Sunday, February 1, 2015

Predators Pound the Penguins 4-0

The Nashville Predators bounced back from a tough road loss with a solid road win in Pittsburgh, defeating the Penguins 4-0 at Consol Energy Center.

The Predators got some scoring form some unlikely names, as Gabriel Bourque and Eric Nystrom followed a goal by Roman Josi to make it 3-0 Predators at the end of two period. Mike Fisher added a power play goal in the third period.

After a Josi blast that beat Marc-Andre Fluery through traffic, Gabriel Bourque buried a shot from the slot after a Penguins turnover to give the Predators a 2-0 first period lead.

Taylor Beck forced a turnover in the Penguins zone and Eric Nystrom made a beautiful move to beat Fluery late in the second period to make it 3-0.

Mike Fisher added a power play goal in the third period to make it 4-0.

Carter Hutton had an outstanding game in net, making some great saves and picking up his first shutout of the season and his third win.

Some observations:

  • The line of Gabriel Bourque, Matt Cullen, and Calle Jarnkrok have been playing well with lots of energy and creating some scoring chances. It was good to see that line rewarded with the goal by Bourque. Needless to say, if that line can get going, it bodes well for the Predators.
  • Roman Josi continues his high level of play. He has a very good shot and has opened his game up offensively this season. He is solid defensively and is very creative and dangerous offensively. Ryan who?
  • The Predators did a much better job on the forecheck and in the neutral zone of disrupting the Penguins passing lanes and creating turnovers which led to some very good scoring chances. When the Predators are skating and using their speed, they are very difficult team for opponents to play against.
  • The Predators parade to the penalty box is troubling. They took three penalties in the second period and put the potent Penguins power play to work. Big ups to the PK unit that has done an excellent job since the All Star break in killing penalties, but this is playing with fire.
  • What a sweet move for a goal by Eric Nystrom. Nystrom is a "glue" player that doesn't score much but is dependable in all situations and plays with high energy. Nice to see him get rewarded with a marker. Kudos to Taylor Beck for setting that goal up with a nice forecheck to create the turnover that led to the goal.
  • Teams that go deep in the playoffs have to get contributions from their third and fourth lines. Good to see these two lines for the Predators starting to contribute. Now they must do so consistently.
  • Filip Forsberg picked up two assists. We are used to seeing him on the score sheet, and two assists don't seem remarkable, but consider that Forsberg is now drawing the attention of the opponent's top defenders. I know one of those assists came on the power play, but it exemplified the vision and puck handling skills of this budding young superstar. High marks to Forsberg for continuing to produce against top flight competition.
  • Carter Hutton looked more relaxed and made some very good saves, especially early in the game when the Penguins were getting a lot of traffic to the net. Good to see a solid outing from Hutton.
  • Hutton got a lot of support from the skaters in front of him as the Predators blocked 18 Pens shots.
  • The Predators held the Penguins to 5 third period shots and 21 for the game.
A very good  road win and solid bounce back game for the Predators, one they need with St. Louis continuing to win and trying to close the gap on the Predators.

The team was very good in all phases of the game today.

They will need to continue to play this way in a very busy January.

My three stars:

1. Carter Hutton

2. Roman Josi

3. Filip Forsberg

Friday, January 30, 2015

Avalanche Shut Down the Predators 3-0

The Colorado Avalanche used a stifling defense to shut down the Nashville Predators at the Pepsi Center to capture their first win this season against the visitors.

The Avs used a first period goal from Maxim Talbot, a third period goal from Jerome Iginla, and a late empty net goal from Gabriel Landeskog to secure a 3-0 victory.

Marek Mazanec got the start for the Predators in net and played a solid game. Semyon Varlamov, his counterpart in goal for Colorado was better. Varlamov stopped all 28 shots he faced.

The Predators offense created some chances during the game but looked a bit out of sync after a tough game the previous night in St. Louis. The avalanche defense totally frustrated the Predators offensive effort, not allowing clean entries into the offensive zone. When they did create some scoring chances, Varlamov shut down the Predators.

