Predators need help beyond top line after three-game skid

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Nashville Predators’ sizzling 13-3 start to the season is a distant memory. The defending Presidents’ Trophy winners have lost three straight and seven of the last 11 on their home ice called Smashville.

Part of the problem is only the top line is scoring with any regularity.

It’s enough to possibly force general manager David Poile into another big move before the NHL trade deadline Feb. 25. Fans are lighting up social media wanting something to change to snap the Predators out of struggles that have dropped them to eighth overall in the league standings. After winning the Central Division a year ago, Nashville is second with 71 points – four behind Winnipeg.

Goalie Pekka Rinne believes the losses could possibly help the Predators in the long run.

“I feel like everybody feels the urgency and desperation …,” Rinne said Wednesday. “I mean you look at the standings and we still up there, but you don’t want to feel comfortable in our division. We just got to play better. That’s the bottom line. Get results …, and individually we all need to be just consistent, myself included, but it’s going to come. And hopefully we can look back in a little bit and … (see) that we grew from it and we learned from it.”

The Predators dropped their third straight game Tuesday night 3-2 to Detroit , which came in next to last in the NHL in points. Coach Peter Laviolette put them through practice Wednesday working on a few issues, like a power play that has produced just three goals in 49 opportunities over the past 14 games. Nashville also has allowed the first goal in 31 of its 59 games.

Still, Laviolette said he liked how the Predators played their last couple games with a 5-4 overtime loss to St. Louis on Sunday followed by the loss to Detroit.

“There’s 10 different things that could’ve helped us or made us better,” Laviolette said. “It could’ve been a face-off, it could’ve been a power-play, a penalty kill, a better third period. An opportunity that goes in the net instead of not going in the net. There’s a bunch of little things I think that can happen. … We did a lot of good things in the last two games and the results didn’t come our way.”

They could use more production beyond the JOFA line of center Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. Johansen leads Nashville with 52 points in 57 games, while Arvidsson leads the team with 25 goals in just 35 games. Forsberg is second with 20 goals in 42 games because of injuries. Arvidsson has been on a tear since returning from a broken thumb scoring 11 goals in 11 games along with an NHL-best 17 goals since Dec. 31.

There’s a drop-off after that.

Craig Smith, who has not missed a game this season, ranks third on the Predators with 16 goals.

“It’s a work in progress,” Smith said. “I think we’re doing a lot of the right things. We get a bounce here and there to feel good. But it’s all about the process. Right now we like the way we work, we like the way, I guess the details of the game we’re doing a lot of the right things.”

Nashville has 23 games left, starting Thursday night hosting Montreal. The Predators lead third-place Dallas by eight points in the division and know teams like St. Louis and Minnesota are pushing too.

“Consistency is something that we need to work on,” Forsberg said. “But at the same time, we’ve seen our highs. If we can keep going, I think we’ll be fine.”

Tarasenko hat trick leads Blues to season-high sixth straight win

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Every lengthy winning streak has a special performance or two that contributes to its extension. Vladimir Tarasenko provided just that on Sunday afternoon.

Tarasenko’s hat trick was highlighted by an overtime winner just 16 seconds into the extra frame, this after helping the Blues open up a 2-0 lead in the second period and then putting St. Louis up 4-3 in the third after they blew a 3-1 lead after two periods.

The win, a 5-4 final result, was St. Louis’ sixth straight win — a season-high — and their second straight against the Nashville Predators, whom they triumphed over 3-2 on Saturday in the first game of their weekend home-and-home series.

At one point, not long ago, the Blues were the floor mat in the Western Conference. That’s remarkable, given they’re now one of the hottest teams in the NHL and sitting pretty in a playoff spot.

The Blues look refreshed these days, a team motivated to turn around a season that once looked lost. The coaching change from Mike Yeo to Craig Berube didn’t begin well, but it’s paid off over the course of the past few weeks and, combined with the log jam of lackluster teams in the Western Conference, the Blues have begun to distance themselves with great goaltending and equally as good team play.

And that’s why the Blues have strung together six wins in a row.

Sunday’s game wasn’t without its drama. The Blues watched as Roman Josi and Viktor Arvidsson, who finished with two goals in the game, wiped out their two-goal advantage in the third. After Tarasenko’s goal, Filip Forsberg put on an individual clinic to tie the game right back 4-4.

