WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks face off against Predators on NBCSN

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After a losing six straight games (0-5-1) in December, Nashville has rebounded with a five-game point streak (4-0-1) since New Year’s Eve. Their latest win was an impressive 4-0 victory over the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday. Rinne had 18 saves in his third shutout of the season.

Filip Forsberg returned to the lineup on Monday after missing 17 games with an upper-body injury. The team was 8-7-2 without him. Monday was Nashville’s first game since Nov. 10 with Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and P.K. Subban all in the lineup.

The Blackhawks have climbed out of the basement of the NHL by going 7-4-2 since mid- December, but still have several teams to leapfrog if they want to make the playoffs. Still, they have become a tough out, as evidenced by their 4-3 loss to the Conference-leading Flames on Monday.

Patrick Kane has been red hot with 19 points (9G, 10A) in his last 11 games. He also has had multi-point games in four of his last six games. Jonathan Toews had a six-game point streak snapped on Monday, but still has 39 points (17G, 22A) in 45 games overall. Toews is on pace for 71 points and 30 goals, which would be his most productive season since 2010-11.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: United Center
When: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 7 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.

[P.K. Subban sends inspirational message to young fan after racist taunts]

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLACKHAWKS
Alex DeBrincat – Jonathan Toews – Dominik Kahun
Artem AnisimovDylan Strome – Patrick Kane
Brandon SaadDavid Kampf – Drake Caggiula
John HaydenMarcus KrugerBrendan Perlini

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy
Brandon Davidson – Henri Jokiharju

Starting goalie: Collin Delia

PREDATORS
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin FialaColton SissonsCraig Smith
Calle JarnkrokNick BoninoAustin Watson
Ryan HartmanFrederick GaudreauRocco Grimaldi

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
P.K. Subban- Mattias Ekholm
Matt IrwinDan Hamhuis

Starting goalie: Pekka Rinne

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call from United Center. Kathryn Tappen hosts NHL Live alongside analysts Mike Milbury and Keith Jones, as well as NHL insider Bob McKenzie.

MORE: Blackhawks’ Alex DeBrincat can’t stop scoring

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

Predators have one big problem to solve

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4 Comments

Some NHL teams are closer to being perfect than others, but no group of players is without flaw. The Nashville Predators are off to a great start. They’re tied for the best record in the NHL at 13-5-1, but the Preds have a huge issue they’re going to have to address sooner or later.

When it comes to goals scored, they’re currently ninth in the NHL with 62. When it comes to goals against, the Predators (44 goals allowed) only trail Winnipeg by one for top spot. So, what’s the glaring weakness? It’s the power play, which currently ranks dead-last in the NHL at 10.8 percent. No other team is below 12.7 percent this season. Yikes!

The Predators are heading into this weekend’s game against the Los Angeles Kings on a three-game losing skid. They’ve dropped one-goal decisions to Anaheim (shootout), San Jose and Arizona. During that stretch, they’ve gone 0-for-15 on the man-advantage. You think a power-play goal here or there would have made a difference in three one-goal games? Definitely.

A perfect example of that came on Monday night in Anaheim. The Preds went 0-for-7 on the power play in that one, including a 4-on-3 man-advantage in overtime. Sometimes scheme is the issue, but other times it’s just about the opponent’s aggressive penalty kill, or their goalie. In overtime, it was all about Ducks goalie John Gibson, who stoned Ryan Johansen right in front of the net.

As TSN’s Travis Yost pointed out earlier this week, one of the major issues might be how much ice time their defensemen are getting on the man-advantage. Many teams have opted to use four forwards on the power play this season, but the Preds aren’t typically one of them. Because they’re loaded with defensemen like P.K. Subban (now injured), Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis, they feel like those players are the best options in that kind of scenario. Now that Subban’s been placed on injured reserve, they could decide to hand more ice time to their forwards.

Of the eight power-play goals they’ve scored this season, three have come off the stick of Filip Forsberg. No other player has more than one. And just one of the eight goals has been scored by a defenseman, and that’s Josi.

