Thursday, October 23, 2014

Neal's Hat Trick Leads the Predators to 3-2 Win Over the Blackhawks

How about that trade for James Neal?

The Predators, who acquired Neal from Pittsburgh to add scoring punch, got what they were looking for as Neal had a natural hat trick to lead the Predators to a 3-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena.

Ben Smith had given the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead at 12:21 of the first period by beating Pekka Rinne with a flip over his pads from in close.

Neal answered by beating Antti Raanta from the left face off circle with a snap shot over the stick at 19:12 of the first period.

Neal gave the Predators a 2-1 lead 16:12 of the second period as he blasted a shot  from the right side of the slot that Raanta had no chance. Neal showed that he can scorch a shot, and although he was unscreened, Raanta could not get the glove up fast enough on that heater.

Neal gave the Predators a 3-1 lead at 1:52 of the third period as Raanta could not control the shot from Ryan Ellis from the left face off circle. The puck trickled out to the right side and Neal was driving the net. He was able to tap the puck into the open net before Raanta could get back into position.

Chicago is a talented team and everyone in the building knew they would be making a strong push in the third period.

They did just that, out shooting the Predators 17-6. Rinne made some incredible saves to thwart some very scoring chances by the Hawks.

The Blackhawks made it interesting when Andrew Shaw knocked a puck out of mid-air and over the shoulder of Rinne at 12:36 of the third (it looked for all the world like that puck was played with a high stick, but the officials let the play stand).

Rinne was called upon to shut the door, and he and the defense did so in the face of some good pressure by the Hawks, including the final 1:25 with Raanta pulled for an extra attacker.

Some observations:

  • Going back to last season, the Predators are 5-2-1 against the Blackhawks. The Predators are 43-39-2-9 all time against the Hawks. They are 24-16-6 against the Blackhawks at Bridgestone Arena.

  • The line of Neal, Ribeiro, and Forsberg has become a legitimate threat for the Predators. With the hat trick tonight, Neal leads the team with 5 goals. Ribeiro has picked up points in five straight games. Forsberg leads the team in points (1G-6A) and assists, with 6.

  • The last hat trick for the Predators came on January 1, 2012 by Sergei Kostitsyn.

  • Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford did not make the trip with team due to an upper body injury.

  • The Predators power play was 0-2, continuing their struggles. I will say that the two power plays looked much better tonight with more movement and traffic in front of Raanta. This is an area that the team obviously has to improve upon.

  • The Predators committed only one penalty, which they successfully killed. One of the keys to winning was to not give the potent Hawks power play opportunities and tonight the Predators played very disciplined hockey.

  • Rinne was outstanding, making some great saves, especially in the third period when the Hawks turned up the pressure. He is playing with confidence and the team feeds off that confidence.

  • The Predators continue to struggle in the face off circle, winning only 45% of the draws. Paul Gaustad was 50% (12 of 24), the best among the forwards that took more than one face off. Mike Ribeiro was a woeful 5 of 16.

  • The Hawks had not given up a third period goal all season until tonight.
This was a huge win for the Predators, not only because it was against a divisional foe, but because this is a win that the team can build upon. It has to boost their confidence and let them know they can not only play with the best teams in the NHL, but they can win those games.

It feels good to get this win, but it is just a step in a long season.

But this is learning it can take those steps.

My three stars:

1. James Neal

2. Pekka Rinne

3. fillip Forsberg

  • The Predators are the only team not to have a regulation loss this season.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Predators Sneak Past the Coyotes In A Shootout 4-3

The Nashville Predators faced off against the Phoenix Arizona Coyotes at Bridgestone Arena in a contest that would prove to be quite a battle.

The Predators defeated the Coyotes 4-3 in a shootout.

And frankly, they were fortunate to secure the win and the two points.

The Yotes opened the scoring off a 2 on1 break. David Moss carried the puck in the offensive zone on the right side and slipped the puck to Rob Klinkhammer. The Colonel tapped the puck past Pekka Rinne at 3:21 of the first period.

