Saturday, April 30, 2016

Predators Wilt In the Third Period, Fall to Sharks 5-2

The Nashville Predators looked to continue their road success in the playoffs with a second round match up against the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center. The Predators won 3 of 4 meetings against the Ducks at the Honda Center and were attempting to build on that momentum.

A scoreless first period saw both teams probe but neither would find the back of the net.

That would change in the second period as Mike Fisher sent the Predators into the second intermission with a power play goal.

The Predators seemed content to sit back and lost their attacking mode, and it cost them. They gave up power play goal to Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture, which were sandwiched around an even strength goal from Joel Ward.

The Predators pulled Rinne for the extra attacker and a Roman Josi shot deflected off Ryan Johansen to make it 3-2 with 1:49 remaining in the game.

Any hopes of a comeback were dashed by an empty net goals by Couture  and Tommy Wingels to make it 5-2.

Some observations:

  • Craig Smith re-aggravated his injury suffered in game 3 of the Ducks series and was out of the line up. Pontus Aberg was called up, but did not play.
  • Eric Nystrom drew back into the line up and was on  the 4th line with Paul Gaustad and Colton Sissons.
  • Good to see the power play finally convert. The man advantage unit was 1-26 against the Ducks and definitely needed to get their groove back. Getting one on their second attempt hopefully gets their mojo going in this series.
  • Both teams had spurts of intensity surrounded by tentative play. The Sharks were backing off defensively and allowed some room for the Predators in the offensive zone. The Predators had moments where they went into a shell and the Sharks peppered Rinne in net. First game jitters...maybe. Rust by the Sharks...perhaps. Look for the intensity and continuous action to ramp up in this game and in this series.
  • The Predators tempted fate by putting the Sharks on the power play and it bit them. A dumb penalty by Johansen allowed the Sharks to get back in the game and get momentum early in the third period. The penalties will happen, but they cannot, CANNOT, be silly penalties.
  • When the Predators get tentative and lose their attack mode, they are not a very good hockey team. The Predators have all season long turtled when they have a lead, and they did again tonight. And that allowed the Sharks to take the game to them and take the lead. This team is going to have to develop a killer instinct and forget going into the shell and hoping Rinne can bail them out.
  • And when you dig a hole with a soft, passive game, it will cost you when you scramble to try to get back in. This is exactly what the Predators did in the third period. Losing their offensive effort and then being forced to chase cost them this game. 
The Predators were in this game, and in fact controlled this game until they decided they could sit back and hope Rinne would be able to hold them off. Letting the Sharks attack and pour shots on the Predators net was not going to succeed.

That style of play didn't work in the regular season. It certainly isn't going to work now.

This team can win this round. They have the talent to do so.

But they will not win if they continue to be passive.

My three stars:

1. Logan Couture

2. Joel Ward

3. Brent Burns

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Predators Step On the Ducks 2-1, Advance to the Second Round

The Nashville Predators were going into the hostile environment of the Honda Center to play their first game 7 in their history. The Anaheim Ducks were trying to exorcise their recent failures in a game 7 match up.

And the Predators are making history.

The Ducks are still trying to exorcise those Game 7 demons.

The Predators came out strong with two first period goals by Colin Wilson and Paul Gaustad to take a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission.

The Predators spent the next 40 minutes absorbing the frantic push by the Ducks. They gave up a power play goal to Ryan Kessler early in the third period to exponentially increase the pucker factor for Pred nation.

Frederick Andersen was outstanding after giving up the first period goals. As good as Andersen was, Pekka Rinne was even better.

No, Rinne was absolutely outstanding.

He was under assault throughout the game, especially in the final 40 minutes. And the big Finn was up to the task. He made some outstanding saves, got some help from a crossbar, and from his D that cleared the puck out of danger.

That effort secured a 2-1 win and a second round match up with the San Jose Sharks.