“I thought we started to get some looks in the overtime,” head coach Peter Laviolette said after Monday’s game against Anaheim, per The Tennessean. “We could’ve won the game a bunch of times on the power play and it just didn’t go for us, so that’s where we’re at right now with it. It’s gotta be better.”

The good news for Nashville, is that they’re going to be home for the majority of the remaining days in November and early December, which means they’ll have ample practice time to work on this significant issue. Eight of the Predators’ next nine games will be at Bridgestone Arena. The only road game they’ll play between now and Dec. 3 will be in St. Louis.

Imagine how dangerous the Preds will be if they get their power play sorted out? That’s a scary thought.

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.

Predators are red-hot, but there are some red flags

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3 Comments

At a quick glance, the Nashville Predators leading the NHL with 24 standings points makes total sense. After all, we’re talking about the deep, well-built reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners, and all the widely-mocked banners that come with it.

In defeating the Colorado Avalanche 4-1 to close out Wednesday’s NBCSN doubleheader, the Predators displayed a mix of the unexpected (Colton Sissons generating a hat trick) with what’s becoming run-of-the-mill (an explosive offense going cold against Pekka Rinne). Nashville’s show has been traveling better than the circus so far in 2018-19, as their 12-3-0 overall record is buoyed by a perfect 7-0-0 mark on the road.

Everything’s going to plan, right?

So far, sure, but there are some red flags to at least monitor. Let’s take a deeper look at the Predators’ impressive start.

Red-hot Rinne

Rinne’s been ridiculous lately, including only allowing one basically unstoppable goal in the two games since signing a two-year extension with the Predators.

You can see how great Rinne’s been whether you look at simpler numbers (a remarkable .949 save percentage this season) or you dig a little deeper. From last season through this early stretch, he sports the eighth-best save percentage against high-danger scoring chances, via Corsica Hockey. You know Rinne’s on fire when he’s outpacing John Gibson and Jaroslav Halak this season, as you can see from Sean Tierney’s handy chart for Goals Saved Against Average, one of the more respected fancy stats for goalies:

For quite some time, analytics-minded people viewed Rinne as one of the league’s most overrated goalies. The argument was that the Predators provided a cocoon for the big Finn to rack up easy wins and starts, particularly when Barry Trotz’s system was at its stingy peak.

Rinne’s becoming a tougher goalie to knock, especially if inevitable jokes about the postseason are mitigated by the notion that plenty of great netminders stumble in the small sample pressure cooker of the playoffs.

If Rinne was dependent upon the team and system around him before, now I wonder if the Predators are asking too much of their veteran starter (and up-and-comer Juuse Saros).

Regression looming?

So far, the Predators lead the NHL with a +20 goal differential, as they’ve scored 51 while only allowing 31. That’s impressive, yet you wonder if Nashville’s luck could run out, possibly in troubling ways.

Via Natural Stat Trick’s numbers, the Predators have enjoyed the fifth-highest shooting percentage at even-strength (9.63-percent) and the second-best save percentage (95.18), translating to a 1.048 PDO that screams “unsustainable.”

Generally, their possession stats have been middling, and appear eerily familiar to their old, struggling buddies, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Some formulas place them very much in the middle of the pack, and you can simplify things by merely noting that they’re barely generating more shots on goal (30.9 per game) than they’re giving up (30.2).

Now, it’s not all bad, as they’ve been a top-10 team at preventing high-danger scoring chances, and none of the numbers seem outright disastrous. They don’t need to panic.

Still, these red flags should at least provide some caution, rather than inspiring the hot-starting team to rest on its laurels.

For instance, the Predators could conceivably withstand a dip in luck at 5-on-5 if they can work out what’s become a gnawing issue.

Power up that power play

It says a lot about Nashville’s strengths (and luck) that they’ve managed this 12-3-0 record despite a pitiful power-play percentage of 13, the fourth-worst efficiency rate in the NHL.