The Predators answered off an odd man rush of their own. Mike Ribeiro carried the puck into the offensive zone with the Predators on a 4 on 1 rush. Ribeiro sent the puck to Ryan Ellis in the high slot and got a return pass that he put through the wickets of Devan Dubnyk to tie the game at 12:05 of the first period.

Ellis gave the Predators a 2-1 lead at 5:12of the second period, just 3 seconds after a Predators power play had expired. Ellis beat Dubnyk short side from the top of the face off circle, sneaking the shot just inside the post.

The Coyotes tied the game just 3 seconds into a power play. With Calle Jarnkrok in the box for unsportsmanlike conduct, Antoine Vermette won a face off back to Keith Yandle and he beat Rinne glove side at 11:18 of the second period.

Former Predator Marty Erat gathered in a rebound at the side of the net and scored at 7:42 of the third period to give the Coyotes a 3-2 lead.

That goal was answered by James Neal, who blasted a slap shot past Dubnyk from the circle at 8:03 of the third period.

After the remainder of the third and the overtime period ended with neither team able to score, the game went to a shootout.

Derek Roy scored in the first round for the Predators, while Antoine Vermette scored in the third round to tie the shootout.

Ryan Ellis scored off a sweet move in the fourth round, and Rinne was able to stop Erat to secure the win.

Some observations:

  • In three of their past four games, the Predators have shown alarming inconsistency in handling an aggressive forecheck. Tonight, the Predators had difficulty throughout the game in dealing with the aggressive, attacking style of the Coyotes. The pressure the Coyotes put on the Predators disrupted their breakouts and their cycle once they got in the offensive zone. On several occasions, the Coyotes forecheck forced turnovers in the Predators defensive zone, resulting in Rinne having to make some quality saves.

  • The Coyotes turned up the intensity in the third period, and the Predators could not match their effort. The Yotes out shot the Predators 17-5 in the third, and 36-26 for the game.

  • Ryan Ellis had a monster game, recording a goal, two assists, and the shootout winner. this was Ellis' first three point game of his career.

  • How sweet must this game have been for Mike Ribeiro. He had a goal and an assist against the team that dumped him last season. Ribeiro now has points in his last 4 games.

  • Former Predator Marty Erat had a goal and played with energy all night. Where was that game from Marty in his last year as a Predator?

  • The goal from James Neal was a blast that he just blew past Dubnyk, Neal now has two goals in his last three games. Good to see him starting to heat up.

  • The Predators are now 18-10-3 all time against the Coyotes at Bridgestone Arena.

  • The Predators struggled in the face off dot all night, winning just 45% of the draws. Paul Gaustad led the team, winning 11 of 18 draws for 61%. This is going to have to improve especially in the offensive zone.

  • The Predators power play did not look good at all. They were 0-5 tonight, and the PP unit just looks too static without much movement. Especially troubling was the lack of net front presence. No one was taking away the eyes of Dubnyk, and he had some rather routine saves when the Preds had the man advantage.

  • Shea Weber led the team with 33:18 TOI. Roman Josi was the leader in blocked shots with 6.

  • The Predators are now 4-0-2, good for 10 points and first place in the Central Division.

While winning the game feels good and getting points is important, the reality is that the Predators, while working hard, have caught a few breaks. There are facets of their game that have to improve if they want to continue to win games and pile up points.

But for now, enjoy the win and get ready for another test against Chicago on Thursday night.

My three stars:

1. Ryan Ellis

2. Mike Ribeiro

3. Keith Yandle

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Predators Fall In OT to the Blackhawks 2-1

The Nashville Predators played their second road game of the year, the second of a back to back, against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Predators went with Carter Hutton in net while the Hawks had Corey Crawford between the pipes.

The Blackhawks opened the scoring on the first shot of the game as Johnny Oduya blasted a slapshot between the pads of Hutton at 1:49 of the first period.

Certainly not the way you want to start a game against a high powered team like the Blackhawks.

The Predators would answer at 11:17 of the first period as Shea Weber unleashed a bomb from inside the blue line that beat Crawford over the shoulder.

