ 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Devils have been a huge disappointment this season and fired their general manager Ray Shero shortly before puck drop. Expect New Jersey to sell off several pieces as the NHL Trade Deadline approaches.

3) Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators

John Hynes collected his second victory behind the bench with the Predators when Saros made 28 saves for his first shutout of the season. Practice time is severely limited in this day and age, but Hynes is starting to implement his defensive philosophy. The Predators have not played up to expectations this season but are within striking distance if Hynes can get the most out of his players.

Highlights of the Night

Huberdeau ties Olli Jokinen for the most points in franchise history with a nifty deke. He would later add an assist to become the Panthers’ all-time points leader.

Barkov displayed his incredible hand-eye coordination on this interception at the blueline and then added an assist at the other end of the ice.

Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian shows off his ability to stickhandle

Stats of the Night

Scores

Nashville Predators 1, Winnipeg Jets 0

Vancouver Canucks 4, Minnesota Wild 1

Buffalos Sabres 5, Detroit Red Wings 1

Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Arizona Coyotes 3 (SO)

Florida Panthers 8, Toronto Maple Leafs 4

New Jersey Devils 3, Tampa Bay Lightning 1

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?

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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.

Predators name John Hynes new head coach

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John Hynes will be the next head coach of the Predators, replacing Peter Laviolette, who was fired on Monday.

The 44-year-old Hynes spent the last four-and-a-half seasons behind the Devils’ bench, leading them to the playoffs once. He compiled 150-159-45 record and was fired on Dec. 3 following a 9-13-4 start. He’s now only the third head coach in Predators franchise history.

“John Hynes is bright young coach and great leader who has a track record of both effectively developing young players and successfully motivating veterans,” said Predators GM Davie Poile in a statement. “We love his coaching resume and are confident that he has learned from every stop during his career, and has the best skill set to get the maximum potential out of our team.”

“This is a tremendous opportunity to join an organization with a history of success, a team with immense talent and a phenomenal fanbase,” said Hynes. “This organization has a strong foundation, from its ownership and executives to the entire front-office staff, and I’m excited to come in and try to maximize this team’s abilities.”

There are a number of connections between Hynes and the Predators, one being Devils GM Ray Shero, who worked as an assistant GM under Poile. Hynes also played with Nashville assistant GM Jeff Kealty at Boston University and worked within USA Hockey with Poile.

Hynes takes over a Predators team that has lost four of their last five, including the Winter Classic collapse. Nashville sits five points out of a Western Conference wild card spot as they host the Bruins Tuesday night.

This is a prime chance for Hynes to lead a turnaround of a team that is performing well despite the results. The Predators have posted positive possession and expected goals numbers (52% Fenwick, 52% xGF, per Natural Stat Trick) and are averaging 3.44 goals per game. What’s been dogging them is poor special teams — 16.8% power play, 74% penalty kill — and goaltending (.916 even strength save percentage). Better goaltending from Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros would be the start of a big turnaround that Poile believes can come from his team.

Every struggling NHL team that fires a head coach midseason is hoping to mimic the Blues from a year ago. Poile bolstered his roster over the summer in hopes of making another run at the Stanley Cup after falling short in 2017. There are 41 games left in their regular season, which means plenty of time to climb out of their hole and fix what’s been ailing them this season.

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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.

Predators fire coach Peter Laviolette

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Peter Laviolette is out as head coach of the Nashville Predators.

The team announced on Monday evening that it has fired their long-time coach just one day after a tough shootout loss in Anaheim.

It also comes less than a week after general manager David Poile said a coaching change was not in his immediate plans. The Predators have yet to announce a replacement. They play tomorrow against the Boston Bruins.

Along with Laviolette, the Predators also fired associate coach Kevin McCarthy.

“Under the leadership of Peter and Kevin, our organization reached unprecedented heights – from our franchise-altering run to the Stanley Cup Final to a Presidents’ Trophy and our first two Central Division titles,” Poile said in a statement released by the team.

“Their passion for the game, ability to motivate a team and drive to be the best makes this a difficult decision. On behalf of the entire organization, I would like to thank Peter and Kevin for all their contributions to the Nashville Predators over the past five-and-a-half seasons.”

Laviolette has been with the Predators since the start of the 2014-15 season. They made the playoffs in each of his first five years with the team, winning a Presidents’ Trophy, two division titles, and the 2016-17 Western Conference. They lost the Stanley Cup Final that year to the Pittsburgh Penguins in six games. The Predators were the third different team he coached to the Stanley Cup Final, joining the Carolina Hurricanes (winners in 2005-06) and Philadelphia Flyers (lost to Chicago Blackhawks in 2009-10).

The Predators were 248-143-60 during his time with the team.

He is one of just two head coaches in the Predators’ 21-year existence (Barry Trotz is the other).

The firing comes after a disappointing first half that has the Predators on the outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. Entering the week they are four points back of the Calgary Flames for the second wild card spot, but do still have the luxury of having four games in hand.

It has been a weird season for the Predators because for as frustrating as it has been, there are still signs they can get back on track. Their 5-on-5 play has been very strong this season, but their special teams and goaltending have both been lousy. Those two factors have sunk them in the standings. If Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros can get back on track (which should improve the PK) things could turn around very quickly for this team in the second half. That is a big if, though.

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.