Jake Allen got his first start since Jan. 17 and looked solid through two periods. Some gaffes defensively allowed the Predators back into the game, but Allen made 40 saves in the end to grab the win.

The net is firmly Jordan Binnington‘s these days given his impressive run, but the Blues will need Allen to play — and play well — down the stretch.

The Predators, meanwhile, aren’t in trouble despite dropping both weekend games to the Blues. The point they picked up help put them level with the Winnipeg Jets on 71 points for top spot in the Central Divison, but they’ve missed an opportunity to regain top spot in the Central Division.

The Jets (who are in Buffalo Sunday) have lost two straight and have two games in hand on the Preds. A couple of different results against the Blues would have erased a big chunk of that advantage.

The Blues moved into the first wildcard, leapfrogging the Minnesota Wild with both teams level on 59 points. The Blues get some breathing room, with a two-point advantage over the Vancouver Canucks, who are on 57 points but have played two more games.


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

WATCH LIVE: Blues, Predators finish home-and-home on NBC

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Predators host the Blues at Bridgestone Arena less than 24 hours after the two clubs met at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, where the Blues prevailed 3-2. Ryan Johansen gave Nashville some life by scoring with just over a minute to play in regulation moments after St. Louis’ Jaden Schwartz missed an empty net. But the Blues managed to close things out to continue their hot streak. Rookie Mackenzie MacEachern’s second goal of the season stood up as the game-winner.

Once left for dead in last place in the NHL as recently as the morning of Jan. 3, the Blues are now one of the hottest teams in the NHL, riding a season-high five-game winning streak. They enter today in the second wild card spot in the Western Conference and just four points behind the Dallas Stars for third in the Central.

In the expansion era, only six teams have made the playoffs after occupying last place in the League after their 20th game of the season: the 1976-77 North Stars, 1979-80 Oilers, 1982-83 Maple Leafs, 1987-88 Kings, 1987-88 Maple Leafs and 1996-97 Senators.

Johansen has been red hot of late for the Predators with 12 points (3G, 9A) in the last 11 games. He also on pace for 69 points this season, which would be his highest point total as a Predator (his career-best was 71 points in 2014-15 with Columbus).

Nashville made two moves this week, acquiring Brian Boyle from the Devils for a second-round pick and Cody McLeod from the Rangers for a seventh-round pick. Both seem to be moves of foresight for the playoffs, as the Predators appear to be on a collision course with the physical Winnipeg Jets for the second straight year.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12:30 P.M. ET – NBC]

What: St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators
Where: Bridgestone Arena
When: Sunday, Feb. 10, 12:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Blues-Predators stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUES
Brayden Schenn – Ryan O’Reilly – Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz – Tyler BozakAlex Steen
Zach SanfordOskar SundqvistPatrick Maroon
MacKenzie MacEachern – Ivan BarbashevRobert Thomas

Joel EdmundsonAlex Pietrangelo
Jay BouwmeesterColton Parayko
Vince DunnRobert Bortuzzo

Starting goalie: Jake Allen

PREDATORS
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson
Kevin FialaNick BoninoCraig Smith
Colton SissonsKyle TurrisCalle Jarnkrok
Cody McLeod – Brian Boyle – Ryan Hartman

Roman JosiRyan Ellis
Mattias EkholmP.K. Subban
Dan HamhuisMatt Irwin

Starting goalie: Juuse Saros

John Forslund (play-by-play), Joe Micheletti (analyst) and McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass analyst) will have the call from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. McHugh, Milbury and Jones will anchor studio coverage.

NHL on NBC: Predators look to get back on track vs. Blues

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Predators have a comfortable cushion ahead of the teams below them in the Central Division as they chase the Winnipeg Jets for the top spot, but losses like they had on Saturday could catch up to them if they don’t quickly get back on course.

Having won five of their last seven, they don’t have to worry about the hard-charging Blues yet being 13 points ahead of their Sunday opponents and nine points up on the Dallas Stars, who sit in the third place in the division with two games in-hand. But with St. Louis on a roll, evening out their weekend home-and-home series following the Blues’ 3-2 win on Saturday will help them leapfrog Winnipeg should the Jets fail to get a win in Buffalo.