Some observations:

  • Marek Mazanec got his first start since his recall since Carter Hutton played last night in St. Louis. Mazanec looked good in net- confident and moved well and did a good job of tracking the puck. He made several quality saves during the course of the game.
  • Olli Jokinen was a healthy scratch and Taylor Beck returned to the lineup.
  • The Avs have become a trapping team under Coach Patrick Roy, and the Preds struggled to handle the trap during stretches of the game. That is the style of hockey the Avalanche have to play to try to claw back into contention, and this is a good test for the Predators in handling this style of play because this is what they will see in the playoffs.
  • The Predators were without Mike Ribeiro for the majority of the third period as he picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct and a game misconduct penalty. Must have said something really bad to referee Wes MacCauly.
  • With the absence of Ribeiro, Colin Wilson moved up to center the top line.
  • The Predators had a difficult time establishing a consistent offensive flow. Credit the Avs for their defense, which choked off a lot of the Predators offensive effort. When the Predators got some scoring chances, they could not solve Varlamov.
  • This was just the second time this season that the Predators have lost back to back games, and it was just their 11th regulation loss this season.
Not a fun game for the Predators. Not much offensive consistency or pop.

We all know that the month after the All Star game is going to be a test for the Predators. They will play 15 games in 28 days in February and have several back to backs.

Now is the time for the team to dig down and elevate their play. This nest four weeks will go a long way to determining where the Preds wind up in the playoffs.

My three stars:

1. Semyon Varlamov

2. Jerome Iginla

3. Marek Mazanec

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Predators Pick Up A Point, Fall In SO to the Blues

The Nashville Predators met the St. Louis Blues at Scott Trade Center for their last regular season meeting of the season.

It was a physical affair that took a shootout to decide the winner, which the Blues won 2-1 to capture a 5-4 win.

The Predators jumped out to a 2-0 lead off a power play goal by Mike Fisher and an even strength goal from Filip Forsberg as the Predators challenged Blues netminder Brian Elliott early in the contest.

The Blues exploded for three goals in the second period as Jaden Schwartz, T.J. Oshie, and Steve Ott tallied, the last 2 goals coming just 26 seconds apart.

Mike Fisher tied the game at 3 with a shorthanded goal in the second period.

Ryan Reaves gave the Blues a 4-3 lead late in the second period with a blast that eluded Carter Hutton.

James Neal tied the game late in the third period with a quick shot from the slot.

The overtime was scoreless and the game would be decided in a shootout.

In the shootout, T.J. Oshie  and Kevin Shattenkirk scored for the Blues while Roman Josi was the only scorer for the Predators.

Some observations:

  • Mike Fisher's goal in the first period was his 500th career point. Most of those points have come from his gritty play in the hard areas, and tonight's goal was no different. A shot from the point from Roman Josi deflected off his shoulder, off the end board, and off Elliott's back into the goal. Every team needs a player that can get those gritty, greasy goals, and Fisher fills that role well for the Predators.
  • We have seen Filip Forsberg score some amazing goals this season. One aspect of his game that is often overlooked is his fearlessness in going to the front of the net. His goal in the second period was, in my opinion, one of his best of the season. He was in the hard area in front of the net, gathered the puck in traffic, and had the hands to flip the puck over a sprawling Elliott. That was a quality goal from a high traffic area with lots of bodies around him, and that is an underrated aspect of his game. This was Forsberg's team leading 17th goal.
  • The Predators have two shorthanded goals this season. Both have come against the Blues. Fisher collected the Predators second shortie of the season off a great job of forechecking by Calle Jarnkrok.
  • Carter Hutton made some big saves, some really good saves, and I really can't fault him for the first three Blues goals. But as happens too often, he gave up a goal on an unscreened shot to Ryan Reaves for the Blues 4th goal. These are the kind of shots that have plagued Hutton in almost every game he has played, and frankly, these are the kinds of shots that an NHL netminder has too stop. All the time. Hutton's biggest problem is his inconsistency in making those types of saves.
  • In the four previous contests with the Blues, the Predators took 10 penalties. Tonight, they were uncharacteristically undisciplined and took 6 penalties. The penalty kill did a great job against the League's number one power play unit, killing all 6 man advantage attempts by the Blues.
  • Every game this season between the Predators and the Blues was decided by one goal. The Predators captured the season series 3-2.
  • With the point tonight, the Predators have 68 points. The Blues have 64 points, and the Blackhawks have 62.
This was a tough, hard hitting contest, and the Predators played a solid road game. Some defensive breakdowns and a bad goal cost them the win. Yet the team did manage to pick up a point in this critical divisional game.

It doesn't get any easier as the Predators travel to Colorado for a matchup against the Avalanche tomorrow night.

My three stars:

1. Mike Fisher

2. T.J. Oshie

3. Roman Josi

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Predators OT Win Over the Avalanche Continues Torrid Play On Home Ice

The Nashville Predators returned from the All Star Break to take on the Colorado Avalanche at Bridgestone Arena.

