Craig Smith

NHL on NBCSN: Can Hynes, Predators warm up against hot Blackhawks?

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Blackhawks and Predators both find themselves out of the playoffs, but their stories have been very different lately.

While injuries pile up, Chicago is hot by recent standards. The Blackhawks are keeping their shaky playoff hopes alive with wins in six of their last nine games, scoring enough to offset problems. Their overall record sits at 19-19-6 (44 points in 44 games).

Meanwhile, the Predators keep grasping for answers.

Predators, Hynes running out of time

Nashville fans looking for an instant success were out of luck in Hynes’ Predators debut. The Bruins dispatched the Predators by an unsettling score of 6-2.

The larger recent picture looks dim. Nashville only won once in its last five games, and that was a win against the lowly Los Angeles Kings. The Predators head into Thursday with a mediocre 19-16-7 record (45 points in 42 games).

While games in hand matter, the Predators also realize that they need to stop squandering them.

“We’ve been [saying] the same stuff over and over again,” Rinne said shortly after the Predators fired Peter Laviolette and hired Hynes. “[There’s] a lot of time, a lot of time, a lot of time. But time is running out. You’ve got to change the way you do things. The bottom line is enough talking, we’ve got to start playing.”

[Our Line Starts: Is Hynes for Predators?]

Early impressions

Of course, in Rinne’s case, it would help to … you know, get some stops.

Hynes endured terrible goaltending with the Devils. Rinne and Juuse Saros disappointed wildly so far in 2019-20, and the first game under Hynes didn’t provide meaningful changes on the scoreboard.

Then again, the Bruins rank as one of the league’s toughest opponents, and that first game was a rushed process. Even with that in mind, Hynes made some early impressions on the Predators. While Craig Smith pointed to some excessive complexity during Laviolette’s latter days, Matt Duchene and others describe Hynes’ message as “crystal clear.”

“It was simple and easy to grasp,” Austin Watson said of Hynes’s practice, via the team website. “I’m sure we’ll make adjustments as we go forward or add some different tweaks, but for today, I thought it was great. You back it up with some video and then go on the ice and just try to get better today.”

[Discussing some changes Hynes can make in replacing Laviolette]

Rinne mentioned that the Predators are running out of time. They’re also running out of excuses. While the Blackhawks are finding ways to win, Nashville cannot lose games like these. Thursday figures to be a significant test for the Predators and their new coach.

Brendan Burke and Pierre McGuire will call the action from United Center in Chicago. Paul Burmeister will anchor Thursday night’s studio coverage with Keith Jones and Mike Johnson.

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.

Can Hynes succeed with Predators where Laviolette failed?

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The Nashville Predators actually did it. They fired Peter Laviolette, and then hired John Hynes in a dizzying span.

The dream is that Hynes can sculpt this lump of underachieving clay back into contending shape. How well do such imaginings line up with reality, though? Let’s consider the way things might or might not change for the Predators.

Good Cop/Bad Cop?

In sports, teams sometimes opt to rotate approaches. First, you hire a “yeller” to scream out the procrastinators. Then you soothe various wounds with a “player-friendly” coach … or vice versa.

The Predators might be aiming for such a dynamic.

While plenty (including Babcock-blasting Mike Commodore) showed fondness for Laviolette over the years, the word “intense” comes up over and over in describing the coach. The Tennessean’s Joe Rexrode summed up some of that intensity in a May 2017 column:

This is a man whose default setting is “cold glare” when he enters a room. A seemingly humorless man, a professional sourpuss, a coach who can detect bad intentions in the most harmless of questions.

When Hynes was fired, it was striking to see just how many people went out of their ways to support him. The praise ranged from players including Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier to former front office members.

Affixing Hynes with a white hat and Laviolette with a twirly villain’s mustache would, again, be a bit extreme. Laviolette showed a sense of humor in being the butt of a joke, after all, while some wonder if Hynes favored veterans over younger players in New Jersey.

Still, in a broad, “macro” sense, you could argue that the Predators shifted from a stern to a gentler touch.

Hynes upgrading offense after it wilted under Laviolette?

After hiring Laviolette, Predators GM David Poile (understandably) hyped Laviolette’s “aggressive offensive philosophy.”

Laviolette justified such claims — for a time. After all, a franchise that once spent first-round picks to land Paul Gaustad was now emphasizing offensive acquisitions from Filip Forsberg to Ryan Johansen to Matt Duchene.