Both teams would make those scores stand up for the remainder of regulation. it was not for lack of effort by the Blackhawks, however, as they attacked all night and kept the Predators on their heels. The Hawks peppered Hutton with shots and had numerous quality scoring chances. Hutton had to make some excellent saves to keep the Hawks off the board.

In the overtime, the Predators had a power play, but Craig Smith tried a blind back pass to Roman Josi that was picked off by Jonathan Toews. Toews broke in alone on Hutton, who made the initial stop but Toews was able to gather the rebound and slide it into the net for the game winner.

After not giving up a shorthanded goal all last season, the Predators were victimized by this turnover and goal and it cost them a point.

Some observations:

  • Carter Hutton got his first start of the season and was scored on with the first shot he faced. Johnny Oduya blew an unscreened shot through the legs of Hutton. Game speed must be different than practice speed. That said, Hutton was under siege all night and made some great saves to keep the Predators in the game.

  • The first period saw the Predators revert to last season's form as the Blackhawks totally dominated possession and shots on goal. The Blackhawks out shot the Predators 11-3, and the Predators were extremely fortunate to escape with the game tied. For the game, the Hawks out shot the Predators 34-17 in regulation and 3-1 in the overtime period.

  • Anton Volchenkov continues to deliver big and timely hits and is a strong physical presence for the Predators. he absolutely blew up Brandon Saad at the blue line in the first period.

  • The Blackhawks speed created problems all night for the Predators, resulting in them taking too many penalties, five in all. Playing a talented team like the Hawks a man down is not a formula for winning a critical divisional contest.

  • The Predators finally got their legs going in the third period and created some good scoring chances, most notably a shot by Craig Smith at a wide open top half of the net, but he was not able to lift the puck over the pad of Crawford. That is a shot that Smith has to bury.

  • Frankly, the Predators were lucky to steal appoint in this contest. Whether it was fatigue from playing the night before (I hope this was it) or that the Hawks clearly have a superior talent advantage (in reality), the Predators could not find an offensive rhythm and were backed into their zone most of the night. The Hawks did a good job of disrupting the Predators breakouts and shutting them down in the offensive zone. Admittedly, this team does not have the talent of the Hawks, but this team has to have a better effort from the forwards to create scoring chances if they want to compete in the division.

  • Shea Weber led the team in TOI with 28:21.
As badly outplayed as the Predators were tonight, they still managed to pick up a point and have not lost in regulation this season. This team is going to have to scrap and fight for every point.

So far, they have shown they will do that.

My three stars:

1. Jonathan Toews

2. Carter Hutton

3. Shea Weber

Friday, October 17, 2014

Predators Pass Their First Road Test, Ground the Jets 2-0

The Nashville Predators ventured to Winnipeg to take on the Jets in the Predators first road game of the season. This first road test for the Predators would come against a divisional foe in front of their rabid fans, and it would be a good indication of how this team is going to perform in a hostile environment.

They passed this test with flying colors.

Pekka Rinne picked up his first shut out of the season with a 31 save effort, and the Predators got goals from Mike Ribeiro, his second of the season, and James Neal, his first, to seal the win.

Ribeiro re-directed a slap shot from Seth Jones past Ondrej Pavelec at 16:20 of the first period to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.

After a scoreless second period, the Predators added to their lead as Filip Forsberg controlled the puck in the corner in traffic and found James Neal in the slot. Neal's quick wrist shot bounced over the shoulder of Pavelec to make it 2-0 at 7:31 of the third period.

Rinne had a strong game and thwarted some very good scoring chances by the Jets to maintain the shutout. This was Rinne's this win in four outings this season.

Some observations:

  • Viktor Stalberg saw his first action of the season after being injured during training camp. he played on a line with Derek Roy and Craig Smith and moved well and had some scoring chances.

  • I continue to like the play of Anton Volchenkov. He is a fierce hitter, plays a sound positional game, and showed some good wheels to speed down the ice and negate an icing in the second period.

  • Pekka Rinne had to make some exceptional saves when the Predators were on the power play. the Predators gave up some short handed chances- okay, way too many short handed chances- and Rinne had to come up with some big stops.

