Viktor Arvidsson

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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.

Predators’ power play headaches linger into playoffs

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War, war never changes. To Nashville Predators forward Craig Smith, the same can be said for the team’s power play lately.

“I’m frustrated, we’re all frustrated. It pisses me off,” Smith said, according to News Channel 5’s Jonathan Burton. “We’ve been doing the same thing for years; nothing changes.”

The Predators finished the regular season with the worst power play in the NHL, and that problem reared its ugly head during their Game 1 loss to the Dallas Stars, as that unit went 0-for-4. The Stars, meanwhile, went 1-for-3 in snagging a tight 3-2 victory. (Game 2 takes place at 6 p.m. ET on Saturday on CNBC [livestream])

Heading into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Smith and other Predators players remained all-too-aware of these power-play struggles … maybe too aware?

“I think it’s a mindset to go out there,” Smith said heading into Round 1, according to NHL.com’s Robby Stanley. “Sometimes you have to play it like it’s 5-on-5. I think that’s definitely a crucial part of it too, retrieving pucks and getting back and supporting one another, because you’ve got to find the 2-on-1 somewhere. We’ve worked hard at it and watched a lot of video.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Whenever a team’s power play is struggling, I tend to look to three things:

1. Is that team just having bad luck?

It’s just about certain that this plays at least part of the role for the Predators. Still, this bleeds into the next point.

2. Are the wrong players shooting, particularly too many defensemen?

They managed a respectable four shots on goal during those four power plays, although the shooters were a mix of defensemen (P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis) and maybe not the ideal forwards you’d want firing the puck (Brian Boyle and Kyle Turris). After generating 34 goals despite being limited to 58 games played, Viktor Arvidsson didn’t even have a missed shot on the PP.

Too many point shots is one of those issues that seems all too obvious with power plays dealing with deeper-seated issues than a mere cold streak. In Nashville, you’d figure there’s a political element. After all, you want to keep your star defensemen happy. Either way, you’d want Forsberg, Arvidsson, and Ryan Johansen firing more shots.

3. Are the Predators making the right personnel choices?

Identifying the power play as a problem, GM David Poile brought in a big net-front presence in Brian Boyle (who was also sought after for his defensive acumen) and Wayne Simmonds (a player well-known for his resume of power-play prowess, though that’s faded recently).

There have been signs of at least mild improvement by Nashville’s power play in the last month or so, but allow me to get back on my soapbox and wonder if what the Predators’ PP really needs is Eeli Tolvanen.

Even if the young forward can’t earn Peter Laviolette’s trust at even-strength, you could easily fit Tolvanen into a role as a power-play specialist and hide him lower in the order otherwise. The Stars aren’t exactly the league’s deepest team, so Tolvanen’s skill could also create dividends if Laviolette decided to take the very mild risk of inserting the 30th pick of the 2017 NHL Draft.

In particular, Forsberg and Arvidsson can be threats in these situations, yet for all that the Predators possess, they could really use a/another true sniper whose shot is simply a weapon.

That’s especially true since Ben Bishop has been one of the best goalies in the NHL this season, and considering his enormous frame, it might take next level shooting skills to beat him on some nights. You can quibble with Tolvanen’s all-around game, but few would doubt his shot.

***

One way or another, the Predators need to find answers as the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs go along. Maybe they can grind out a Round 1 series win against a generally low-scoring Stars team, but maybe not, as special teams might just move the needle. Beyond Dallas, the Predators would have to really dominate on 5-on-5 to beat the cream of the crop, if they can’t at least scrounge up respectable special teams.

And that might require not “doing the same thing for years.”

Stars-Predators Game 2 from Bridgestone Arena will be Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. ET on CNBC (livestream).

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: Bruins score eight while Hall makes it 23 straight

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Players of the Night:

David Krejci, Boston Bruins: In a game that featured 12 goals, it was Krejci who stood out, scoring his first hat-trick in four years as the Bruins doubled up the Pittsburgh Penguins 8-4.

Aleksander Barkov, Florida Panthers: Barkov scored his third game-winning goal of the season in a two-goal game as the Panthers knocked off the New Jersey Devils 3-2. The win put the Panthers to within three points of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference. Barkov also pushed his personal point streak to four games.

Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville Predators: There’s no quit in these cats. The Predators won their sixth straight game and Arvidsson played a big role, bringing the Preds level at 2-2 in the second period before scoring the game-winner at the 14:52 mark of the third period. Nashville now leads the Winnipeg Jets by six points for the Central Division lead.

Highlights of the Night:

The question is starting to become, will Taylor Hall ever not put up a point again?

Connor McDavid is a cheat code on an old NES Game Genie:

Factoids of the Night:

Scores:

Panthers 3, Devils 2

Hurricanes 4, Flyers 1

Bruins 8, Penguins 4

Lightning 5, Stars 4 (OT)

Predators 4, Oilers 2

Coyotes 5, Wild 3

Sharks 7, Blackhawks 2

Kings 5, Blue Jackets 2


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

Viktor Arvidsson plays part in pre-game marriage proposal

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Viktor Arvidsson may have just played a role in the best hockey-related proposal of the season thus far.

The Nashville Predators forward hand-delivered an engagement ring to an unsuspecting Morgan Landsberg as the Predators walked from their dressing room to the ice surface in Nashville ahead of their Saturday night matchup against the Anaheim Ducks.

Landsberg, whose favorite player is Arvidsson, was clearly bewildered as she turned around to see now-fiance Conor Payne down on one knee and, well, just watch the video.

The best part of this (aside from the happy news for the couple, of course) might be how jacked up P.K. Subban was as he was walking by.

“Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.”


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

PHT Morning Skate: Varlamov suffers ‘minor’ injury abroad

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov suffered an ankle injury in Switzerland that the team is calling “very minor.” That’s a relief for fans in the Rockies. (Denver Post)

Big week for the Dineen family. First Kevin lands an assistant job with the Chicago Blackhawks and now his brother Gord will be head coach of the AHL Toronto Marlies. (Toronto Sun)

A Blackhawks fan is suing the team because they were hit by a puck during a game in 2013. (ESPNChicago.com)

Carolina hired David Marcoux as their new goaltending coach. (Hurricanes)

Reclamation projects are nothing new for the Nashville Predators. (Rinkside Report)

Kasperi Kapanen is adjusting well already to life in Pittsburgh. (Penguins)

Sabres goalie Matt Hackett will be out until November or December after getting his knee wrecked last season. (Mike Harrington)

Did you know the Florida Panthers toyed with the idea of using teal in their color scheme? The ’90s I tell ya… (Icethetics)

Penguins prospect Dominik Uher is a trash-talking expert. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The Predators signed fourth-round pick Viktor Arvidsson. Now we’ll be thinking of former Ottawa Senators forward Magnus Arvedson all day. Wait, just me? OK. (The Tennessean)

Finally, check out Sam Reinhart and Zemgus Girgensons getting to know each other during last night’s development camp scrimmage in Buffalo: