Alain Nasreddine

NHL on NBCSN: Predators face Hynes’ old team, the Devils

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New Jersey Devils and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

John Hynes and the Predators visit Hynes’ old team, the Devils, for the first time since Hynes took over in Nashville.

The whole thing figures to be awkward for … most involved. That includes the players, and coaches, as Devils interim coach Alain Nasreddine noted to NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti that he’s coaching against his mentor on Thursday.

“It’s definitely weird, even coming in in a situation like this where it’s a whole new staff, whole new players,” Hynes said. “Usually when you get a job, you bring someone you know or you interview a bunch of guys before you do it. Here, you kind of just jump in and you just start working together right away. It’s been fantastic.”

Predators, Devils since Hynes change

Frankly, coaching changes haven’t altered the Devils’ or Predators’ paths all that much, in the grand scheme of things.

The Devils have been about as expected, going 9-13-4 since Nasreddine replaced Hynes. In some ways, that’s a respectable improvement. Ultimately, it’s really all about building for the future amid a lost season for New Jersey, anyway.

While Hynes describes the experience of taking over the Predators as fantastic, the results have left a lot to be desired.

The “meh” start can be seen most clearly in Nashville’s 4-4-0 record in eight games under Hynes.

Of course, you can only tell so much from a win-loss record, particularly over such a small sample size. Unfortunately, deeper dives don’t inspire a ton of confidence.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

The Predators felt stale under Peter Laviolette, yet many of their underlying numbers shined, as you can see at Natural Stat Trick. By almost all standards, those numbers have declined under Hynes. In particular, the Predators have slipped in the area of controlling high-danger chances. They’ve only generated 46.77 percent of such chances in eight games under Hynes, the eighth-worst mark in the NHL. The Predators were a top-10 team in that area during Laviolette’s final run.

Ultimately, goaltending doomed Laviolette in Nashville. To some extent, the same thing happened with Hynes in New Jersey. If the Predators want to turn things around, they have to hope that Hynes finds answers where he failed to before.

Maybe it will all really start to turn around where Hynes’ first coaching job ended?

Kenny Albert and Joe Micheletti will call the action at Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Kathryn Tappen will anchor studio coverage on Thursday alongside Anson Carter.

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.

Goalapalooza: Offense coming from everywhere around NHL

Alain Nasreddine has watched New York Rangers defensemen go to the front of the net and hang out below the goal line.

It wasn’t like this back in his playing days.

Nasreddine scored one goal in 74 NHL games as a defenseman from 1998-2008. Now, the interim New Jersey Devils coach sees a league in which defensemen are expected to score – and they are delivering.

Goals are coming from everywhere this season: lacrosse-style from Andrei Svechnikov and Filip Forsberg, a ton from the blue line and even one from Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne. A total of 661 different players have scored at least once this season, a testament to balanced attacks around the league.

”You want a five-man offense,” Nasreddine said. ”The way the game is played right now, you need a five-man offense with D-men joining, whether that’s off the rush or in the offensive zone.”

There are an average of 6.12 goals per game so far this season, the second straight year that number has surpassed six and just the third time in the past 23 seasons. The top four goal scorers are all forwards 24 or younger; more impressively, 200 defensemen have combined to put up 727 goals.

Washington’s John Carlson is on pace to be the NHL’s first 100-point defenseman since Brian Leetch in 1991-92. But he’s just the leader of the pack as the style of play in the league moves more and more toward getting defensemen involved in the offense.

”Nowadays, everybody activates the D,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. ”I don’t think there’s a team that doesn’t try to get their D to join the rush. You can’t just have your top two defensemen (be) offensive guys. You have to have everybody participate.”

Look no further than the Nashville Predators for a prime example of that. Even after trading P.K. Subban, Nashville’s blue line can still pile up the goals and has combined for 29 through 48 games.

”Teams want their defensemen to jump up, want their defensemen in the play,” Predators defenseman Roman Josi said. ”Every team has kind of that fourth guy in the rush all the time, and even in the O-zone, teams are moving. I think that’s just kind of the way the game is now.”

The game is trending that direction so much that Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour tells his team, ”You score off the rush and you score on the power play.”

Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin said odd-man rushes with defensemen are ”the best opportunities to score” and that, combined with the talent of young defensemen like Dallas’ Miro Heiskanen, Colorado’s Cale Makar and Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin, has been responsible for much more offense from the back end.

”You look at the young guys coming in: Heiskanen, Makar, some of these really young guys, and they come in and they’re contributing right away,” Slavin said. ”I think some teams are driven by their defense, and when their defensemen are going, that’s when the team’s playing really well. Some of those teams have those offensive defensemen that are expected to put up big numbers.”

Josi, whose 14 goals sit one off the league lead among defensemen, is a perennial Norris Trophy contender in part because of how much emphasis he puts on defense. But he’s also the prototypical modern-day blue liner in that he can do it all.

”You’re a defenseman and your primary job is to defend well,” Josi said. ”But if you’re on the power play, if you consider yourself a two-way defenseman, yeah, you want to produce offensively, too.”

Nasreddine points out that teams like the Rangers – who lead the NHL in defensemen scoring – and the Capitals often let their defensemen go to the front of the net or even below the goal line. That used to be a no-no except for some of hockey’s best who could handle those responsibilities. Now it’s just part of what coaches expect, and it’s changing who’s playing the position.

”That’s why you’re seeing more mobile defensemen, skating defensemen, because most coaches want those defensemen to be involved in the offense,” Nasreddine said. ”It’s been going for a while now, but you see it more and more.”

LIGHTNING STRIKING

Not long ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning sat outside a playoff position in the Eastern Conference. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the top regular-season team and getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round last season, it was fair to worry about the Lightning not putting as much value in the 82-game grind this time.

Tampa Bay is 12-2-1 since just before Christmas and now trails Atlantic Division-leading Boston by just seven points with two extra games left to play.

”We don’t think about the future or think about the past,” Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said. ”If you’re going to think about your future, you’ll miss your present so that’s our philosophy for right now.”

Hischier replaces Palmieri as Devils’ All-Star Game rep

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Nico Hischier replaced Kyle Palmieri as the New Jersey Devils’ representative for the 2020 NHL All-Star Game. (Palmieri suffered an injury blocking a shot during the Devils’ upset win over the Lightning on Sunday.)

This marks the first All-Star Game appearance for Hischier, 21, the first pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

There might be a temptation to throw Hischier in with the Devils’ many problems. After all, the Devils lucked into two top overall picks (with Jack Hughes being the latest from 2019), made strong trades including landing Taylor Hall, yet couldn’t get it done.

Don’t blame Hischier, though.

The Swiss-born center ranks among the Devils’ brightest spots — alongside Palmieri, honestly. The young forward brings plenty to the table while rarely taking anything away. Consider his heatmap from Hockey Viz as just one illustration of Hischier’s many strengths:

If standard offensive stats work better for you, Hischier passes those tests, unless you’re grading him too harshly based on his draft status. Hischier ranks second on the Devils in scoring (28 points in 40 games), trailing only Palmieri (31 points in 44). In case you’re wondering, Hall was at 25 points in 30 games before being traded to the Coyotes.

The Devils need more players like Hischier. If his career trajectory continues as such, we also might see more of Hischier in future All-Star Games.

The 2020 NHL All-Star Skills Competition will take place on Friday, Jan. 24 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and the 2020 NHL All-Star Game will be on Saturday, Jan. 25 (8 p.m. ET, NBC).

MORE NHL ALL-STAR GAME COVERAGE:
All-Star Game rosters
NHL All-Star Game captains
All-Star Game coaches
Pass or Fail: 2020 All-Star Game jerseys
Alex Ovechkin will not play in 2020 All-Star Game

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Diving into problems for Devils, Canadiens

Canadiens Devils Morning Skate Carey Price
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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.

