Predators’ Watson suspended, in substance abuse program

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Predators forward Austin Watson, who began this season on suspension, has been suspended again as part of the NHL’s substance abuse program.

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association announced Tuesday that Watson had been placed in Stage Two of the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health program ”for treatment related exclusively to his ongoing issues with alcohol abuse.”

That means Watson, who won’t be paid during this suspension, cannot return until program administrators clear him to return.

The Predators said in a statement that they are ”saddened and disappointed” for Watson and his family.

”We are grateful for the NHL and NHLPA’s program and will cooperate in any way necessary as we continue to support Austin and his family as they go through this difficult time,” according to the team statement. ”Because of the personal nature of the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program and our exclusive focus on Austin and his family’s well-being, there will be no further comment on this matter.”

Watson already had served a suspension for the first 18 games of the season after pleading no contest to a domestic assault charge in July. His girlfriend, Jenn Guardino, issued a statement in October taking blame for the incident in the parking lot of a gas station, saying she had struggled with alcoholism for years and was involved in AA.

The Predators forward shared Jan. 11 in an Instagram post that he’d been dealing with anxiety, depression and alcoholism since the age of 18. He said that he was currently sober and committed to a ”healthy lifestyle.”

Watson currently has seven goals and 13 points in 34 games with Nashville, which is second in the Central Division.

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Predators’ Watson: Alcohol issues led to his arrest

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson says the arrest last year that led to his 18-game suspension came when he started drinking again after 23 months of sobriety.

Watson, who turns 27 on Sunday, said Friday in an Instagram post that he’s been dealing with anxiety, depression and alcoholism since the age of 18. Watson said he voluntarily entered the NHL’s substance abuse program after his June 16 arrest.

”I am currently sober and committed to living a healthy lifestyle so that I can be the father, partner, teammate and person I want to be,” Watson said.

Watson pleaded no contest July 24 to domestic assault and agreed to a judicial diversion program that enabled the misdemeanor charge to be dismissed if he served three months of probation and completed an in-patient treatment program and a batterer’s intervention program.

He initially received a 27-game suspension from the NHL, but an arbitrator reduced it to 18 games. He was reinstated in mid-November and has six goals and two assists in 28 games this season.

Watson was arrested in connection with a June 16 incident after a witness flagged down a police officer to a gas station in Franklin Tennessee. According to the incident report, Watson told police he and his girlfriend were arguing and that he pushed her. Officers said they found red marks on her chest, and she said Watson caused them.

Watson’s girlfriend, Jenn Guardino, issued a statement in October taking blame for the incident and saying Watson would never hit or abuse her. In her statement, Guardino said she had ”struggled with alcoholism for many years.”

In his Instagram post, Watson said that he and his girlfriend were ”engaged in a heated, nonphysical argument” that day. Watson said that both he and his girlfriend had relapsed in their battles with alcoholism during the month leading up to the incident.

”I did not cause marks on her chest or blood on her leg,” Watson said. ”I did handle matters that day poorly and did not uphold the standards of an employee of the Nashville Predators or National Hockey League.

”I take full responsibility for my involvement in the argument and have learned from the situation and taken the necessary steps to ensure that nothing of this nature happens again.”

Watson added that he and his girlfriend are ”healthy, happy and committed to our own individual sobriety as well as continuing to strengthen our relationship.”

”We have learned from our mistakes and are excited to move forward in our relationship,” Watson said. ”We wish only to raise our daughter Olivia in the most healthy and loving atmosphere we can provide.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Jenn Guardino, girlfriend of Predators’ Austin Watson, says he never abused her

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Jenn Guardino, the girlfriend of Austin Watson, has come out with a statement saying that the Nashville Predators forward did not physically abuse during an incident in June, clarifying that the incident was the result of her battle with alcoholism.

Watson is currently serving an 18-game suspension for his role in the domestic violence incident, one that began at 28 games before an independent arbitrator reduced it earlier this week.

In a statement first tweeted out by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Saturday, Guardino thanked family and friends for their support and extended her compassion to victims of domestic violence before clarifying the incident that took place in June.

“The incident that took place on June 16th, however, was not an act of domestic violence,” she wrote. “Austin Watson has never, and would never hit or abuse me. My behavior and state of intoxication led to the police being involved that day. I have struggled with alcoholism for many years and I am actively involved in AA.”

Guardino thanked Watson for his continued support through her treatment.

