Thursday, April 23, 2015

Predators Hold Off Elimination, Blast the Blackhawks 5-2

With their backs against the wall, the Nashville Predators were attempting to do something that had never been done in their playoff history.

Stave off elimination on their home ice.

The Predators met the Chicago Blackhawks in a do or die game 5 at Bridgestone Arena with the Hawks leading the series 3-1.

Goals by Brad Richards and Filip Forsberg left the teams knotted at 1 at the end of the first period.

After a scoreless second period, the Predators attacked the Hawks and got them back on their heels in the third period. James Neal beat Scott Darling on a wraparound. Colin Wilson scored a beauty on the power play over the shoulder of Darling. Just 22 seconds later, Filip Forsberg beat Darling to make it 4-1.

Kris Versteeg cut the Predators lead to 4-2 with a goal at 14:42, and Predators fans couldn't rest easy just yet.

The game was settled when Filip Forsberg tallied an empty netter for the hat trick to seal a 5-2 win for the good guys.


Some observations:

  • Good to see Mike Fisher back in the line up. The Preds desperatley need his leadership and play on the ice.
  • I love Pekka Rinne and his compete level and the way he plays the game. He made some great saves in the first period, but he has to stop that goal he gave up. The Predators need him to shut everything down and that was one he couldn't give up.
  • The fact that Filip Forsberg isn't even a finalist for the Calder Trophy is criminal. Forsberg showed with his sweet goal why he should not only have been a finalist but should have won the award. Oh yeah, he went on to score two more goals for the hat trick.
  • NBC reported that Shea Weber has a torn ACL. No confirmation about the injury from the team.
  • If the Predators had played this attacking style of hockey over the last 20 games... Wow, they just keep coming at the net. I like it, and I hope they carry this style of play over to a full 82 games next season.
  • James Neal has played the last two games like the team hoped he would. He has been strong on the puck, active, and dynamic in the offensive zone. His wrap around goal was pure hustle and desire to get to the net. This is what the Predators have to have from Neal if they are going to win games.
  • Colin Wilson! Wilson has come alive in the playoffs and tallied his 5th goal of the series with a beautiful power play goal over the shoulder of Scott Darling. 4 of Wilson's 5 goals in this series have come on the power play.
  • Welcome back, Mike Fisher. A nice goal just 22 seconds after Colin Wilson had scored, Fisher gives the crowd a treat with his Frosty goal. You cannot underestimate the impact of Fisher on this team. He is a leader on and off the ice, and his tough, gritty style of play inspires his teammates.
  • Viktor Stalberg continues to play a strong game. Neal's goal was a direst result of Stalberg's work on the forecheck, forcing a turnover that Neal was able to bury. This is the kind of play that that Stalberg has to bring every night, and the Predators have benefited from his effort.
  • For the first time in the history of the team, the Predators held off elimination on their home ice.
Predators fans had to wonder about the emotional state of this team after a couple of tough losses in this series.

Wonder no more.

This team showed heart and fight all night long. They didn't quit. They battled from start to finish to stay alive in the series.

This is just one game, but you can only play one game at a time.

Now they have to play one more game.

Just like this one.

And bring it back to the Bridge for a game 7.

My three stars:

1. Filip Forsberg

2. James Neal

3. Pekka Rinne

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Predators In a Deep Hole, Fall to the Blackhawks 3-2 in Triple OT.

The Nashville Predators trail the Chicago Blackhawks in their first round series by a 2-1 margin. To say that game Four at the United Center was a huge game for the Predators is an understatement of Brobdingnagian proportions.

A spirited and fast paced first period saw both teams go to the locker room having tallied once.

Colin Wilson redirected a Ryan Ellis shot past Scott Darling with the Predators on the power play to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.

The Hawks answered with a shot that was redirected by Antoine Vermette to knot the game at 1. Vermette's goal was his first of the series.

James Neal got his first goal of the playoffs as he corralled a loose puck and slid it off the skate of Duncan Keith and past Darling to give the Predators a 2-1 lead late in the second period.

Brandon Saad was left all alone in the slot and he blasted a puck past Pekka Riine to tie the game at 2 midway of the third period.