A home game for the Predators is almost a certain win this season, and although it took overtime, the Predators prevailed 4-3 to run their home record to 19-2-1.

Craig Smith scored on a breakaway at 2:46 of the extra period to give the Predators the win. Smith took a lead pass from Mike Ribeiro and beat Semyon Varlamov stick side for the game winner.

A slow first period for the Predators saw them fall behind 1-0 on a point shot from Cody McLeod past a screened Carter Hutton..

The second period was when the Predators awoke. They tied the game on a blast from Roman Josi from the top of the face off circle.

Colin Wilson gave the Predators a 2-1 lead on the power play as he gathered a shot off the end boards and beat Varlamov from a sharp angle.

Jerome Iginla beat Hutton through traffic to tie the game at 2 at 16:05 of the second period.

Just 32 seconds into the third period, Filip Forsberg gave the Predators a 3-2 lead when Varlamov paddled his shot off to the side of the net. Forsberg didn't give up on the play and lifted the puck over the shoulder of Varly for the goal.

The Avalanche pulled Varlamov with 2:16 remaining in the game for the extra attacker. Nick Holden was able to get a rebound and lifted a shot over the glove of Hutton to tie the game with 26 seconds remaining.

Hutton set up Smith's OT heroics by stopping a Zach Redmond shot and kicking the rebound to Ribeiro, who hit Smith breaking down the middle of the ice for the winning goal.

Some observations:

  • After a slow and rusty first period, the Predators kicked it up a notch and took it to the Avalanche. The Predators had an 8-5 shot advantage after the first period; 22-14 after the second period; and 37-21 after the third period. The Predators held the Avs to single digit shot totals in each period and held the Avs without a shot for over 10 minutes in the third period. It is encouraging to see the team get stronger as the game goes along.
  • Winning close games is critical in this league. The Predators are 20-4-5 in one goal games this season.
  • Roman Josi continues to elevate his game. He has become a more consistent offensive threat with a deceptively good shot. His ability to handle the puck is exceptional. But Josi is very solid defensively and plays very good positional hockey in the defensive zone. he had 5 blocked shots tonight to bring his season total to a team leading 121.
  • Filip Forsberg's goal was a beauty, following his shot and scoring from a tough angle for a team leading 16th goal. We all marvel at his ability to handle the puck and his nose for the net, but tonight he showed a gritty side to his game. He was in front of the net battling and screening Varlamov on Josi's goal, and in the third period sacrificed his body (and his stick, which was shattered into two pieces) to block a shot when the Avs were pressing in the offensive zone.
  • The Predators power play was 1 for 2 on the night. They were successful on their second attempt by getting the puck to the net. Their first power play was too cute, looking for the perfect pass instead of taking the shot.
  • I really liked the play of the line of Matt Cullen, Gabriel Bourque, and Calle Jarnkrok. They played with good jump and used their speed to create problems for the Avalanche. If this line can start to pot some goals, it will boost their confidence and obviously help the team.
  • Colin Wilson had a strong game. His goal on the power play was from a difficult angle and was a perfectly placed shot. He used his speed and strength to control the puck and create some chances in the offensive zone. His goal tonight was his 15th of the season.
  • Faceoffs continue to be a struggle for the Predators as they won 30 of 67 draws, a 45% winning percentage.
  • Shea Weber led the Predators with 27:21 TOI.
It wasn't the prettiest game for the Predators, yet it was a good win. They overcame a slow start and the push back from the Avalanche throughout the game.

The Predators have 67 points and a 5 point lead over the Blues and Blackhawks, who were both idle tonight.

My three stars:

1. Craig Smith

2. Mike Ribeiro

3. Nick Holden

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Oil, Interest Rates, and the NHL

Global economies are in turmoil. Central banks around the world are printing currencies to try to jump start demand from consumers and spur economic activity. Those same central banks are trying to stimulate inflation while desperately fighting deflation that has been precipitated by falling oil prices. Surprisingly, some of those central banks, most recently the Bank of Canada, have cut interest rates to try to create more economic activity.

What do sluggish economies, falling oil prices and interest rates, and deflation have to do with our beloved hockey game?

A lot more than you would imagine.

And most of it is not good.

Let's start with some basics.

Deflation is simply a persistent decline in prices. Deflation can be caused by a decline in government, personal, or investment spending. A protracted period of deflation results in falling profits for businesses, which can lead to shrinking employment and income levels and business closures. Central banks can fight deflation by printing their currency (the Quantitative Easing programs are the current example) and lowering interest rates to stimulate economic activity and demand.