  • Filip Forsberg has shown me that he belongs on the top line. He is strong on the puck, sees the ice well, and has great hockey sense. He is fast becoming a very good playmaker, and in the third period almost single handedly created a great scoring chance. He later gathered an assist on James Neal's goal with strong work in the corner.

  • Ryan Ellis took a vicious hit from Bryan Little that was borderline boarding midway of the third period. Although he remained on the bench, he did not return to the game.
The first road test was passed, but now it gets tougher as the Predators travel to Chicago to take on the Blackhawks Saturday night.

Continue to bring this kind of effort and this will be a test they can pass.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Mike Ribeiro

3. James Neal

It's Official! NHL Annouces Nashville to Host 2016 All Star Game

The NHL and the Nashville Predators made official what has been known for a few days- that Nashville will be the host city for the 2016 All Star game. Commissioner Gary Bettman was in town to make the official announcement at a press conference at the Bridgestone Arena.

Here are some pictures from the event:

George Plaster and Terry Crisp served as emcees for the event. On Stage are (from left to right) Predators President Jeff Cogen, NHL Governor and Chairman of the ownership group Tom Cigarran, Bridgestone North America CEO Gary Garfield, and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Commissioner Bettman makes the official announcement awarding the All Star game to Nashville.
The Predators organization honored three long time fans and supporters of the organization, presenting them with sweaters that has "All Star" on the name plate and the number 16.
Dignitaries show off Predator sweaters that say "NHL All Star Weekend"
Some notable quotes from today's event:
"We are no longer struggling. This franchise will be in this city forever."
-Tom Cigarran
"This is a huge win for Nashville, and it is golden opportunity for our city. We look forward to welcoming the NHL to our Southern hospitality."
-Nashville Mayor Karl Dean
"Let me go ahead and deal with the inevitable question 'When are we going to get a Winter Classic?' Let's take them one at a time."
-Commissioner Gary Bettman
"That standing ovation you got is a dress rehearsal for when you hand that big silver cup to us."
-Predators President Jeff Cogen, to Commissioner Gary Bettman 
The All Star game coming to Nashville is a testimony to the strength of this franchise and the growth of this area as a hockey market. It also speaks well of Nashville as a city and the ability to accommodate an event of this magnitude.
Many groups besides the Predators and the NHL had to come together to make this happen. Bridgestone, the Nashville Sports Council, and the Nashville Sports Authority to name a few were integral in their cooperation and support. And it goes without saying that this event could not happen without the support of the Mayor and the Nashville City Council.
All are to be commended for their efforts.
Those efforts will now showcase Nashville to the NHL and the sports world.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Predators Fall to the Flames 3-2 In A Shootout

The Nashville Predators got out-Predatored at Bridgestone Arena, dropping a 3-2 decision in a shootout to the Calgary Flames.

Joe Colborne scored the lone goal in the shootout for the Flames to secure the win.

Throughout the night, the Predators lost puck battles and for the most got out skated and out worked by the Flames. The Flames did a great job of limiting the Predators breakouts, clogging the neutral zone and making entries difficult. As a result, the Predators offense never really got in sync and struggled to find consistency.

The Predators were out shot 28-21, the first time they have been out shot this season.

Filip Forsberg staked the Predators to a 1-0 lead at 8:46 of the first period with his first goal of the season. Forsberg took a pass from Derek Roy and  ripped a shot past Flames netminder Kari Ramo from the face off circle.

The Flames answered with a goal by T.J. Brodie. They got a break when Anton volchenkov went dow to block the shot and it hit his stick and ramped over the Shoulder of Pekka Rinne at 10:01 of the first.

Calgary took a 2-1 lead at 5:19 of the second period off a goal from Mark Giordano on the power play.

The Predators would answer with Mike Ribeiro getting his first goal as a Predators. He gathered in a rebound of a Craig Smith shot that Ramo could not control that slid to the off side of the net, and he was able to bang it in at 15:10 of the second period.

A scoreless third period and overtime led to the shootout. The Predators sent Derek Roy, James Neal, and Olli Jokinen out in the shootout and Ramo was able to stop them all. Rinne gave up a goal to Colborne and stopped Jiri Hudler.