With neither team able to score in the remainder of the period, the teams went to overtime for the second time in this series.

These teams must really like playing each other, because the first OT wasn't enough to decide the game. For the second time in four games, the Predators and Hawks would go to double overtime.

Guess what?

That wasn't enough hockey for these two teams either.

Off to triple overtime.

And in the triple OT session, Brent Seabrook ended 1 minute in with a shot that eluded Rinne to give the Blackhawks a 3-2 victory. Rinne was screened by Brian Bickell on the shot from the blue line and he never saw the shot until it went in the net.


Some observations:

  • Kevin Fiala saw his first post season action. Taylor Beck was scratched to make room for Fiala. Fiala is the 6th youngest player in League history to play in the post season. Fiala started the game on a line with Calle Jarnkrok and James Neal.
  • Colin Wilson got the tip in front off the Ryan Ellis shot for his 4th goal of the series. Wilson has come alive in the post season, and this is obviously good for the Predators. Wilson went to the hard area in front of the net on the power play and was rewarded for his efforts. This is the kind of play the Predators need to consistently see from Wilson and it is good to see him step up on the big stage. Wilson goal came on the power play, and he has 3 of his 4 goals on the man advantage.
  • The Predators iced a depleted line up without Shea Weber and Mike Fisher, two big losses for the team. Regardless, I liked the hustle and the effort of the Predators. The Blackhawks are clearly a more talented team, but the Predators didn't back down in the face of a hostile crowd or the pressure of the Hawks. The young players on the ice had to grow up quickly, and they did just that.
  • Viktor Stalberg has played a solid series against the Hawks. We are seeing flashes of his skill and he is not afraid to throw the body around. I would really like to see Stalberg live up to his potential in these playoffs and in the coming season.
  • James Neal notched his first goal of the playoffs, and it was good to see him get on the score sheet. Neal played a solid game all night, hustling, hitting, and fighting for the puck. This is the kind of play the Predators need from Neal if they are going to win this series.
  • Two Predator players that stood out to me in this game were Gabby Bourque and Ryan Ellis. Bourque was a demon on the forecheck and was physical all night. Bourque doesn't often find the score sheet, but he plays with heart and passion, and I love that about his game. The mini-me D man, Ellis, also had a strong game. He was directly responsible for the Predators first goal, getting his shot from the point to the net. Ellis lacks size, but he is a very smart player and uses his hockey smarts to get into position in the offensive and defensive zone and generates a lot of offense from the blue line.
  • The Hawks are a dangerous team throughout their line up and they made the Predators pay on Brandon Saad's goal. The defense was drawn to the puck carrier and Saad was alone in the high slot. His shot was blistered past Rinne and was perfectly placed inside the post.
  •  While Rinne has struggled in this series, his save on Marian Hossa with about 5 seconds remaining in regulation was amazing. It was a beauty of a stop that Predator fans have become used to seeing to keep the Predators in a game.
  • And Rinne made some great stops in overtime as well. This team really needs Rinne to get his mojo back, and hopefully those quality saves will help his confidence.
  • I have seen pucks get lost in equipment before, but the one that got lost in Rinne's gear stayed hidden for about as long as I have seen a puck stay lost.
  • Fatigue really played a factor as the OT sessions wore on. On the Seabrook game winner, no one attempted to move Bickell out of front of Rinne and the screen was perfect for the shot to sneak through.
The Predators competed and competed well, but they were not good enough to win this game. They had their chances but let the Hawks hang around and capture a critical win.

Their backs are really against the wall. Can they fight back and extend this series or will it be a disappointing first round exit?

We will find out what the team is made of Thursday night.

My three stars:

1. Brent Seabrook

2. Colin Wilson

3. Scott Darling




Sunday, April 19, 2015

Predators Wilt in the Second Period (Again), Fall to the Blackhawks 4-2

A depleted Nashville Predators squad traveled to the United Center for the third game of their first round playoff series. The series is tied at 1 and both teams were looking to establish momentum.