Printing currency and lowering interest rates dramatically (as most Central Banks have done) can devalue the local currency relative to other currencies.

When the Bank of Canada lowered their interest rate on overnight loans to Canadian banks, the effect was immediate and dramatic. The Canadian dollar fell against the U.S. dollar immediately. The Canadian dollar was worth .84 U.S. dollars the day before the rate cut. The day of the rate cut, the exchange rate fell to .80 to the U.S. dollar.

Part of the concern about deflation has been due to the precipitous fall in oil prices. On October 1, 2014, the price per barrel of crude oil was $90.73. It closed on January 22. 2015 at $46.31.

Now we all like paying less at the pump when we fill up, but the impact of these low oil prices is far reaching and negative.

The energy sector is an important component of most global economies. In Canada, it accounts for approximately 11% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The decline in oil prices is deflationary and will lead to lower capital investment and employment in that sector. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates that capital spending in the energy sector will decline 33% in 2015. The effect of lower energy prices (and consequently lower income to the energy industry) will cause GDP in Canada to decline to 1.5% in the first half of 2015, according to the Bank of Canada, and will shave .4% off annual GDP to 2.1%.

That forecast presumes that oil will rise back to $60 per barrel.

According to the Bank of Canada, the effect of lower oil prices will be "unambiguously negative" on the economy of Canada.

To be sure, a weaker currency can have some positive effects.“When our dollar falls, the cost of our inputs increases,” said Trevor Welch, president and general manager of Textile Manufacturing Co. Ltd., a Toronto-based producer of braided goods such as skate laces and cords for clothing such as hoodies.

“The upside is that when it comes time to sell our goods internationally, we are more competitive—at least in the U.S. market,” Mr. Welch said. That market accounts for 10% to 25% of the company’s sales, depending on the year, he estimates.

In general, though, a weaker currency, is negative for a local (national) economy.

So what does this mean for the game of hockey?

The sluggish Canadian economy and policy decisions have significantly weakened the Canadian dollar. At the start of the season, the Canadian dollar was trading at .90 Canadian dollars to the U.S. dollar. As mentioned, it is now at .80.

We all know that contracts for the Canadian hockey teams are paid in U. S. dollars. So a falling Canadian dollar means that more of the revenue that Canadian hockey teams generate have to be allocated to paying the players currently under contract.

This is important to the economic landscape of hockey since the Canadian teams make significant contributions to the revenue pool for revenue sharing purposes.

The most profitable hockey franchise is the Toronto Maple Leafs, showing operating income of $70.6 million according to Forbes. Their current salaries total $75,109,000.

With the decline of the Canadian dollar from the start of the season to the present, the Leafs now pay out an additional $7,510,900 from their operating revenues to effectively make up for the decline in the Canadian dollar on an annual basis (yes, I know I am using annual numbers and the decline in the Canadian dollar was not in effect for the full year, but the example illuminates the point).

Not quantifiable but equally important is the general decline in economic activity not only in Canada but the U.S. It will probably not have a significant impact in this season, but the longer this sluggishness persists, the more it  will affect sponsors (especially the small and mid size companies that support local teams) and individual ticket buyers.

A lengthy period of Canadian dollar weakness will ultimately have a negative effect on league revenues, which in term will impact the salary cap and each team as more dollars of operating revenue are used to pay salaries.

For hockey fans, our world revolves around the sheet of ice and our favorite team.

Unfortunately, the outside world and its weak economies are intruding on our world like a Zac Rinaldo hit.

And it's not pretty.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Predators Start Strong, Can't Finish in OT Loss to the Canadiens

The Nashville Predators dominated the first 40 minutes of their game with the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Center.

Unfortunately, it is a 60 minute game, and in this case, an overtime period as well, as the Canadiens defeated the Predators 2-1 in overtime.

Mike Ribeiro redirected a Seth Jones shot from the blue line over the shoulder of Carey Price to give the Predators a 2-1 lead in the second period.

Alex Galchenyuk tied the game on the power play in the third period as he redirected a P.K.Subban shot from the point past Carter Hutton.

Tied at the end of regulation, the game headed to overtime, and in the extra period, a weak tripping call on Craig Smith gave the Habs a power play.

On the 4 on 3 man advantage, P.K. Subban scored on a blast from the face off circle for the game winner.

