Mattias Ekholm

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WATCH LIVE: Predators visit Ducks on NBCSN

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.

NHL on NBCSN: Time for Predators to make their move

Predators
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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.

This season has not gone as planned for the Nashville Predators.

They enter Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (10 p.m. ET, NBCSN) in 10th place in the Western Conference, four points out of a playoff spot, and in the middle an ugly stretch that has seen them lose three out of their previous four games.

It is all very unfamiliar territory for the Predators. After being one of the league’s best teams over the previous five years but always falling just short of climbing to the top of the NHL mountain, they tried to shake things up this season. They dealt from their depth on defense by jettisoning P.K. Subban‘s contract to create salary cap space to add another impact player at forward. Matt Duchene ended up being that player.

On paper, the roster looks like a contender. They still have a deep defense even without Subban thanks to the presence of Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis. And while they may not have a superstar forward, but they are very deep and have seen their offense dramatically improve from where it was a year ago. They are sixth in the league in goals per game, and even though the power play is still not very good, it is not as historically inept as it was a year ago.

The two big issues that have held them back are a lack of a consistency, a struggling penalty kill, and a shocking decline in their goaltending.

The latter issue is no doubt a big driving factor in the first two.

Entering play on Sunday the duo of Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saraos has the second-worst all-situations save percentage in the NHL, ahead of only the Detroit Red Wings’ duo of Jimmy Howard and Jonathan Bernier. In no situation are they worse than on the PK where they have stopped just 79 percent of the shots they have faced, a mark that is by far the worst in the NHL and well below the league average.

Goaltending is always going to be the one position that makes-or-breaks team’s season, and it’s not a stretch to suggest that if Rinne and Saros had spent the first half playing up to their normal levels that the Predators would be in a dramatically different in the standings. That’s also something that should give Predators fans optimism that this season isn’t yet lost. Even though they find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture at the halfway point and a few points back, they still have games in hand and have a lot of key ingredients in place to win. This is a team that is probably significantly better than its record indicates. If their goaltending can ever get itself back in track in the second half this is a team that may not go away quietly given the improved offense.

Now would be a pretty good time for that to start happening.

A four-point deficit in the playoff race may not seem like a huge gap to make up, but only about 20 percent of the teams facing such a deficit at this point in the season actually end up overcoming it. Points are hard to make up in the standings, and games in hand don’t necessarily equate to “wins” in hand. So it’s time for the Predators to try and build on Saturday’s big win in Los Angeles and try to stack some wins together to begin making up that ground, and the schedule certainly creates quite an opportunity for that.

Starting with Sunday’s game in Anaheim, seven of the Predators’ next 10 games for the rest of January are against teams that currently reside in the bottom half of the league standings.

If they are going to get back in the playoff picture and gives themselves a chance to make some noise, that process has to start now.

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.

Stars rally to win 2020 Winter Classic, leave Predators in peril

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The Dallas Stars refused to let a terrible 1-7-1 start ruin their season, and didn’t allow a big early mistake to derail them against the Nashville Predators. After falling behind 2-0 thanks largely to Corey Perry’s ejection, the Stars rallied to beat the Predators 4-2 to win the 2020 Winter Classic.

Plenty of bad blood between Stars and Predators

Perry played a big part in the Dallas Stars falling into a 2-0 hole to begin the game. Mere minutes into the contest, Perry picked Ryan Ellis‘ head with an elbow, getting thrown from the contest.

The Stars made the situation worse by adding a delay of game penalty, and the Predators eventually took advantage with those two goals. That start left most of the crowd of 85,630 — the second largest audience for any NHL game behind only the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium — muttering, if not booing. The Stars made sure that the non-Predators contingent ended up going home happy.

Happy is not the right way to describe the mood on the ice, though.

Perry elbowing Ellis was far from the only violent moment during this outdoor game. Few were safe during the first NHL game of 2020. Notice that even aggressors were wounded, as Radek Faksa showed when he was shaken up following a questionable hit on Mattias Ekholm:

Stars win third in a row

The Stars fired Jim Montgomery not that long ago, throwing Rick Bowness right into the deep end. Bowness inspired early critics, and probably will absorb more gripes as the season goes along. But maybe this Stars team will be able to rally around their unexpected veteran coach more often than not?

Dallas improved to 23-14-4, winning their third game in a row. The Stars put themselves in a decent position to possibly get the Central Division’s third or even second seed with this run.

Instead of caving after Perry put the Stars in a bad position, they rallied. Starting with a Blake Comeau goal with a little bit more than a minute remaining in the second, Dallas rattled off four unanswered goals. After that Comeau goal, the Stars scored their three third-period goals in a 6:14 burst. One cannot help but wonder if the Stars should be more aggressive, more often.

This marks the Stars’ league-leading seventh win after trailing following a second period.

Predators in peril

When the Predators were nursing a 2-0 lead, it seemed like the headlines would be about this being a costly win. Then the Stars erased even that silver lining.

