Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Predators Stop the Bruins In a Shootout

The Nashville Predators returned to Bridgestone Arena for one game against the Boston Bruins before departing on the road until after Christmas. So playing in front of the home crowd, where the Predators have been almost unbeatable, and against a team in the Bruins that has struggled to score lately, this looked like a matchup that would favor the Predators.

Instead, the Predators found themselves in a battle with the Bruins before they won it in a shootut.

Regulation and overtime ended tied at 2. Derek Roy scored the only goal in overtime and Pekka Rinne stopped all three Boston shooters for a 3-2 win for the Predators.

After a scoreless first period that saw both teams register 9 shots, the Bruins opened the second period absolutely dominating the Predators. They had the first 8 shots on net and tallied the first goal of the game just after their power play expired. The Bruins were swarming the net and got 4 shots on goal before Milan Lucic was finally able to get a puck past Rinne to make it 1-0.

The Predators answered with just 30 seconds to go in the second. With Lucic in the box for hooking, Shea Weber let a shot go from the blue line that was tipped by Mike Fisher in front past Tuukka Rask to tie the game.

The Predators took a 2-1 lead early in the third as James Neal passed the puck off the end boards right to the stick of Mike Ribeiro. He fired a rocket over the shoulder of Rask for his 9th goal of the season.

That lead lasted just under 2 minutes as Reilly Smith drove around James Neal and was able to slide the puck past Rinne.

Both teams has some chances in the remainder of regulation but neither could find the back of the net.

In overtime, the Predators were a turnover machine and Rinne had to make some huge stops to keep the Bruins off the board.

Roy notched the only goal in the shootout to secure the 3-2 win and the valuable second point for the Predators.

Some observations:

  • If Pekka Rinne doesn't get serious consideration for the Vezina and the Hart, then the Pro Hockey Writers will have committed a criminal offense. Rinne has been outstanding so far this season and some of his saves have just been amazing. In overtime in particular he was outstanding, stopping the Bruins on a breakaway. He did a good job of tracking the puck through traffic and kept the Predators in the game while the offense was absent early in the second period. Rinne came into the game with a .937 save percentage and stopped 33 of 35 shots for a .943 save percentage in this game. 
  • Rinne has now stopped 14 straight shootout attempts.
  • The Predators power play goal tonight was their first power play goal on home ice since the home opener on October 9th. Yikes! This does point out, however, how strong the Predators have been at 5 on 5 scoring.
  • The Predators penalty kill stopped all three of the Bruins powers plays. The Bruins first goal came just 8 seconds after their power play had expired.
  • Remember how bad the Predators were in shootouts last season? They are 4-1 in the skills competition this season.
  • The resiliency and the strength of the Predators is reflected in how well they have played in the one goal games. With the win tonight, they are now 13-4-2 in contests decided by one goal.
  • Roman Josi led all Predators in TOI with 31:12. He has been playing at a very high level and against the best forwards of the opponent. He and Shea Weber have developed into one of the elite D tandems in the NHL.
  • Speaking of Weber, one aspect of his game that has really stood out to me is how well he is skating this season. He seems faster and has been more active jumping into the offensive rush and creating some scoring opportunities in the offensive zone.
  • David Poile has moved into second all time in the NHL for wins by a General manager. He now has 1,171, passing Harry Sinden.
  • The Predators opened the second period back on their heels and were atrocious. They did not register their first shot on goal until the 14 minute mark of the period. A time out by Head Coach Peter Laviolette jolted the Predators back to life.
  • Filip Forsberg picked up an assist for his 30th point of the year.
  • The Predators are now 20-8-2, good for 42 points, and the win tonight keeps the Predators on pace with the Blackhawks and Blues, who have 45 and 44 points respectively. The Predators have 2 games in hand on the Blackhawks and 1 game in hand on the Blues.
  • The Predators have not lost back to back games this season.
This was a hard fought, scrappy win by the Predators against a team that has lots of talent, the Bruins injuries notwithstanding.

More importantly, this keep the Predators right in the thick of a very competitive Central Division race.

They will have a chance to add to their win total on Thursday in their first meeting with the Minnesota Wild.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Mike Ribeiro

3. Tuukka Rask

Sunday, December 14, 2014

My View

Most of you know that I use this version of my blog to post something about economics or politics, and believe me, there is no shortage of material right now.

However, in this Advent season, I am going to turn my attention to writings that reflect the hope that we celebrate.