Some observations:

  • The Predators out shot the Canadiens 14-4 in the first period and looked like the...well, Predators. After a lifeless game against Detroit, one wondered what Predators team would show up tonight. The first period saw the Preds get pucks to the net and aggressively forecheck, disrupting any offensive flow of the home team.
  • The Predators did a great job of blocking shots and passes, frustrating the Canadiens offense. When you have a goalie that has struggled and may be lacking a bit in confidence, playing outstanding defense in front of him and keeping pucks from getting to the net are essential. The Predators blocked 19 shots tonight.
  • Now that those first two positive points have been made, here is the negative. The Predators didn't finish some glorious scoring chances. Part of that was the play of Carey Price. Part of it is just not finishing. The forwards worked hard to create those chances and they have to bury when them have the opportunity.
  • I really liked the play of Gabriel Bourque. He played with lots of jump and was strong in all zones. Maybe playing in his home province brought out another level of play. Bourque and his line mates, Calle Jarnkrok and Matt Cullen, played with speed and created some chances tonight.
  • Carter Hutton made some huge saves tonight. He wasn't tested often in the first 40 minutes, but he had to come up with a big save late in the second period and was challenged in the third  when the Canadiens started their push. Hutton played with confidence and moved well in net. He was screened on the game winning shot and didn't have much of a chance.
  • Carey Price is an excellent goalie. The Predators threw a ton of shots at the net and Price was equal to the challenge. He is similar to Pekka Rinne- big and very athletic and turned away some very good scoring chances by the Predators. 
  • The Predators out shot the Habs 37-27.
  • Shea Weber led the Predators in TOI with 27:34.
  • Seth Jones had a solid game, logging 23:31 in ice time and recording an assist on the Ribeiro goal. Jones started slowly this season but is starting to hit his stride, and that has to continue after the All Star break.
  • This is the first time this season that the Predators have dropped back to back games.
This was a disappointing loss for the Predators, a game that got away after dominating play for two periods.

Now is the time for some rest and come back ready for the push to the playoffs.

My three stars:

1. Carey Price

2. P. K. Subban

3. Seth Jones

Monday, January 19, 2015

My View

Random ruminations from your resident curmudgeon...

It's stating the obvious when I say our nation has a lot of economic problems. A ballooning deficit; a large swath of working age Americans without a job; and a gargantuan amount of debt are but a few.

But perhaps our most serious economic problem has to do with birth and death.

No, not of individuals, but of businesses.

As of the end of the year, the U.S. economy ranked 12th globally in terms of business start up activity. Countries such as Finland, Hungary, Israel, New Zealand, and even Italy all rank ahead of the United States in new business start ups.

For the first time in 35 years, business "deaths"- companies that close for good- outnumber the business "births"- companies that are starting up.

According the Census Bureau, 400,000 new businesses started up while 470,000 businesses closed in 2012, the last year for which data has been released.

So why is this the biggest economic problem that our nation must confront?

I will answer by asking a question.

Where are jobs created?

85% of all jobs in this country are created by small business, defined as those that employ 50 people or less.When small and medium size businesses are dying faster than  new ones are being created, jobs disappear.

Now if you look at the census data, you will find that there are 26 million businesses listed in the U.S.

But dig deeper, and you find that just over 20 million of those businesses don't actually do business. They have no sales, workers, or profits. Their business is still listed as an active enterprise only because they have not officially shut down.

Of the remaining approximately 6 million companies, 3.8 million have under 4 employees. they are the "mom and pop" shops across the country. There are 1 million companies with 5 to 9 people employed. There are 500,000 companies with 20-99 employees; 90,000 companies with 100-499 employees;and 18,000 companies that employ more than 500 people.

These approximately 6 million businesses employ 100 million Americans, and those employed Americans and their employers, especially the small to medium sized ones, provide the tax base for all of our spending.

Without the growth of companies and the jobs they bring, our tax base starts to shrink. There is less tax revenue for defense spending, social programs, and running the country. When new businesses are not being born, jobs- and tax revenue- declines.

Without a growing entrepreneurial economy, good, well paying jobs are not being created, which puts further strain on economic growth and on families.

Until we recognize the growth of our economy does not come from stifling bureaucracy, layers of government, and an onerous tax code, our country is going to continue to struggle to produce jobs that pay well. We are going to struggle to have new companies "born" that provide those jobs.

We must understand that our national security as well as our standard of living are dependent upon an environment that fosters the birth of new companies that will employ more Americans.

If we do not reverse course, we will continue to travel the road to economic calamity.

And that, my friends, is my view.