Whatever happened along the way — maybe the message faded, perhaps the league passed Laviolette by — the Predators’ offense plummeted. This thread from Micah Blake McCurdy argues that Hynes may improve Nashville’s system, even just by default.

Hynes provides a clean slate for those who fell in Laviolette’s doghouse

Following Sunday’s uglier-than-it-seemed shootout loss to the Ducks (which may have been the final straw for Lavy, depending upon whom you ask), Preds winger Craig Smith implied that Nashville’s system became bogged down by details.

“Sometimes maybe we overthink our system and play a little (lax) and sit back on our heels,” Smith said, via The Tennessean’s Paul Skrbina. “In the third (period Sunday) I think we just said eff it; let’s get after it a little bit. Read and react. Just play hockey, making hockey plays. That’s what we did.”

Could Hynes help them just play hockey? Maybe, maybe not.

In a fascinating discussion of Hynes’ Devils days, CJ Turtoro told On the Forecheck that Hynes’ system could also get too complicated.

Turtoro: One weakness for this particular team seemed to be complexity. As I mentioned, his system aims to create space, but that can create chaos that makes it difficult for players to support one another if they’re not on the same page, or not where they’re supposed to be …

The dream would be for Hynes to boost the Predators’ offense without taking away too much defense. Basically, the fantasy would parallel Craig Berube finding the right mix for the Blues after Mike Yeo leaned too defense-heavy. File that under easier said than done, of course.

Either way, the Predators may simply get a boost from Kyle Turris and others getting a clean slate.

Personally, I get the impression that Turris has paid for past sins. He struggled last season, injuries or not, but there’s compelling evidence that he shouldn’t have been a healthy scratch. Certainly not a frequent one.

Don’t underestimate the power of getting out of the doghouse.

Plenty of work to do

It’s kind of cruel that Hynes is going from one of the worst goalie duos to one of the league’s other terrible tandems.

If nothing else, it’s far more surprising to see Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros struggle that it was to see the Devils’ motley crue produce dismal results. So maybe Hynes can help them achieve more, particularly behind a far, far superior defense than the one he deployed in New Jersey?

Hynes and the Predators don’t have much of a margin for error, so this should be interesting to watch.

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.

Ducks dominate, but Predators steal a point

The Nashville Predators had no business being in much of Sunday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. Despite a terrible start and an ugly middle, the Predators salvaged a point, though, falling 5-4 to Anaheim via a shootout.

To reiterate: this was a pretty putrid Predators performance. That said, squeezing charity points (or more?) out of clunkers like these might make the difference between Nashville making or missing the playoffs.

Plenty to chew on for Predators fans who want Laviolette gone

Peter Laviolette’s critics may circle this game, even if the result could have been worse for Nashville.

The Ducks generated a lopsided 21-4 shots on goal advantage during the first period, yet Juuse Saros bailed Laviolette & Co. out. Remarkably, the game entered the first intermission tied 1-1.

It seemed like some of those bounces balanced out during the middle frame. After Craig Smith gave the Predators a head-shaking 2-1 lead, the Ducks scored three goals in a row to go up 4-2 to end the second period. Nashville’s opening 40 minutes felt like a referendum on what’s been wrong with this team, aside from the notion that their goalie (largely) saved the day.

(For most of 2019-20, Saros and Pekka Rinne have been a big part of the problem, however critics felt about Laviolette.)

The Predators hung in there, though, even if it was rarely pretty.

A few heroes steal that point for Predators

Laviolette should thank a handful of guys for helping him save face.

  • Again, Saros made the biggest difference. Maybe this performance will help the Predators’ smaller Finnish goalie to turn things around, as 2019-20 has not been kind to him?
  • Laviolette should also thank the Predators’ penalty kill. With the score tied 4-4 late in the third, the Predators were whistled for a too many men on the ice penalty. Imagine how ugly the discussion would be around Lavi if that was the way Nashville lost?
  • Smith scored two goals. The winger ranks as one of the team’s most underrated players once you start digging into advanced stats.
  • Rocco Grimaldi scored the game-tying goal and also generated an assist. The undersized winger loomed large in overtime, generating a golden overtime breakaway opportunity and crashing into the Ducks’ net on another chance.

Grimaldi couldn’t score, however, thanks to a spectacular save by John Gibson:

Incredible.

Getzlaf makes the difference

Ryan Getzlaf entered Sunday’s game suffering through a brutal slump.