One of my favorite stories is from the late Paul Harvey, a master story teller and a keen observer of human nature.

Here is his story of the birds at Christmas.

The Man and the Birds
by Paul Harvey
The man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man.

“I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound…Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud…At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it.

Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them…He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms…Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

And then, he realized that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me…That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him.

If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safe, warm…to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”
At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – Adeste Fidelis – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas.

And he sank to his knees in the snow.

Predators Lackluster Effort Leads to Loss to the Sharks

The Nashville Predators traveled to San Jose to face the Sharks in the last game of a three game road trip. The Predators won the first two games of this road swing and were looking to build on that momentum against a Sharks team that always plays the Predators tough in their barn.

A total defensive breakdown by Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm allowed Tomas Hertl to be left alone in front of the net and he was able to get a puck past Rinne after the initial save to make it 1-0 Sharks at 5:01 of the first period.

The Sharks spent the remainder of the period dominating the Predators and controlling play. The Predators had no jump and were chasing the puck all period. if not for the play of Rinne, this game would have gotten out of hand early.

The Predators were going to need to regroup and come out with more energy in the second period.

The Predators effort was hampered when early in the second period Shea Weber delivered a booming check to Ty McGinn along the boards. Both players left the game and went to their respective locker rooms. Weber's absence left the Predators with 5 defensemen.

The Sharks continued to play with energy and jump while the Predators looked a step slow and back on their heels. Rinne's strong play was the only thing keeping the Predators close.

The Predators offense, much like the first period, was non-existent. they managed only 4 shots on net while the Sharks had 11. whatever offensive flow, magic or whatever that the Predators had displayed so far this season had completely disappeared in the first 40 minutes of this game. Without argument, this was the worst 40 minutes of hockey this team had played all season.

The Predators had a bit more jump in the third period and actually created a few good scoring chances. They continued to struggle connecting on their passes and the puck support in the offensive zone was weak, often short circuiting offensive possessions.

The Predators pulled Rinne with 1:46 remaining for the extra attacker and the Predators lost the face off and Joe Thornton promptly put it into the empty net for a 2-0 Sharks lead.

The game would end at that score. The way the Predators played tonight, they were not going to overcome a one goal lead, much less two.

Some observations:

  • The Predators looked out of sync and sluggish in the first period and were thoroughly outplayed by the Sharks. No offensive flow and on their heels in the defensive zone and the Sharks pounced on the Predators. Rinne was very busy in the first and had to make some good saves to keep the score from being worse than it was. The Sharks out shot the Predators 18-7 and had good pressure in the offensive zone while the Predators never mounted a challenge to Niemi.
  • The 18 shots were the most allowed in a period by the Predators this season.
  • Weber missed about half of the second period as he had to get his armed stitched after landing on McGinn's skate.
  • Paul Gaustad missed his second game in a row with a lower body injury.
  • All season long, the Predators defense has been more active in the offensive zone, and they did that again tonight. A pleasant change from years past.
  • Kudos to James Neal for being willing to drop the gloves when provoked. He handled himself well in his first fight of the year.
  • Too many cute passes on the power play and not enough meat and potatoes of getting the puck to the net and scrapping for rebounds. This has been a problem for the power play unit all season. The power play unit just plain makes it too easy for the opponents to defend.
  • Pekka Rinne was absolutely outstanding. He made some great saves and had lots of pucks coming at him. His save in the second period on Patrick Marleau was a thing of beauty. Without his solid netminding, this game would have been embarrassing for the Predators.
  • Once again, the Predators were not good in the face off dot. This is one of the areas of their play that is going to have to improve.
  • This was the second time this season that the Predators have been shut out.

This was just a weak effort by the Predators, and although they had a bit of push back in the third period, it was not nearly enough.

This game shows this team can't just step on the ice and expect to chalk upo a win. Bring a half-hearted effort and this will be the result.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Tomas Hertl

3. Joe Thornton

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Predators Use Fast Start, Strong Finish to Crush the Coyotes

The Nashville Predators traveled to Phoenix to take on a struggling Arizona Coyotes team. While the Coyotes have struggled so far this season, this was a team that the Predators could not take lightly. The Coyotes desperately needed a win and they would like nothing more than to secure one against the Predators who had beaten them in a shootout earlier this year in Nashville.

Pekka Rinne was in net for the Predators while Mike Smith was between the pipes for the Coyotes.

