AP

Predators storm back against Capitals to snap six-game losing streak

When they are healthy the Nashville Predators have one of the most complete rosters in the NHL. The problem for them over the past month is that they haven’t really been very healthy, and it has taken a huge toll on them.

A quick recap on the injury situation they have been dealing with…

  • P.K. Subban missed more than a month-and-a-half and just returned two games ago.
  • Filip Forsberg has been sidelined for more than a month and is probably a couple of weeks away from returning.
  • Viktor Arvidsson missed 24 games (returning two games ago along with Subban), while Kyle Turris has missed 10 over the course of the season.

That is a lot of firepower out of the lineup, and in many of those cases, at the same time.

The result was a six-game losing streak heading into Monday’s game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

After facing a pair of two-goal deficits in that game (2-0 and 3-1), they were able to storm back with five consecutive goals to pick up a much-needed 6-3 win.

Ryan Johansen had a huge afternoon with three points, and their bottom-six had some big contributions as well.

What’s incredible about their recent slide is that even with it they are still in second place in the Central Division and, after their win in Washington, just two points back of the Winnipeg Jets for the top spot.

That is after losing six games in a row and going just 8-10-1 since the middle of November when this run of injuries started. It is a statement on good this team is when it is at full strength and how much of a cushion they built earlier in the season.

Now they are starting to get healthy again.

With Subban and Arvidsson back in the lineup and Forsberg getting closer they are inching their way back to full-strength, and it’s coming at just the right time for them.

After hosting the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night (a very winnable game, even if it is part of a back-to-back), they set out on a six-game road trip which isn’t exactly full of the NHL’s powerhouses. It should be a great opportunity to make up for the recent slump and get back on track, stacking some wins together.

We know what this team is capable of when it’s healthy. Two years ago it was in the Stanley Cup Final and was winning the Presidents’ Trophy a year ago. We just haven’t had an opportunity to see them at full health very often this season. When we have, we’ve seen a championship contender that has looked just as good, if not even better, than the past two Predators teams.

Perhaps Monday’s game is the spark they need to get back to that level.

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.

Domi’s been electric since trade, but don’t give up on Galchenyuk

2 Comments

The Montreal Canadiens and Arizona Coyotes are set to play at Gila River Arena on Thursday, making it only natural to rehash the still-fascinating Max DomiAlex Galchenyuk trade.

There’s no denying that the immediate returns have been drastically one-sided. While Galchenyuk’s been a mixture of injured and inconsistent (three goals and 11 points, limited to 23 games played), Domi’s defied all but the wildest expectations in scoring almost a point per game (33 in 35).

Considering the very different results for each player, his team, and the very different hockey markets they play in, you’d expect some over-the-top reactions.

Yet, even some of the warmer takes still acknowledge that the differences are probably exaggerated. While the headline for Eric Engels’ Sportsnet story is a bit much, maybe, in deeming Montreal “already clear-cut winners” of the trade (I’d personally go with “currently” instead of “already”), there’s a nod to the possibility that both players may meet closer to the middle in the future:

Yes, we’ve considered that Galchenyuk, who has 11 points in 23 games, suffered an injury in training camp that required a minor procedure and forced him to the sidelines until the eighth game of the season; that he produced eight points in his first nine games at centre; that it’s still early in his tenure with the Coyotes; and that Domi, who’s producing at an unprecedented rate in his first full year at centre in the NHL, could be in for a course correction.

That “course correction” is crucial to understanding the potential longer-term effects of this trade, or how things could look considerably different down the line.

Whenever you’re looking for red flags about a player being too good to be true, or way too cold to predict future contributions, you’ll often find answers in uncanny shooting percentages, and that’s true here.

It’s almost too perfect that Alex Galchenyuk’s 6.8 shooting percentage this season is so comparable to Domi’s from 2017-18, when he only connected on six percent of his SOG (and that was with four empty-netters). Remarkably, Galchenyuk’s 17.5 shooting percentage this season matches his combined shooting percentage from last season and 18-goal rookie effort from 2015-16, when he shot at 11.5 percent.

So, a healthier, luckier Galchenyuk will probably score more often than he is now. And Domi might cool off a bit, causing the two to meet somewhere close to the middle … which isn’t that far off from where they were upon the trade. As TSN’s synopsis notes, they both had .61 point-per-game averages before the swap, with Galchenyuk being more of a sniper while Domi was a more prolific playmaker.