“We handled matters poorly on June 16th and know that we need to make better decisions going forward. I take full responsibility for my actions on that day. I would like to sincerely apologize to everyone involved for the negative attention that followed this incident, including the Nashville Predators community and the city of Nashville.”

The 26-year-old reportedly shoved Guardino during an argument at a gas station in Tennessee over Guardino’s drinking, which had led the couple to miss a wedding.

Watson pleaded no contest to the charges in July.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Rinne, Predators hand Blues their sixth straight loss in 4-0 win

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The thought of the St. Louis Blues missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs a couple months ago would have been brushed fiercely, and with good reason.

Even with a packed infirmary, the Blues managed to hang with the big boys atop the Central Division, a testament to their depth. Everything was pretty much status quo, what we’ve come to expect from the Blues as a perennial playoff team with lots of talent.

And then the wheels fell off.

The Blues lost their sixth straight game on Sunday, a 4-0 defeat to a Nashville Predators team that they previously shared a table with in the NHL’s toughest division.

Now, the Blues are now fighting for a playoff spot. They sit a point behind the Anaheim Ducks for the second wildcard spot in the Western Conference and two points back of the Minnesota Wild for third in the Central Division.

The Blues are now 0-5-1 in their past six and have scored two goals or fewer in seven of their past 10 games, including being shutout twice. The once-reliable scoring well has dried up. St. Louis was shutout 4-0 on Friday night against Winnipeg in an embarrassing effort. Sunday’s wasn’t much different.

Nashville, meanwhile, continues to cruise and regained sole possession of top spot in the Central Division, two points ahead of the Winnipeg Jets with a game in hand.

The win also put the Predators a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights for tops in the Western Conference and two points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning at the summit in the NHL.

Along with Sissons’ goal, Kevin Fiala notched his 20th to five the Preds a 2-0 lead at the first intermission.

Everything went right for the Preds, even when they were shorthanded.

Watson’s shorty made it 4-0 after Scott Hartnell gave Nashville a 3-0 lead 1:20 into the second period.

That nice orange-red circle in front of Jake Allen is pretty telling.

Pekka Rinne, meanwhile, was solid in the crease for the Predators, picking up his sixth shutout of the season and 49th of career in a 27-save performance.

The Predators, who have now won four straight, get their stiffest challenge yet against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. On the line is first place in the division, a spot both teams will likely duke out for heading down the home stretch.

MORE: Pro Hockey Talk 2018 NHL Trade Deadline Tracker

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Looking to make the leap: Kevin Fiala

There are a handful of Nashville Predators prospects hoping to make the leap in 2015-16.

Kevin Fiala distinguishes himself by saying that he will pull it off, as Preds GM David Poile noted at a fan gathering back in June.

“At the end-of-the-year meetings when [Head Coach] Peter Laviolette and I are talking to players, we’re usually the ones doing 90 percent of the talking,” Poile said. “So we did the talking to Kevin and then he says, ‘What do I need to do, I’m going to be playing for the Nashville Predators next season. I’m not going to [AHL affiliate] Milwaukee, I’m going to be playing [in Nashville].’”

Those are some bold words, yet the 19-year-old may just sense a pattern forming.

As the 11th pick of the 2014 NHL Draft, Fiala experienced quite the 2014-15 season. It began in Sweden with Jonkoping, but the Predators brought Fiala over to the AHL in January. He performed nicely at both levels (including scoring 20 points in 33 games with the Milwaukee Admirals) and even saw a game of regular season and playoff action with the Predators.

Poile believed that Fiala would benefit from the jump, noting the development process for Swedish sensation Filip Forsberg.

” … By getting a head start on the acclimation process to the North American style of play and smaller rinks, we expect Kevin – like Filip Forsberg two seasons ago – will continue his growth as a dynamic offensive prospect,” Poile said in a release when Fiala came to the U.S. early in 2015.

The pedigree and swagger are there in droves, yet opportunity might not strike.

On the Forecheck spotlights the uphill battle that Fiala (not to mention other intriguing young players like Austin Watson and Colton Sissons) face cracking the Predators’ forward lineup:

Even with shipping Taylor Beck to Toronto, there are too many regular NHLers on the bottom two lines to accommodate the rookies in waiting. The bridge that separates the prospects from the NHL is about ready to collapse under all the weight of those loitering on it.

It won’t be easy, especially if Poile & Co. prefer to see Fiala get big minutes in the AHL rather than a depth role in the NHL, but at least Fiala isn’t going about his business meekly.