Some observations:

  • Rinne made some great saves through the course of the game and got some bad luck on the deflection off Volchenkov's stick. the flames did a good job of controlling the puck in the offensive zone and keeping pressure on the Predators, and rinne bailed out the defense on more than a few occasions.
  • As good as Rinne was, Ramo was outstanding. He made some very good saves, including off a re-direct from Craig Smith in the third period.

  • The Predators had a difficult time handling the aggressive forecheck of the Flames, which disrupted their offensive flow all night. The flames attacked the puck in all zones and the Predators struggled to handle the pressure.

  • Colin Wilson, who has generally been invisible so far this season, was moved up to the wing on the line with James Neal and Mike Ribeiro in the middle of the second period. I liked the way that line looked with Wilson on it. May this is what it takes to get Wilson's game jump started. He used his speed well to compliment his line mates.

  • Shea Weber led the team in TOI with 30:53.

  • The Predators were 0-2 on the power play.

  • Craig Smith was +2 and had 2 assists on the night.
The Predators struggled tonight, but they can learn from this game and hopefully improve, especially when it comes to handling the aggressive pressure and the intensity of their opponent.

They get their chance Friday night in Winnipeg against a divisional foe.

My three stars:

1. Kari Ramo

2. Mark Giordano

3. Craig Smith

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Predators Pound the Stars 4-1


That is probably the best way to describe the Predators and their style of play. That relentless effort paid off in a 4-1 victory over division rival Dallas in front of a sell out crowd at the Bridgestone Arena.

The Predators are not flashy. But they just keep coming for 60 minutes, and that effort paid off in another win.

Once again, the Predators fell behind 1-0 off a goal from Antoine Roussel, a deflection that got past Pekka Rinne at 7:14 of the first period.

The Predators responded late in the second period as Shea Weber wristed a shot from the blue line that eluded Stars netminder Anders Lindback to tie the game at 19:19 of the second the second period.

As in the first game, the third period belonged to the Predators as they tallied three goals. Paul Gaustad broke  the tie at 8:33 of the third with his first goal of the season off an assist from Taylor Beck. Eric Nystrom stretched the lead to 3-1 on a backhand shot at 9:54 . Roman Josi ended the scoring with an empty net goal at 19:57.

Some observations:

  • Paul Gaustad has been playing lights out. He had a goal, an assist, and fought Vernon Fiddler for a Gordie Howe hat trick tonight. In two games, Gaustad has a goal, 3 assists, was a +3, and has arguably been the Predators best center.

  • Shea Weber recorded his second goal in as many games, had an assist, and was a +4 on the night. Weber delivered a huge hit and was a force all game. I especially like how Weber has joined the rush on occasion and is more active in the offensive zone. Weber has shown leadership and an offensive flair early in this season.

  • Once again, the Predators out shot their opponent by a wide margin. The Predators out shot the Stars 33-18.

  • Rinne was excellent tonight, stopping 17 of 18 Dallas shots. He moved well and did a good job of tracking the puck. He got a lot of help from the Predators defense that limited the scoring chances for the Stars.

  • The fans got on Jason Spezza all night. Spezza turned down a trade to the Predators in the off season, opting for the Stars. Spezza was limited to one shot on the night and was a non-factor.

  • I really like the play of Anton Volchenkov. He delivers big and timely hits, is positionally sound, and is responsible in the defensive zone. Volchenkov may prove to be the best off season signing by the Predators.

  • I am not sold on the line combo of Mike Ribeiro, James Neal, and Gabriel Bourque. This line was a -3 on the night and combined for 7 shot, 4 by Neal. I think that Neal needs a more dynamic center, and although it is only two games from which to draw a conclusion, I am not sure that Ribeiro is the answer.

  • Roman Josi lead the Predators with 23:37 TOI. Shea Weber lead the team with 5 blocked shots.
The Predators are certainly not flashy, but they have shown they can move the puck, gain the zone, and get quality scoring chances. This effort, if consistently applied through the season, will be a formula for success.

It's a long season, but the start has been good.

Now it's time to build on it.

My three stars:

1. Paul Gaustad

2. Shea Weber

3. Eric Nystrom