The first first period ended with the game tied at 1. Andrew Desjardins scored for the Hawks, beating Pekka Rinne five hole. Mike Ribeiro immediately answered for the Predators with a shot from the slot that beat Scott Darling glove side.

Jonathan Toews opened the second period by beating Rinne through traffic. 22 seconds later, mattias Ekholm answered with a shot that beat Darling cleanly over the shoulder. Filip forsberg did a great job screening on that shot and Darling never saw it until it was in the net.

Brandon Saad gave the hawks a 3-2 lead, beating Rinne over the blocker. The play was set up when Seth Jones pinched down low and Saad beat Colin Wilson, who was covering the point, back into the the offensive zone.

This time, there was no immediate answer from the Predators, as Brent Seabrook tallied from the blue line to make it 4-2.

Once again, a disastrous second period sunk the Predators.

The Predators couldn't find the net in the third period, and a Mike Ribeiro penalty killed any chance with the extra attacker. The Predators dropped the game 4-2 and trail in the series 2-1.

Some observations:

  • With Shea Weber out of the line up, Victor Bartley drew in and saw his first post season action. Bartley was paired with Cody Franson. Seth Jones took Weber's spot on the number one D pairing with Roman Josi.
  • Great to see Ribeiro shoot the puck. He has too often passed up shots and it was good to see him pull the trigger from the slot and beat Darling from the glove side.
  • I like the response of this team after the Blackhawks scored. Ribeiro's goal came just 31 seconds after the Hawks had taken a 1-0 lead. Ekholm's goal came 22 seconds after Toews had given the Hawks a 2-1 lead. In the playoffs, every team will face adversity. How you respond to that goes a long way toward determining how far you go in the playoffs. The Predators showed they were intimidated by the Hawks or their crowd.
  • The Predators showed some good response, as mentioned, but the pressure from the Hawks started to wear on this young team. The Blackhawks stepped it up after Saad's goal and Rinne was under siege. Rinne was not at his best, but the Predators team in front of him often found themselves hemmed in their own zone after the Hawks started buzzing. This game in particular showed the difference between a veteran team and a very young team with little playoff experience. And once again, an awful second period had bitten the Predators in the ass. As to why this team cannot play solid hockey in the second period, I have no answer. If the Predators cannot figure out how to better compete in the second period, then this will be a short series.
  • The Predators did a good job of getting shots in on Darling, but the better quality chances belonged to the Blackhawks. Rinne had to make some good saves, and yet he struggled with some shots that resulted in goals. Without Mike Fisher and Shea Weber, Rinne is going to have to be exceptional, and he was not in this game.
  • Wins in the playoffs often result from the secondary scoring. The Predators third and fourth lines never really threatened the Hawks net today. They are going to have to pick up their play if the Predators are going to have a chance in this series.
  • Regardless of the score, I certainly like the compete level of Craig Smith. he is not afraid to shoot the puck and goes to the hard areas. He picked up 2 assists today and is the leading scorer in this series.
  • The Predators definitely need more out of James Neal. Neal has been a non-factor so far in this series.
 The Predators now find themselves in a hole and the Blackhawks have the home ice advantage. How the Predators respond in the critical game 4 will tell fans of the Fang how long this series will go.

My three stars:

1. Jonathan Toews

2. Craig Smith

3. Brandon Saad

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Predators Even the Series, Shell the Blackhawks 6-2

The Nashville Predators evened their first round series with the Chicago Blackhawks by pummeling them 6-2 in front of a raucous packed house at Bridgestone Arena.

Colin Wilson continued his torrid play, tallying a power play goal. Craig Smith notched two goals; Filip Forsberg scored his first playoff goal; Roman Josi and Mike Santorelli added goals as the Predators showed that the gut wrenching double overtime loss didn't set them back.