• William Douglas profiles the hockey journey of Joonas Oden in the latest edition of Douglas’ “Color of Hockey” series. Could Oden’s journey include playing with the Seattle expansion franchise? (NHL.com)

Connor McDavid recently turned 23, so Frank Seravalli put him in elite company. (TSN)

• NJ.com’s Steve Politi argues that Devils co-owner Josh Harris needs to “look in the mirror” when pondering the team’s problems. (NJ.com)

• Speaking of the Devils, there’s early evidence that they’ve improved during third periods after replacing John Hynes with Alain Nasreddine. (All About The Jersey)

• Sean “Down Goes Brown” McIndoe takes Erik Karlsson and other players to “contract court.” (The Athletic [sub required])

• Blackhawks fans should relax about the team’s negotiations with Robin Lehner. My take: he’s been fantastic, again … but what kind of package would a contender send to Chicago to land such a talented goalie? If Chicago isn’t asking that type of question, even if they prefer an extension, then I would be worried. (The Rink)

• On the subject of pending free agent goalies, Jimmy Howard‘s really struggling. With Jonathan Bernier injured, the Red Wings might lean on him even more. Doesn’t seem like an ideal situation, folks. Maybe they should put him in situations to succeed so (wait for it) they can trade him to a contender? Just saying, part II. (Detroit Free-Press)

• More goalie talk: Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin continue to dominate for the Stars. Can they keep it up? My feeling parallels that of the Islanders: if not, they should at least be commended for doing it for 1.5 seasons. Pretty tough to maintain such dominance in an unforgiving NHL. (Dallas Morning News)

• Brodie Brazil dares to wonder if the Sharks might be turning it around. (Goaltending ranks among his three reasons.) I dare to wonder if it’s already too late. (NBC Sports California)

• Andrew Berkshire breaks down what broke down for the Canadiens in 2019-20. (Sportsnet)

• The Blues Jackets keep defying those who assume they’re down for the count. (Jackets Cannon)

• Capitals fans vote on the team’s best jersey design. Allow an opinion: the general rule is: less bird, the better. (Nova Caps)

• More jersey design banter: Hockey By Design ranks the Maple Leafs sweaters from worst to first. (Hockey By Design)

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.

Chance at redemption? Devils recall Cory Schneider

Devils recall Schneider
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With Mackenzie Blackwood injured, the New Jersey Devils opted to recall Cory Schneider on Sunday.

Consider this the latest chapter in a trying time for both the goalie and the team.

To put things mildly, much has changed with the Devils since Schneider’s last NHL appearance on Nov. 8. The Devils fired John Hynes and bumped Alain Nasreddine up to head coach. Recognizing the reality of this 2019-20 season, the Devils also traded Taylor Hall.

In some ways, this feels like a lost team calling up a lost goalie. Schneider’s struggles are profound, while the Devils are tied for the second-least standings points in the East (16-21-7 for 39 points). Yet, the Devils and Schneider have a chance to rebuild some confidence. In the case of the Devils, they can also gather more intel on who should remain in the fold, and who should go during this prolonged rebuild.

New Jersey upset the Capitals 5-1 on Saturday, and they close a back-to-back set with the red-hot Lightning on Sunday. Those count as some nice temperature checks for a team that sorely wants to improve, even by baby steps.

Let us recall recent ups and downs for Schneider

Schneider, 33, saw a precipitous drop in his game starting in 2016-17. After three strong seasons with the Devils (no lower than a .921 save percentage from 2013-14 to 2015-16), Schneider hasn’t topped .908.

The goalie’s 2019-20 appearances haven’t been inspiring, either. Schneider hasn’t won yet with the Devils this season (0-4-1) and suffered with a terrible .852 save percentage.

If you squint, you can find some hope — albeit mild. Schneider generated a four-game winning streak during his stint with the AHL’s Binghamton Devils, allowing one goal during three of those victories and two in his other.

Similarly, squinting at the right split stats could keep things from getting too dour. After enduring terrible work before last season’s All-Star break (.852 save percentage in nine games), Schneider improved to a .921 save percentage over 17 games after that break.

That improved work didn’t carry over from late 2018-19 to early 2019-20, but maybe Schneider can restore some confidence with this run? Considering his $6 million AAV through 2021-22, the Devils will take whatever hope they can get as far as Schneider is concerned.

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.