Some observations:

  • Cody Bass was out of the line up after being injured in game 6. Colton Sissons drew into the line up to replace Bass.
  • This is the first game 7 that the Predators have ever played.
  • Heck of an effort by Colin Wilson to settle the puck and place a perfect backhand under the crossbar. Wilson has been my whipping boy this season, but I have to give him props for stepping up his game in the playoffs. Teams that go deep in the playoffs have to get contributions from their bottom 6 and Wilson has been the best producer for the Predators in the playoffs.
  • How about Paul Gaustad stepping up his game? He has been using his big frame to screen in front of the net and he was rewarded for going to the hard areas with a sweet redirect of the Shea Weber shot just after a power play had ended. This was a huge momentum swing for the Predators and you could hear the air suck out of the Honda Center after that score.
  • Rinne had to come up with some huge saves in the first period to keep the Ducks off the board. The Ducks are talented and they were pressing after going down 2, and Rinne was scrambling but shut the door on the Ducks.
  • The Predators had 4 first year players in the line up. The experience these youngsters are getting is invaluable to their development and bodes well for the future of this team.
  • The best you can say about the second period is that the Predators weathered it. The Ducks had sustained pressure and several quality chances. The Preds are going to have to get their attack mentality back for the third period.
  • Too many times tempting fate and the Ducks finally cash in on a power play. Ryan Kessler perfectly placed a shot past Rinne inside the far post to cut the lead to 1.
  • This game was a perfect example of shoddy officiating. The refs swallowed their whistles and allowed anything short of severing a limb go. And it is a reason that the League continues to struggle with credibility.
  • Goodness gracious, Pekka Rinne was a beast! He made save after save, some spectacular. Rinne was poised and strong between the pipes and was the difference in this game and this series. The Ducks poured pucks on Rinne, totaling 37 shots on net.
What a character win and comeback by the Predators! After losing 3 straight and being given up for dead, the Predators roared back to life and captured the series.

It was a long, tough series. Yet it is a series win that should really boost the confidence of the Predators.

Bask in it, Pred Nation.

It feels good.

My three stars:

1. Pekka Rinne

2. Colin Wilson

3. Paul Gaustad

Monday, April 25, 2016

Predators Show Life, Down the Ducks 3-1 to Force Game 7

After looking inept and off their game, the Nashville Predators resurrected Predator hockey and took the game to the Anaheim Ducks at Bridgestone Arena, winning 3-1 and forcing a game 7 in Anaheim on Wednesday.

The first period was a tight checking, scoreless affair.

That changed in the second period when Mattias Ekholm carried the puck behind the net and back out to the face off circle before launching a seeing eye shot through traffic that Frederick Andersen never saw to give the Predators a 1-0 lead.

The Predators extended their lead to 2-0 when Ryan Johansen broke in on a 2 on 1 with James Neal. Johansen drew the defender toward him and made Andersen respect his shot before slipping the puck to Neal, who buried it in a wide open net.

The lone Ducks goal came off a horrid call against Ekholm. After being held for about 6 seconds by Hampus Lindholm, Matty Ek was called for a touch foul. On the ensuing power play, Rinne stopped a shot from the face off circle by Corey Perry, but the puck leaked through his pads and Ryan Kessler was able to tap it in to cut the Predators lead to 2-1.

The third period saw a furious push by the Ducks and occasional counters by the Predators. The play of the game came when Rinne stopped Perry, who was alone in the slot and fired from point blank range. Rinne was positionally sound and kicked the puck out with his pads.

Shea Weber sealed the win with a long range empty net goal.

Some observations:

  • For the first time in team history, the Predators will play a game 7.
  • Also for the first time in team history, the Predators won a game 6 when facing elimination.
  • Shea Weber led the Predators in TOI with 26:34. Roman Josi led the team with 5 blocked shots.
  • Mike Ribeiro has been awful in this series, but I have to give him credit. His play tonight was disciplined and generally solid. He is going to have to play that way in game 7. However, he continues to brutal in the face off dot, going 0-6 tonight.
  • Craig Smith was back in the line up and took his regular spot on the second line wing. You cannot overestimate the value of Smith to this team. His speed and strength on the puck opens up the ice for his line mates. The Predators really missed him over the last 3 games.
  • The Predators did a much better job of attacking the net and going to the hard areas. This is how you are going to score in the playoffs and tonight, they made a commitment to do hard hockey. They will have to do it again on Wednesday night.
  • A sign seen in the Predators locker room after the game: "Noon flight tomorrow. Pack for 6 days." I like the confidence, because if the Predators win on Wednesday, they will open the second round in San Jose.
  • The Predators blocked 21 shots. The Ducks had 11 blocks.
  • The Predators lost Cody Bass in the first period when he went for a big hit, missed, and crashed hard into the end boards.
  • After all the penalties in this series, especially those taken by the Ducks, this game saw only 2 power plays, one by each team. As mentioned earlier, the call against Matty Ek was one of the worst I have seen in any post season game.
This was the Predators team that showed it can compete with the best in the NHL. Attacking hockey, solid goaltending, and sound defense secured this win.