Some observations:

  • Colin Wilson must feel like he has gotten the 8,000 pound gorilla off his back with his play in the first two games. He is dynamic with the puck and finding the back of the net, scoring two goals in game one and adding another goal in this game. Wilson had been invisible over the last 22 games of the season, but it is certainly good to see Wilson picking his game up in the post season.
  • Craig Smith has always been a streaky scorer, and tonight he got his first goal in his past 10 games going back to the regular season. His second goal was pure speed combined with determination as he split two defenders to score. If Smith can get on another hot streak, it bodes well for the Predators. I like Smith's hustle and willingness to shoot the puck, and he had a stellar game tonight with 4 points (2G-2A). Now if he can just consistently find the net.
  • The Predators lost Shea Weber midway of the second period as he was hit and went down awkwardly in the corner. Weber limped to the bench and went straight down the tunnel. This would be a huge loss for the Predators if he cannot return in this series.
  • The loss of Weber meant the Predators played half the game with just 5 defensemen. Big props to the blueliners as they stepped their game up and played some solid defense. Roman Josi led the D corps with 24:31 of ice time.
  • Speaking of Josi, his goal late in the first period was a beauty. He skated through the entire Blackhawks team before firing a shot from the faceoff circle that found the back of the net with 3.6 seconds left on the clock. One of Josi's strengths is his calmness with the puck. His puck handling skills are superb and his ability to keep calm and maneuver to open ice were on display on this goal.
  • The Blackhawks second goal was scored by Patrick Kane when the Blackhawks clearly had 6 men on the ice. Head Coach Peter Laviolette was furious by got no relief from the officials. If the NHL wants to be taken seriously and not viewed as a minor sport, there is going to have to be integrity and significant improvement with the officiating.
  • The Hawks have taken a page out of the Anaheim Ducks playbook. Down late in the game, they decided to goon it up. The Predators showed remarkable poise and didn't retaliate but didn't back down either. Look for this series to get nastier the longer it goes.
  • Finally- the Predators played a second period with emotion and intensity. The middle frame has been the bane of the Predators for a while. Good to see them come out with a good response in the second.
  • Big ups to the Predators 7th man. The barn was rocking all night long and it is obvious that it rattles the Blackhawks and energizes the Predators.
  • Goodness, it would be nice if the Predators could lock down the low slot. Patrick Sharp was left all alone right in front of the crease for an easy goal. Nothing Pekka Rinne could have done about that goal and the defense has to be more aware.
  • Rinne was sharp tonight and made some good saves. Rinne is battling and his effort seems to inspire the team. The more saves that Rinne makes, the more frustrated the Blackhawks become. Rinne became the franchise leader with his 14th post season win.
  • Gotta wonder who Coach Q will have in net on Sunday. Corey Crawford got lit for three goals in 2:19 in the third period and has allowed 9 goals on 47 shots in the first two games. In reality, Crawford has allowed 9 goals in 4 periods of hockey after getting pulled in the first period of game one. 
  • You can't say enough about the Predators penalty kill. After Paul Gaustad took a double minor for high sticking, the Predators PK totally frustrated the Hawks, allowing only one shot on goal over that 4 minute span. That was huge momentum swing for the Predators in this game.
  • The Predators blocked 23 shots tonight and have blocked 55 in the first two games.
  • The goals by Forsberg, Josi, Santorelli, and Smith were their first career post season goals.
This was a huge win for the Predators. Lose tonight and it was going to be a short series. Now the series shifts to Chicago for the next two games and the Predators are going to have to bring a maximum effort to capture a win.

This team has shown they can do that. They have shown they can beat Chicago in a grinding, tough series.

Now they have to do it.

And I believe they can.

My three stars:

1. Craig Smith

2. Filip Forsberg

3. Colin Wilson

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Predators Playoff Preview

The Nashville Predators finished the season with 104 points, good for second in the Central Division and cementing their first round match up against the hated Chicago Blackhawks.

In this preview, I will focus on the Predators, because frankly, I couldn't give a rat's ass about the Blackhawks. Rather than focus on specific metrics, let's look at the areas that will be essential for the Predators to secure a first round victory.

Swagger

After tearing up the League through the end of February, the Predators stumbled to the finish line in March and April. Early in the season, falling behind in a game was no problem for the Predators, as they had the moxie and drive to overcome a deficit and win games. In March, when the Predators endured their first losing skid, the body language and demeanor of this team changed noticeably. Fall behind by a goal and there was a high probability this team was not going to win a game. Fall behind by two goals and this team was doomed.