The key, then, is not to smear either forward. Instead, it’s far more interesting to consider some of the takeaways, and to ponder some of the talking points that might get emphasized too often.

Time will tell

Pat Brisson serves as an agent for both players, giving him a unique – if sympathetic – perspective on both Galchenyuk and Domi. So it’s interesting to see Brisson deliver a “pump the brakes” message on the trade, as he told Craig Morgan of The Athletic (sub required).

“I usually look back later, not after 30-some games,” Brisson said. “I wait and see. So far Max is happy, but the whole team in Montreal is going way better than anyone expected. They have a lot more wins and a lot of players on that team seem to have found themselves and it has a domino effect …”

There’s some recent history that points to maybe not jumping to too many conclusions.

Shortly after the landmark Kyle TurrisMatt Duchene – Sam Girardi – Ottawa’s future hopes and dreams trade, many were burying Duchene and lavishing Turris with praise as the two went through cold and hot streaks respectively. With more time and games under their belts, it’s clear that Duchene is fantastic, Turris is effective, and those early impressions were knee-jerk reactions.

(Also: we probably won’t truly know the impact of that trade until we find out what kind of pick the Senators cough up to the Avalanche.)

Considering their polar opposite shooting luck, the way their teams are playing, and health concerns, things look dramatically different now, but Galchenyuk has a decent chance of catching up to Domi, at least once he gets healthy.

Center of attention

It seems like every big hockey market has a narrative or two that just won’t go away.

With the Pittsburgh Penguins, rumors of Phil Kessel trades loom like Michael Myers creepily staring off from a distance, waiting to make us roll our eyes. When it comes to Galchenyuk, talk of center vs. wing seems inescapable, even now that he’s in Arizona.

Much has been made about Galchenyuk at least briefly moving back to the wing, while Domi’s had success at center, with Jonathan Drouin over on his wing. That’s worth noting, but the obsessiveness sometimes loses the big picture: good players can make a difference from various positions on the ice.

If Galchenyuk can flourish with fewer responsibilities playing on wing, much like Claude Giroux has with the Flyers, then who really cares? Many believe that the flow of modern hockey already obscures centers/wings to more generic “F1”-type designations, so such talk can often get overstated.

Not every mention of Galchenyuk’s perceived inability to play center is meant as a slight, yet sometimes it seems like a coy way of making a blanket insult, without explicitly making them.

Details that might matter

For teams all around the NHL, there are some potential lessons to take from these situations.

The first is one that’s hammered often: it can be very dangerous to trade a player suffering from a low shooting percentage, as you might be guilty of selling low. (Looking at you, Oilers, with Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall.)

But the Coyotes and Canadiens might have been right in merely identifying that two players simply weren’t fitting in properly, and making a logical-enough lateral move, with things working out undeniably better for Montreal so far through close to half of 2018-19.

Arpon Basu made an interesting point for The Athletic (again, sub required): during his years in Arizona, Max Domi rarely had the same linemate, let alone the same two.

It’s plausible that hockey-mad Montreal fits Domi’s personality better (just ask his dad), while Galchenyuk may get back on track in part because Arizona’s more laid back. But, perhaps the Coyotes might want to put Galchenyuk in less situations of upheaval?

You also wonder if there’s something systemic that’s making skill players struggle to score a bit more in Arizona, while Claude Julien’s done masterful work in optimizing Montreal to be a faster, more attacking team that many expected. After all, the Coyotes’ 2.45 goals-per-game ranks second-worst in the NHL this season, so you can’t pin that all on Galchenyuk.

***

Interestingly, Coyotes GM John Chayka is making virtually the same “potential”-related comments about Galchenyuk finding his game now that Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin made about Domi when he was acquired. Bergevin was vindicated, and it’s possible that Chayka will be too, although the Coyotes’ overall outlook seems bleak with crucial goalie Antti Raanta out indefinitely.

As of today, Domi’s been a smash success in Montreal, while Galchenyuk’s a mixed bag for the Coyotes.

It’s plausible that we’ll feel the same way about the trade in several months, and maybe years, but it’s too early to be sure right now.

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.