Antoine Vermette opened the scoring for the Coyotes on the power play at 4:11 of the first period. Vermette was alone in the high slot and beat Rinne, who was screened on the play.

Once again, the Predators found themselves in a hole to open the game. They would need to respond and get momentum back on their side.

They did just that in a big way.

Mike Fisher answered on a Predators power play as he redirected a pass from Shea Weber past Smith at 6:57.

What on earth is going on here!? We CAN score on the power play.

The Predators scored just as their second power play expired as James Neal was crashing the net and was able to redirect the rebound of a Mike Fisher shot past Smith at 11:06 of the first period.

The Predators made it 3-1 at 18:30 of the first period as James Neal drove into the zone and through the Coyotes defense. His drive to the net made Smith come out to respect the shot. Instead, Neal found Ryan Ellis alone at the side of the net. Neal slid a pass to Ellis, who tapped it into a wide open net.

Response delivered.

The second period was scoreless, but the Predators used their speed to create some scoring chances. On the defensive end, the Predators did a good job of disrupting the Coyotes offense.

Calle Jarnkrok made it 4-1 at 2:33 of the third period by battling in front of the net for a loose puck. Jarnkrok managed to get his stick on the puck and poke it past Smith in a maze of bodies around the crease.

Olli Jokinen made it 5-1 when a pass from Colin Wilson deflected off Jokinen's skate and between the pads of Smith at 7:20 of the third. This was Jokinen's second goal of the season.

That was it for the scoring and the Predators pocketed their second win on this three game road trip by the 5-1 margin.

Some observations:

  • Derek Roy returned to the line up after missing 4 games due to injury.
  • A power play goal!! Mike Fisher finally notched one for the Predators off assists from Shea Weber and Filip Forsberg. this was Fisher's first goal since returning to action.
  • I really like the hustle and effort of Colin Wilson. He was physical and flying all over the ice tonight. If there is an example of a player responding to a new voice in the room, it is Wilson.
  • Roman Josi is quietly emerging as an elite defenseman. He can be physical if necessary, but his real strengths are his puck handling and playmaking ability. He is a perfect compliment to his defense partner Shea Weber.
  • Calle Jarnkrok has also elevated his game recently. He has shown strength on the puck and a willingness to battle as was evidenced by his goal tonight. I think Jarnkrok has a lot of upside in his game and it is good to see him playing a strong game in all zones.
  • The Coyotes came into this game having lost their last 7 games on home ice. Facing a fragile team, the Predators did just what they needed to do- get pucks on net and make Smith scramble. The response after the Coyotes opened the scoring was perfect: pressure Smith and make him move and they were rewarded for their efforts.
  • The Coyotes travails on home ice point out the necessity of defending home ice. How good is it that the Predators have done just that this season? Defending home ice is critical to securing playoff position, and so far this season, the Predators have done just that.
  • The Predators out shot the Coyotes 38-32. They also blocked 15 shots by the Coyotes.
This was a good road win by the Predators against a team they should have beaten. That they did so in such a convincing fashion is encouraging.

The Predators will have to continue to play a complete game. They will get a big test against the Sharks on Saturday night.

My three stars:

1. Mike Fisher

2. James Neal

3. Calle Jarnkrok

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Predators Start Road Trip With 3-0 Win Over the Avalanche

The Nashville Predators looked to get back to their winning ways as they traveled to the Pepsi Center to take on the Colorado Avalanche in the first of five meetings these teams will have this season.

This was the first game of a three game road swing out west for the Predators.

The Avalanche have been beset with injuries, notably to their starting goalie, Semyon Varlamov. Calvin Pickard drew the starting assignment and faced Pekka Rinne in net for the Predators.

It would be important for the Predators to get off to a fast start and they did just that as Filip Forsberg scored off a breakaway, roofing the shot over the shoulder of Pickard at 2:23 of the first period. this was Forsberg's 12th goal of the season.

That goal stood up until the third period when Gabriel Bourque got an empty netter at 18:10 to make it 2-0.

James Neal added another empty netter at 19:02 to seal the 3-0 win.

In between, there was a lot of up and down hockey with both teams creating some scoring chances and both goaltenders turning away said chances.