The Predators also showed a disturbing trend of being unable to hold a lead in the last quarter of the season. This is, in my view, a matter of mental focus. Sure, there will be games where you get a bad bounce and blow a lead, but the consistency with which this team squandered leads causes me to believe they lack a killer instinct.

In the playoffs, there is going to be adversity in every round. How the Predators handle that adversity will go a long way to determining how far they go in the playoffs.

Frankly, the Predators need something good to happen for them and to build on that to get their confidence going. 

Look for how the Predators play in the opening two games at home to see if they have their swagger back or if they are going to roll over. If the Predators fail to show intensity and push back when things aren't going well, this will be a short series.

Gears

To a man, the Predators players have spoken about hitting a playoff gear. Every team that succeeds in the playoffs elevates their game and lays it on the line to win.

The biggest question for the Predators is can they find another gear and elevate their play in the post season.

The Predators did not respond well in the final quarter of the season when they faced teams that were scrambling and desperate to secure playoff positions.

From March through the end of the season, the Predators had 19 games. They went 6-13 (including OT and shootout losses) during a stretch of the season where they met opponents that were already in playoff mode as they were trying to secure a playoff position.

Not exactly awe inspiring.

Can they turn it on now?

My hope is that they can, but if their level of play does not pick up and match that of the Blackhawks, then this will be a short and disappointing series.

Leaks

Defensive breakdowns have plagued the team in the last quarter of the season. The inability to locate forwards in the slot or prime scoring areas have resulted more often than not with the puck in the back of our net. This has been especially true of the second and third D pairings.

Playing a team that has the ability to be explosive and  can roll 4 lines that means that the Predators D pairings are going to have to bring their A game. While Weber and Josi will chew up minutes, there is going to be a need for better lay out of Mattias Ekholm, Seth Jones, Ryan Ellis, and Anton Volchenkov/Victor Bartley. They are going to have their hands full controlling the Hawks forwards and will need to be positionally sound to give the Predators a chance to win this series.

Secondary scoring

There is no doubt the Predators are going to need some secondary scoring, especially from their third line. This is where the Predators need to have Colin Wilson get his game going. Wilson ended the season going 22 games without a goal, and it sure would be good to see him find the net again. The Predators third line could be the difference in this series if they can generate some goals and put some pressure on the Hawks D.

Elite, or just good?

There is no doubt that this team will ride Pekka Rinne as far as he can carry them. Part of the reason for the Predators struggles from the start of March through the end of the season was that Rinne struggled in net. Through the end of February, Rinne sported a .936 save percentage. From March through the end of the season, Rinne's save percentage was .901.

For the Predators to have a chance in this series, Rinne is going to have to return to elite form. if he is just good, then the Predators will struggle to come out of the first round.

(Not so) Special teams

The Predators power play is 25th in the League, clicking at 16.2%, while the penalty kill is 18th at 80.8%. Mediocre at best, and I don't think the Predators will improve in the post season. It is going to be critical for the team to stay out of the box and (please, please, PLEASE) convert when they have an opportunity on the power play.



The Predators have a new season ahead of them. How they respond in these critical areas will determine how long this new season lasts.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

More Of the Same. Preds Drop Final Regular Season Game to the Stars 4-1

The Predators wrapped up their regular season against the Dallas Stars in a meaningless game at Dallas. The Predators are heading to the playoffs and the Stars are heading to the golf course.

The Predators rested several players while the Stars were looking to get as many points for jamie Benn as possible. Benn came into the game tied for the scoring lead in the NHL.

The Stars got the 4-1 win and Benn got his points as he had a hat trick and Cody Eakin added a goal.

Filip Forsberg had the Predators only goal.