Klingberg return could be boost Stars need to make playoffs

1 Comment

For some time now, the Dallas Stars have ranked among the NHL’s most frustrating teams because, while they boast some outstanding high-end talent, they’ve rarely put it all together.

You might chalk a portion of that irked feeling to unfair expectations created by the dazzling early days with Tyler Seguin injected into the lineup, but still.

It’s probably unfair to dismiss the first season under Jim Montgomery as “same old, same old” for a simple reason: injuries.

To be more precise, the Stars – for all of their stumbles – hadn’t really dealt with the absence of near-Norris-level defenseman John Klingberg very often until 2018-19. He played every game in 2017-18, missed only two in 2016-17, and suited up for 76 in 2015-16, so missing six weeks is not a normal experience for the slick Swedish defenseman.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Klingberg is pumped to play against the Blackhawks on Thursday, representing his first bit of action since Nov. 8.

While rust might be a factor, Klingberg indicates that his recovered hand should be just about good as new, as he noted to The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro (sub required).

“It can’t get any worse or re-injured by playing,” Klingberg said. “As long as there isn’t a shot to the exact same place at the exact same angle.”

(Aside: did anyone else hear ominous music in their head when they read about Klingberg saying the “exact same place at the exact same angle?” Probably just me, after reading Bobby Ryan discuss why he was unhappy that Kyle Turris was slashing at his hand[s] before their unexpected fight.)

Beyond wins and losses, the Stars have been disappointing because they merely haven’t always been as exciting on the ice as they seem on paper, considering the fact that they’re ranked sixth-lowest at goals for and fifth-lowest at goals against.

It’s easy to forget how much of a difference Klingberg can make in altering the pace of Stars games.

Through 16 games this season, Klingberg had a whopping 13 points. Some of that was unsustainable (11.6 is a very high shooting percentage for a defenseman, well above Klingberg’s already-fairly-high 7.3 career average), but Klingberg is one of the NHL’s most explosive scoring defensemen, however you slice it.

He was also seeing an even bigger role under Montgomery, averaging a substantial 25:03 TOI per game, up from last season’s previous career-high of 24:04. Losing an elite defenseman who played almost half of every Stars game? Yeah, that will do a number on your transition game, not to mention overall play (as Klingberg is excellent from a possession standpoint at this stage of his career).

It’s also enticing to realize that the Stars could rapidly approach the sort of modern, puck-moving defense that thrives in the current NHL.

Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen have both been taking on significant minutes lately, and could each make sensible partners for Klingberg, what with Klingberg being a right-handed blueliner and those two being lefties. (At the moment, it looks like Lindell will go with Klingberg.)

Now, sure, it would be even more exciting if Julius Honka would also get in that space-age, top-six mix, but maybe that would be too greedy?

Speaking of lineups, these thoughts bring up another note: the Dallas Morning News’ Matthew DeFranks points out that the Stars have only had all of Klingberg, Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alex Radulov in the same lineup for seven of 34 games so far in 2018-19.

As of this writing, the Stars sit at ninth place in the West with a 17-14-3 record (37 points in 34 games). They’re two points behind second wild card Edmonton, who have 39 points in an extra game (18-14-3), so the Stars aren’t far off.

For all we know, Klingberg could stand as the difference between Dallas making the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, or once again coming up painfully short.

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.

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

Unlikely fight: Bobby Ryan vs. Kyle Turris

3 Comments

File this Monday fight under “unexpected,” as Nashville Predators center Kyle Turris dropped the gloves with Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators.

Turris was once Ryan’s teammate with the Sens, but it’s unclear if that had anything to do with it. Either way, when you consider the players involved, this was a fairly passionate bout.

It looked like Ryan got the best of Turris, at one point seemingly leaving Turris dazed.

Via Hockey Fights, it’s been quite a while for Ryan, in particular, as his last fight happened against Kris Russell in March of the 2013-14 season.

Turris, meanwhile, has seen quite a remarkable array of opponents, ranging from Tanner Glass to Marc-Edouard Vlasic, with current teammate P.K. Subban also included.

After falling behind 3-0, the Predators were able to secure a standings point by sending the game to OT at 3-3. The Senators got the last laugh, however, as Thomas Chabot scored this beautiful overtime game-winner:

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.