Some observations:

  • Forsberg's first period goal was a beauty off a nice pass from Gabriel Bourque. Forsberg was patient and waited for Pickard to drop to the butterfly before elevating the shot. Forsberg's hockey sense and maturity on the ice continue to impress. 
  • Anton Volchenkov returned to the line up after missing the Chicago game. Taylor Beck was out of the line up with a concussion and did not make the trip. Paul Gaustad returned to action, but only briefly as he played only about half the first period before re-aggravating the lower body injury that has kept him out of the last three games.
  • The lines were juggled, with Mike fisher centering Matt Cullen and Craig Smith on the second line while Calle Jarnkrok centered Colin wilson and Olli Jokinen on the third line.
  • The Predators caught a HUGE break late in the second period as Gabriel Landeskog had a wide open net into which to shoot the puck and instead he hit the pipe.
  • Mattias Ekholm played a solid game and is growing in confidence on the ice. He is quietly physical and handles the puck well. tonight, He was solid in the defensive zone and physical in the corners and in front of the net. Good to see his game getting consistently better.
  • The Predators did a good job in the defensive zone of disrupting the Avs offense. They did a good job of getting in the passing lanes and collapsing around the net to limit scoring opportunities.
  • Rinne had to make some good saves on the quality scoring chances that the Avalanche generated. It is certainly good to have Pekka back healthy and playing at the top of his game. this was Rinne's third shutout of the season.
  • His counterpart, Pickard, made some very good saves as well, absolutely robbing Olli Jokinen in close in the third period.
  • Gabriel Bourque has played with a lot of jump since his return to the line up. I have always liked his hustle and effort, but he has been in a tremendous scoring drought. tonight he was rewarded for his efforts with a goal and an assist. good to see him get on the board.
  • The Predators out shot the Avalanche 36-26.
  • The Predators were 0-6 on the power play, including a 4 minute double minor to Jerome Iginla. As bad as this unit is, I was encouraged to see more movement and working for shots. they will score on the man advantage eventually. Right?
  • The Predators have not lost back to back games this season.
A good start to the road trip  There is no doubt that injuries have depleted the Avalanche, but they are still a team with lots of talent. Tonight, the Predators did a good job of shutting down that talent.

They travel to Phoenix to take on the Coyotes Thursday.

Keep it rolling.

My three stars:

1. Gabriel Bourque

2. Filip Forsberg

3. Pekka Rinne

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Predators Fall to the Blackhawks 3-1

The Nashville Predators relinquished first place in the Central Division by dropping a 3-1 decision to the Chicago Blackhawks at the Bridgestone Arena.

The Hawks took a 2-0 lead into the third period off goals by Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa before Colin Wilson answered just 34 seconds into the third  with a wicked wrist shot that beat Scott Darling.

The Hawks cemented their first regulation win of the season over the Predators with a Hossa empty net goal.

Some observations:

  • I can't fault Predators netminder Pekka Rinne for either of the goals that he gave up. Saad's goal looked to hit the stick of defenseman Roman Josi and the shot whistled over his shoulder. The second goal to Hossa was caused by Colin Wilson being late to get back into defensive coverage. Rinne gave up a rebound and Hossa had an open net into which to shoot the puck.
  • The Predators puck support in the offensive zone was just about as bad as I have seen it all season. Often, a puck carrier was out manned and had no one coming to support. This stymied the offense all night.
  • This was the Hawks first regulation win over the Predators in three meetings this season.
  • The Predators were once again weak in the face off dot, especially in the offensive zone. The Predators won 44% of their faceoffs and often lost them in the offensive zone allowing the hawks to get the puck down ice and short circuiting any Predators offensive threat. Mike fisher won 15 of 29 faceoffs for 52%. Mike Ribeiro was 8 of 19 (42%); Matt Cullen was 2 of 6 (33%); Calle Jarnkrok was 1 of 6 (17%); Olli Jokinen was 3 of 4 (75%); and Colin Wilson was 1 of 3 (33%). this is an area that has been weak all season and needs to improve.
  • Colin Wilson continues his strong play. He had probably the best jump of any of the Predators forwards and made it a game with his goal early in the third period. Wilson has 8 points (5G-3A) in 10 games since returning from an injury on November 13.
  • The Predators previous 7 games had been decided by one goal. This is the first game to be decided by more than one goal since the Predators defeated the maple Leafs 9-2.
  • To the Predators fans that sold their tickets to Blackhawk fans- shame on you. I know that you made a lot of money for your ticket, but this is our barn and you allowed drunken bandwagon fans of a division rival to occupy our barn. I have no words- at least no words that I can print- for you.
Frankly, the boys got outplayed from start to finish in this one. The Hawks are a very good team and we needed to bring our best tonight to defeat them.

We didn't.