That number – if not ranking – should climb with time, even if the Predators make few adjustments. Colton Sissons’ hat-trick goal came on the power play during Wednesday’s win, for instance.

While the Predators are almost certain to get more bounces on the man advantage, it’s up to Peter Laviolette and his coaching staff to find ways to put Nashville’s power play in better situations to create and take advantage of said bounces.

Improving Nashville’s power play could be as much about massaging egos as anything else.

A deep defense that can create offense as readily as it can defuse threats makes for a splendid advantage for the Predators … most of the time. Still, having P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and to a lesser (offensive) extent Mattias Ekholm means that there’s likely pressure to run the PP through defense too often.

Looking at Tyler Dellow’s breakdown of power plays at The Athletic (sub required), you can see that the Predators:

  • Are among the team’s most likely to go with a less-explosive alignment of three forwards and two defensemen instead of four forwards and one defenseman.
  • They rank among the teams that have defensemen shooting the most often.
  • Their power play has been ineffective by many metrics.

Again, the Predators are likely to see gains just by way of puck luck rebounding, but Laviolette will probably need to make some key adjustments if Nashville wants its power play to be a greater advantage.

***

Look, the Predators often pass the “eye test,” and it’s early November, so they have plenty of time to make tweaks.

A better power play could also offset at least some of the drop-off that is likely to come from Rinne occasionally seeming human and that high shooting percentage cooling off.

Still, the Predators aren’t aiming to just be “fine.” This team has Stanley Cup aspirations, so they should pay at least some mind to weaknesses – there were worries about relying too much on Rinne last season, too – and should also take advantage of this buffer in the standings by experimenting with different strategies.

Nashville has been aggressive about improving over the years, and it’s paid off. Staying vigilant could mean the difference between another playoff letdown and truly sticking with the NHL’s absolute best.

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 Avalanche on Wednesday Night Hockey

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Wednesday night’s matchup between the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche at 10 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports App by clicking here.

This week’s Wednesday Night Hockey doubleheader wraps up with a rematch from the first-round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Nashville Predators visit the Colorado Avalanche.

It is sure to be an exciting matchup between two top Central Division teams as the Predators roll into the game owning the league’s best points percentage (22 points in 14 game) and best goal differential (plus-17). After reaching the Stanley Cup Final two years ago and then coming back a year ago to win the Presidents’ Trophy the Predators are once again on track to be one of the best teams in the NHL and a top-tier Stanley Cup contender.

The Avalanche, meanwhile, are doing their best to show that their surprise playoff appearance (after completing an incredible one-year turnaround in the standings) was no fluke. They enter play on Wednesday in one of the two Wild Card spots in the Western Conference and just one point back of Minnesota for the second spot in the Central Division.

They boast the NHL’s third-best goal differential (plus-12) and one of the NHL’s top lines with the trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog leading the way. Rantanen entered Wednesday as the league’s leading scorer with 24 points, two points ahead of Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid. MacKinnon is third in the scoring race with 21 points while Landeskog is 12th with 18 total points. His 11 goals are tied for the second most.

Puck drop in Colorado is 10 p.m. ET.

[WATCH LIVE – 10 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Nashville Predators at Colorado Avalanche
Where: Pepsi Center
When: Wednesday, November 7th, 10 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Predators-Avalanche stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

PREDATORS

Filip ForsbergRyan JohansenRyan Hartman
Calle JarnkrokKyle TurrisCraig Smith
Frederick GaudreauNick BoninoKevin Fiala
Zac RinaldoColton SissonsMiikka Salomaki

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Anthony BitettoYannick Weber

Starting Goalie: Pekka Rinne

AVALANCHE
Gabriel Landeskog – Nathan MacKinnon – Mikko Rantanen
Sheldon Dries – Alexander KerfootColin Wilson
Matt NietoCarl SoderbergMatt Calvert
Gabriel BourqueVladislav KamenevMarko Dano

Patrik NemethErik Johnson
Ian ColeSamuel Girard
Nikita ZadorovTyson Barrie

Starting goalie: Semyon Varlamov

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.