Failing to score in eight consecutive games was bad enough. Getzlaf also absorbed a -10 rating during that span. Plus/minus stinks as a broader stat, but it can tell a different story sometimes: that things just hadn’t been going well for Getzlaf and his team.

The big center dominated the Predators, though. Getzlaf generated three assists, and he also scored the shootout-deciding goal. Gibson and Getzlaf ended up making the ultimate difference, and Nashville is lucky it went as far as a shootout.

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.

The Buzzer: Price is right for Canadiens, Malkin’s 400th goal, and Hall’s impact

NHL Scores Taylor Hall Coyotes Debut
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Three Stars

1. Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens. If the Canadiens are going to make the playoffs they are going to need more performances like this from Price. He stopped 38 shots on Tuesday and helped the Canadiens pick up a 3-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Price had a slow start to the season but has started to get back on track over the past couple of weeks. He has won four of his past five starts with a .952 save percentage during that stretch.

2. Sebastian Aho, Carolina Hurricanes. Aho is on quite the run for the Hurricanes. His three point effort on Tuesday (including two goals to put him over the 20-goal mark for the fourth consecutive year to start his career) gives him 11 points over the past five games. His assist numbers are down a little this season, but he is currently on pace for 48 goals as he continues to have an incredible chemistry with linemate Teuvo Teravainen.

3. Taylor Hall, Arizona Coyotes. His stat line in his Coyotes debut is not one that will wow you. He finished with just one assist in 18 minutes and attempted three shots in 18 minutes of ice time. But he still did exactly what the Coyotes acquired him to do — make an impact in a close game. With the Coyotes and Sharks playing in a 2-2 tie late in the third period, Hall used his speed to win a race for a loose puck, maintain possession, and set up Oliver Ekman-Larsson for the game-winning goal. Hard to ask for more than that in a debut. He will make his home debut on Thursday when the Coyotes host the Minnesota Wild.

Other notable performances from Tuesday

  • Thanks to big nights from John Marino, Bryan Rust and Tristan Jarry the Pittsburgh Penguins were able to pick up a huge 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames. That game also featured a milestone goal for Evgeni Malkin as he scored the 400th goal of his career.
  • Craig Smith and Calle Jarnkrok both had three points as the Nashville Predators scored seven consecutive goals to rout the New York Islanders, 8-3, ending the Islanders’ 13-game point streak on home ice (they went 12-0-1 during the streak).
  • A late goal from Matt Roy and an overtime winner from Anze Kopitar helped lift the Los Angeles Kings to a 4-3 win over the slumping Boston Bruins.
  • Carter Hart made 40 saves and the Flyers’ stars (Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier, and Jakub Voracek) all had big games in a 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks. The Flyers and their fans also showed support for forward Oskar Lindblom during the game. Read about that here.
  • Gustav Nyquist had two points, including a goal, in his return to Detroit as the Columbus Blue Jackets picked up a 5-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings.

Highlights of the Night

Auston Matthews scored two goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs in their 5-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres, including this beauty. Read all about his game and the Maple Leafs’ big win here.

Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 24 shots for the Vegas Golden Knights in their 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild and none were better than this stop. He earned career win No. 453 and is just one win away from moving into a tie for sixth-place with Curtis Joseph on the NHL’s all-time wins list.

The Tampa Bay Lightning allowed a two-goal lead to slip away against the Ottawa Senators but still managed to get the win thanks to this beauty of a goal from Anthony Cirelli in overtime.

You also need to take one more look at Andrei Svechnikov‘s second lacrosse-style goal of the season for the Carolina Hurricanes. You can do that right here.

Blooper of the Night

Nikita Kucherov did not play much in the third period of the Lightning’s win, but he did score the game’s first goal. Senators goalie Marcus Hogberg losing his stick and looking completely out of sorts certainly helped.

Factoids

  • Lou Lamoriello has now been an NHL general manager for 2,500 games. [NHL PR]
  • Thomas Chabot played 37 minutes for the Senators on Tuesday night (on the second night of a back-to-back!). According to Hockey-Reference, only Dennis Wideman’s 38 minutes in 2014 are more for a regular season game. [Elliotte Friedman]
  • Jack Eichel‘s point streak is at 17 consecutive games, one away from tying the Buffalo Sabres’ franchise record. [NHL PR]

Scores

Los Angeles Kings 4, Boston Bruins 3 (OT)
Toronto Maple Leafs 5, Buffalo Sabres 3
Tampa Bay Lightning 4, Ottawa Senators 3 (OT)
Nashville Predators 8, New York Islanders 3
Philadelphia Flyers 4, Anaheim Ducks 1
Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Detroit Red Wings 3
Carolina Hurricanes 6, Winnipeg Jets 3
Pittsburgh Penguins 4, Calgary Flames 1
Montreal Canadiens 3, Vancouver Canucks 1
Vegas Golden Knights 3, Minnesota Wild 2
Arizona Coyotes 3, San Jose Sharks 2

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.