So now we begin a road trip that takes us out west for some winnable games.

Time to get back to business.

My three stars:

1. Scott Darling

2. Marian Hossa

3. Colin Wilson

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Predators Spoil Brodeur's Debut, Win Big Divisonal Game Against the Blues

The St. Louis Blues are a very good team.

The Nashville Predators are better.

The Predators defeated the Blues 4-3 at Bridgestone Arena in a battle of two teams tied atop the Central Division with 34 points. With the win, the Predators take over sole possession of first place with 36 points.

Martin Brodeur made his debut this season, getting the start in net for the Blues.

The Predators started slowly and were outskated by the Blues in the first 5 minutes of the game. The Blues opened the scoring as their leading scorer, Vladamir Tarasenko was the beneficiary of a nice give and go and put the puck by Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne.

The slow start and early score by the Blues prompted Predators head Coach Peter Laviolette to call a time out and he used the break to scorch the Predators.

The Predators responded as Filip Forsberg scored to tie the game. Forsberg's goal was his 11th f the season and gives him 25 points (11G-14A) in 25 games.

Eric Nystrom was left alone in the slot, and he whipped a shot past Brodeur to make it 2-1, which is the way the first period ended.

The Predators extended their lead to 3-1 just 1:25 in the second as Mike Ribeiro took a pass from James Neal and had an open net into which to shoot the puck.

The Blues pulled to 3-2 off the second goal of the night from Tarasenko. The Blues won a face off in the Predators zone and Tarasenko scorched a shot past Rinne at 3:51 of the second.

The Predators made it 4-2 at 9:30 of the third period as Colin Wilson was sprung on a breakaway by a nice pass from Roman Josi and he beat Brodeur with a backhand.

That goal proved to be the game winner as once again the Blues pulled to within one off a blast from Jaden Schwartz at 12:32.

The Predators held off the Blues for the remainder of the period with some good saves by Rinne and some good defense to capture a critical 4-3 win against the Blues.

Some observations:

  • Filip Forsberg continues to impress, not only with his physical skills but with his maturity and hockey sense. Forsberg was not intimidated by the physical play of the Blues and handled himself well. His puck handling ability and hockey sense are amazing, and he was rewarded with a goal and an assist tonight. Foesberg comes to play every night, but especially shows up in big games. He now has 7 points (3G-4A) in three games against the Blues.

  • Speaking of Forsberg, Marty Brodeur had been in the NHL for three years when Forsberg was born.

  • Colin Wilson has really elevated his game, using his speed and size to create scoring opportunities. I am really encouraged by his play this season and how he is finding the net. Good to see him get rewarded with a goal tonight, even sweeter that it was the game winner.

  • Goodness... Vladamir Tarasenko is good. Two goals tonight and he was a force all night. Going to be interesting to see what kind of contract he signs after his entry level contract expires.

  • The Predators out shot the Blues 16-12 in the first period. After that, it was all Blues as they out shot the Predators 11-4 in the second and 9-4 in the third. Thank goodness for Pekka Rinne.

  • Rinne had some very good saves, and had no chance on the give and go first goal of the Blues. The second goal was a blast from outside the face off circle that Rinne didn't see and the third goal was a rocket from Schwartz that beat him cleanly.

  • The Predators power play was 0-2. I'm not going to talk about it anymore. It is just bad.

  • On the other hand, the Predators penalty kill unit is rounding into form. They stopped all three Blues power play opportunities, including a bogus too many men on the ice call by the officials.

  • Paul Gaustad was out of the line up with a lower body injury. Gabriel Bourque drew into the line up and was on a line with Olli Jokinen and Matt Cullen.

  • Roman Josi picked up an assist and now has points in four straight games, which ties a career high.

  • Establishing your home ice advantage is critical in this league. Over the past two season, the Predators have failed to do that. They have reversed course this season, going 11-1-1 on home ice this year.

  • The Predators top line of Neal, Ribeiro, and Forsberg combined for 6 points against the Blues. Big time players step up in big games.

  • Pekka Rinne won his league leading 17th game tonight.

  • Shea Weber and Roman Josi were outstanding, shutting down the Blues top line. Weber lead the Predators in TOI with 29:14.
A huge divisional win for the Predators, but it doesn't get any easier as another divisional rival comes to town Saturday.

Time to bring it against the Blackhawks.

My three stars:

1. Mike Ribeiro

2. Vladamir Tarasenko

3. Filip Forsberg