Ryan Ellis left Wednesday’s game and did not return. For a team that needs to make every game count, losing a key defenseman ranks as a brutal blow, especially if Ellis misses extended time.

The Predators saw their losing streak fatten to three games, and now stare down the barrel of a stretch where five of their next six games are on the road. For a team that’s wobbling, could that stretch push them off of a cliff?

Both teams, especially the Predators, really wanted these two points. The Stars, too, face a tough stretch soon (five of six on the road, beginning on Jan. 8). While the Predators have wilted under pressure — including this afternoon — the Stars keep showing they can roll with all sorts of punches.

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.

Arvidsson injury puts damper on Predators’ much-needed win

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(UPDATE: Bortuzzo has been suspended for four games.)

The good news for the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames is that they both ended their respective six-game losing streaks on Saturday. The bad news is that the bad news isn’t so easy to ignore.

In the case of the Flames, it’s that they, frankly, didn’t play very well. Some would argue they didn’t deserve their shootout win against the Flyers.

Nashville’s bad news is less about team play: they lost Viktor Arvidsson during the game, as he didn’t return thanks to a lower-body injury suffered from a pretty ugly set of cross-checks from St. Louis Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo:

Arvidsson makes much of his living scoring ugly goals close to the net, and that means taking plenty of hits like those — sometimes from goalies. Chalking that up to it being the nature of the beast won’t make Bortuzzo’s blows sting any less for Arvidsson, though. Arvidsson was limited to 58 regular-season games played last season, so  there has to be at least some concern for the smallish 26-year-old Swedish winger.

But, hey, the Predators did win, and looked pretty good doing so.

One almost gets a sense that Nashville was in a rush to pull off that Band-Aid against the Blues. Filip Forsberg scored the 1-0 goal just 20 seconds into the game (primary assist: Arvidsson), Mattias Ekholm made it 2-0 a little more than three minutes later, and the Predators ended the opening frame up 3-1.

The Blues scored a late goal to make things interesting, but Nashville collected an empty-netter to lock up that treasured win for the Predators.

Looking forward, the Predators play the Blues again on Monday, face the Golden Knights on Wednesday before a quick road jaunt against the Hurricanes and Panthers. None of those games seem like gimmes, so the Predators must work to shake off what’s still been a larger losing trend (now merely 2-6-2 in their last 10 games).

MORE: What’s been wrong with the Predators?

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.

How Duchene, Predators looked in win against Wild

After Minnesota went up 2-1 heading into the second intermission, it looked like the Minnesota Wild might just steal one from the Nashville Predators during the Preds’ home opener. To add frustration to the situation, Nashville’s power play squandered some early opportunities, providing an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu.

The third period told a different story, however, as the Predators scored four goals in an impressive final 20 minutes to win 5-2 on Thursday.

Matt Duchene might just be worth those big bucks

As Duchene acknowledged in discussing picking the Predators in free agency, it’s felt like the player and team were destined to join forces for a while now, to the point that it was almost surprising Duchene didn’t release a country music album to accompany word of the signing.

One game can’t justify or condemn a seven-year, $56 million contract, yet … so far, so good.

Duchene finished the win with three assists, and while the last one was on an empty-netter, he was robbed of a different one when Devan Dubnyk made an incredible save on Mikael Granlund:

Predators’ power play isn’t there yet

It’s not fair to get too bent out of shape after one game, especially since the Predators only went 0-for-2. Still, it would have been even sweeter if Duchene and others did some of their damage on the man advantage, as that was a huge weakness for Nashville last season.

Promising early work from P.K. Subban‘s unofficial replacement

The Predators traded away Subban largely so they could afford Duchene (and maybe, partially to open up room for Roman Josi‘s next contract), but GM David Poile also noted that Dante Fabbro‘s cup of coffee in 2018-19 made him feel comfortable with moving on from P.K.

Fabbro didn’t get credited with a goal or an assist on Thursday, but he logged 19:15 TOI, and enjoyed a positive 55.17 Corsi For Percentage at five-on-five, according to Natural Stat Trick.

If Fabbro can keep his head above water while Josi (assist, +3 rating) Ryan Ellis (1G, 1A, +4), and Mattias Ekholm (1A, +2) deliver as expected, the Predators could find a deadly mix of defense, a stable (if not world-class) goaltending pairing, and improved offense.

This team passed its first test.

Long season for the Wild?

Minnesota showed flashes of brilliance, and not just when Matt Dumba flashed a ridiculous shot, or when Jason Zucker showed why so many stats-leaning people couldn’t believe that he was in trade rumors.

Still … it feels like this team just doesn’t “have the horses” to hang with the best of the best (a group the Predators have generally belonged with). Maybe there’s enough here for Bruce Boudreau to squeeze out a playoff berth, but would that be enough?

Even making it that far is a pretty big maybe.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.