Where it went wrong for Predators, and how they could fix it

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There has been a changing of the guard in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins? Out without winning a single game between them.

The Winnipeg Jets, a Western Conference Finalist a year ago and a popular Stanley Cup pick this season? They are finished.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Now the Nashville Predators, one of the top teams in the Western Conference for a couple of years now, have joined them. Just like the Jets, it probably should not be a huge surprise to see them go out as early as they did because something just seemed to be off with this team for much of the season, and especially in the second half.

It’s not hard to find the biggest culprit in their demise this season, either, and it begins with an inconsistent offense that was dragged down by the league’s worst power play unit. It was a unit that hit rock bottom in their Round 1 loss against the Dallas Stars.

To say it was bad would be an understatement.

It wasn’t just bad, it was historically bad. The type of performance that would make even an objective third party with no rooting interest scream at the TV at its overall incompetence.

After finishing the regular season converting on just 12.9 of their power play opportunities, one of the worst marks the NHL has seen over the past 15 years, the Predators went 0-for-the-series against Dallas, failing to score on even one of their 15 power play attempts. This is not something that just happens. The NHL has tracked power play success rates as far back as the 1933-34 season, and the Predators were just the 11th team during that time to get at least 15 power play opportunities in the playoffs and fail to score a single goal. You probably will not be shocked to learn that none of those 11 teams advanced beyond Round 1. You don’t need a great power play to win the Stanley Cup, but you need to get something out of it on occasion.

The Predators got nothing, continuing what turned out to be a season-long trend.

Dallas’ PK deserves a lot of credit here, and especially starting goalie Ben Bishop, but Nashville’s struggles on the power play weren’t a new thing in this series, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest it wasn’t just a run of bad luck — it was simply a bad unit that needs drastically improved.

Not only did they have the NHL’s lowest success rate, but they were only 19th in the league at generating shot attempts on the power play and even worse (24th) at actually getting those attempts on net. If you can’t generate shots, and if you can’t get them on net when you do, you’re not going to score many goals.

Now comes the question on how to address it.

Injuries were a big problem for the Predators throughout the season, with Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K, Subban, and Kyle Turris all missing significant action, and when Turris was on the ice, his production took a cliff dive. It is worth wondering if they are in need of another big-time forward. Forsberg and Arvidsson are outstanding, but they might still need another impact player up front. Maybe a full season from Mikael Granlund will help (he was mostly silent after coming over from the Minnesota Wild in a pre-deadline trade), but even he is not really a player that is going to put the fear of God in an opposing defense. He is very similar to what the Predators’ forward group is already made of — really good and really productive players, but not really a game-changing, impact talent.

If there is one thing to be said about general manager David Poile it is that he is not afraid to swing for the fences in trades. He has made several blockbusters over the past few years and it has played a significant role in building the roster the Predators have today. Would he be willing to make another one, and would he consider dipping into his pool of star defenders and flipping one for another impact talent up front to help strengthen an offense that went stale this year and a power play unit that collapsed on itself from the very beginning of the year?

He already did it once when he traded Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Ryan Johansen, and it might be worth at least considering again. It is a delicate balance to strike because the Predators’ defense, especially their top-four of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm is a huge part of what has made the team so good. But it is also a very clear strength and could be used to maybe help address what is now looking like a pretty significant weakness.

The other option is to keep your All-Star defense, shed salary elsewhere on the roster (Turris, if you think he is done as a top-six performer; maybe a Craig Smith or Nick Bonino?) and try to position yourself for a run at an Artemi Panarin or Jeff Skinner in free agency.

Whatever path they choose, it would be awfully difficult to come back next season with the same collection of forwards after they struggled so much this season and helped assemble such a dreadful power play unit. They simply need another finisher somewhere on the roster that can bring a level of consistency to the offense and improve a power play that failed the team all season.

Related: Stars eliminate Predators in overtime thriller

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.