Some observations:

  • The Predators rested some players in this game. Both Shea Weber and Roman Josi were scratched. Victor Bartley drew back into the line up, as did Anton Volchenkov. Joe Piscopo Piskula was called up from Milwaukee to man a spot on the blue line. Mike Fisher was out of the line up for the second game in a row.
  • Craig Smith moved to the top line with Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg. The second line was Matt Cullen centering Colin Wilson and Viktor Stalberg.
  • Carter Hutton got the start in net. Given the workload of Rinne, this was a good move to get him rested and ready for the playoffs.
  • D pairings were Volvhenkov and Seth Jones; Piskula and Mattias Ekholm; and Ryan Ellis and Bartley.
  • Filip Forsberg has without a doubt been the Predators most impressive forward this season. His moves and puck handling skill are top flight, and his ability to snipe the puck is the best on this team. However, his 25th goal of the season came from getting into the hard area in front of the net. One of the most underrated aspects of Forsberg's game is his strength. The change from his brief time with the team last season to this season is remarkable.
  • Speaking of Forsberg, he is also very durable, playing in all 82 games this season.
  • I like the hustle and play of Craig Smith. He is a streaky scorer, and I hope he starts a new scoring streak in the playoffs. He is always hustling and his effort creates some good scoring chances.
  • Paging Colin Wilson, paging Colin Wilson...
  • The Predators fail to convert on a 2 on 0 as Viktor Stalberg and Mike Ribeiro cannot score on Jonas Enroth. That about sums up the last 20 games for the Predators.
The Predators first round playoff opponent has been decided, and the Predators will play the Chicago Blackhawks.

The second season starts next week.

It feels good to be back in the dance.

But the way this team is playing, I feel like we could be the ugly wallflower.

My three stars:

1. Jamie Benn

2. Filip Forsberg 

3. Jonas Enroth

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Predators Continue to Stumble In Loss to the Wild

At the beginning of March, the Nashville Predators sat 9 points ahead of their closest competition for the Central Division title and were a legitimate contender for the President's Trophy.

Fast forward to the next to last game of the season, and the Predators have blown their first Division title just like they have blown way too many games in the last 25% of the season. Instead of hitting the playoffs on a roll, the Predators are stumbling into the post season.

With their 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild at the Bridgestone Arena, the Predators hopes for a Division title evaporated just like their lead in this and so many other games.

The Predators jumped out to a 2-0 lead at the end of the first period on Filip Forsberg's 25th goal of the season and a tally from Seth Jones, his 8th.

That was it for the Predators as the Wild scored on the power play off a goal from Jason Zucker and a breakaway from Marco Scandella.

Jason Pominville scored late in the third period, and the Predators gave up their obligatory empty net goal from Jason Zucker for the final margin.

Some observations:

  • This team continues to baffle me for their inability to hold a lead. I have seen more blown leads from this team over the last month to last a lifetime. For some reason, this team just lacks a killer instinct and seems content to sit back and let the opponent dictate play. After a dominating first period, the Predators were manhandled in the second period. They were out shot 15-9 and Pekka Rinne was under siege. The Predators gave up shots from prime scoring areas throughout the period. Part of the problem has been the inconsistency of the D pairings outside of Weber and Josi. What was once a solid blue line has become an adventure, and it has been a problem for this team.
  • This team looks to me to be out of gas. The inability to lock down a lead is a symptom of this condition. There has been the usual talk of finding a playoff gear, but this team does not have one. Part of it is the tendency to be too cute in the offensive zone and look for the pretty pass. Playoff hockey is gritty and sometimes ugly, and the grit factor on this team is not high. And I don't think the team has a switch to flip.
  • Sigh... the power play continues to be abysmal. Just getting into the zone was a small victory for this unit. I don't understand the philosophy, the lack of movement, the lack of net front presence, it is just amazing we can get this late in the season and see no improvement or change out of this unit. If- and that's a big if- we get in the zone, they are going to get pinned against the wall and generate few chances. I will say it again, this is going to bite the Predators in the butt in the playoffs.
  • On a positive note, Filip Forsberg tallied his team leading 25th goal. His 62 points has him in a tie for most points by a rookie with Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames.
With Chicago's loss tonight, the Predators locked up second place in the Central Division and home ice in the first round.

But what could have been for this team.

The concern is that the Predators will stumble into the playoffs with their confidence shot (very likely) and will be a first round flame out.

With one game left, it remains to be seen how this team turns it around.

My three stars:

1. Jason Zucker

2. Filip Forsberg

3. Jason Pominville