“Not good,” said Predators head coach Peter Laviolette after Saturday’s loss. “They were faster. We didn’t play the game fast enough, didn’t have enough attitude in the game, and not enough guys on the rope either. It just wasn’t good; wasn’t a good day.” 

St. Louis jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the opening 20 minutes and added a third midway through the second period.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12:30 P.M. ET – NBC]

“The effort in the first two periods was not good enough,” said defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “They were dicating the play, they were all over us. [Sunday], we need more like we played in the third. I thought we stepped it up a little bit and we were more on the attack. We were skating harder, we were more physical, and that’s something that we need to do more [Sunday].”

Nashville won’t have much time to sit and stew about their effort with Sunday’s 12:30 p.m. ET matinee. They likely won’t be facing red-hot Jordan Binnington, so that’s a bonus for their chances, and they’re already eager to exact some revenge.

“Pekka kept us in that game, but our first 40 minutes were just not good enough,” said Predators forward Ryan Johansen. “The good thing is we are right back at it [Sunday] against the same team, and the work we brought in the third period is what we need tomorrow for the whole game.”

John Forslund (play-by-play), Joe Micheletti (analyst) and McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass analyst) will have the call from Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. McHugh, Milbury and Jones will anchor studio coverage.

Predators return to work after bye looking for consistency

By Teresa M. Walker (AP Sports Writer)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Nashville Predators are back at work feeling a little healthier after an eight-day break for their bye and ready to put together all the pieces for the stretch run to the postseason.

The Predators practiced Thursday before catching a plane to Florida for a game Friday night against the Panthers to kick off the final 30 games. They practiced without forward Austin Watson who was suspended Tuesday indefinitely without pay as part of the NHL’s substance abuse program.

Center Kyle Turris has been on injured reserve since Jan. 1, but the Predators find themselves possibly as healthy as they’ve been in a couple months.

”The guys that were dinged up, it gives them a chance to even recuperate more and for their bodies to catch up,” coach Peter Laviolette said. ”The guys that are still out of the lineup, that’s days that are spent where we’re not playing games and where they might be getting close to return.”

The defending Presidents’ Trophy winners returned to work Thursday with 64 points, two back of Winnipeg in the Central Division with the Jets having two games in hand over Nashville. The Predators, who topped the overall league standings early this season, currently are fifth overall with three Western Conference teams ahead of them in Calgary (71), Winnipeg and San Jose (65).

All-Star goalie Pekka Rinne sees a need to build momentum by being consistent.

”Obviously, now it’s the clutch time of the season, and you want to be playing well,” Rinne said. ”I feel like those are the things that we’ve had at times, and then we’ve lost them at times. So I think those are the areas that we got to focus on and try to build that confidence that we had in the beginning of the season.

Nashville knows one area that should be easy to make a big jump: the man advantage. The Predators went into their bye week having failed to score in 25 straight power plays and haven’t scored a power-play goal since going 1 of 4 with the man advantage on Jan. 9 in a 4-3 win at Chicago. They rank 29th in the NHL converting just 13.1 percent after being 12th in the league last season with a 21.3 percent success rate.

Having key pieces back should help that production.

Center Ryan Johansen, who missed two of the final three games before the All-Star Game because of a suspension for high-sticking, is on target for his best scoring season in Nashville with a team-high 43 points. Forwards Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg also missed time with injuries and Forsberg has seven points in nine games back while Arvidsson has 11 points in 12 games since returning from a broken thumb .

Defenseman P.K. Subban, another piece of the power-play, has played only 33 games because of his own injury that kept him out until Dec. 27.

Laviolette said they work on the power play as much as possible at every practice. He liked what he saw in a 2-1 win in Vegas just before the break.

Putting a unit back together I thought that Johansen unit with Forsberg and Arvidsson they really moved it around,” Laviolette said. ”They could’ve scored. They hit the post once or twice, a couple more rolled through the crease. There was a lot to like about it, and now we need to find some results with it.”

The schedule also could help. The Predators will play nine games in Nashville during February after just four in January. Subban, whose digital series debuted during the break along with his own TV special after the All-Star Skills competition last week, said he was ready to get back to his old job.

”We want to start the second half the right way just like everybody else does,” Subban said. ”The standings are close pretty much in every division, every conference. I think how guys start definitely after the break is definitely going to be a big difference.”

Follow Teresa M. Walker at http://www.twitter.com/teresamwalker

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