It's a great feeling.

Now they have to build on this and bring in game 7 on Wednesday.

My three stars:

1. James Neal

2. Pekka Rinne

3. Mattias Ekholm

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Predators Implode Once Again and Find Their Backs to the Wall With 5-2 Loss

After puking up two games on home ice, the Nashville Predators traveled to Anaheim trying to regain their mojo and momentum in Game five of their best of seven series. Both teams have won their games on their opponents ice and the Predators were hoping that trend would continue.

The Predators started well, and after a scoreless first period, took a lead on the first goal of the game off a sweet backhand by Ryan Johansen that beat Frederick Andersen to the far post.

That goal lasted all of 34 seconds as a David Perron shot deflected off Roman Josi's skate and fluttered over the outstretched glove of Pekka Rinne to tie the game at 1.

Ryan Garbutt gave the Ducks a 2-1 lead as he jammed a puck between Rinne and the goal post.

Sami Vatenan gave the Ducks a 3-1 lead as he came out of the penalty box and beat Rinne on a breakaway.

Mikka Salomaki drew the Predators to within one goal as he buried the rebound of a Shea Weber blast.

After a stupid penalty by Mike Ribeiro, the Ducks finally converted on a power play and Cam Fowler finally made the Predators as he scored on the first shot of the power play to make it 4-2.

Ryan Kessler finished the scoring with an empty net goal.

Some observations:

  •  The Predators certainly came out with more jump in the first period and created some quality chances. Now they just have to bury them.
  • Is Shea Weber not just a beast. His forearm shiver that flattened Corey Perry is indicative of the strength in the big D man.
  • Craig Smith is still called "day to day". Hopefully the Honey Badger can get back into the series quickly.
  • The Predators looked like the Ducks, taking penalty after penalty. This is flirting with disaster, as the Ducks have the number one power play in the League. One had to feel that the Predators were going to get bitten by all the penalties.
  • That said, the Predators PK unit had worked their tails off this series and in this game.
  • What a sweet backhand by Ryan Johansen for his first goal of the series. That is a goal scorer's goal.
  • And what a flukey goal by David Perron. A big deflection that bounces off the skate of Roman Josi and leaks over the glove of Rinne.
  • Rinne made some very big saves, but he just cannot give up that goal to Garbutt. That is fundamental goaltending- seal the post, yet Rinne did not get it done and it cost the Predators.
  • Mike Ribeiro has been absolutely awful in this playoff series. His penalty was stupid, and frankly, Ribeiro is just not built for the rugged play of the playoffs. Ice is not as open and he cannot compete with the rugged play that occurs in the playoffs. It doesn't help that he loses his temper at the most inopportune times.
  • You cannot understate the effect of the loss of Craig Smith. His skating ability and speed gave the Ducks fits, and with him out of the line up, the Predators have been much less effective.
  • The Predators mistakes and loss of poise cost them in this game, and it will cost them in this series.
The boys backs are against the wall. keep playing as foolishly as they have, and they will have the dubious honor of dropping 4 straight games after taking the first two.

I guess we will find out what the coaching staff and the players are made of on Monday.

My three stars:

1. David Perron

2. Frederick Andersen

3. Ryan Johansen

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Series Even at 2 as Predators Outworked and Outplayed in 4-1 Loss

The Nashville Predators returned to Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday with a 2-0 lead and control of their series with the Anaheim Ducks.

By Thursday night, they had pissed it away.

For the second straight game, the Predators were outworked, lost puck battles, and were stymied in all aspects of their game by the Ducks, losing 4-1 and making it a 3 game series with the Ducks in total control.

The Predators gave up the slot all night and the Ducks took advantage. Ryan Getzlaf, Nate Thompson, Jamie McGinn, and Andrew Cogliano all scored from prime scoring areas as the Predators defense hung Pekka Rinne out to dry.

Frederick Andersen had a busier night than Tuesday, but turned away all but a close in scoring chance from Mike Fisher.

Some observations:

  • The Predators have been outworked all over the ice in these last 2 games. The Ducks have made a commitment to forecheck aggressively and attack the puck, and the Predators look completely confused and helpless against the pressure by the Ducks. It is not like they haven't seen this before, but the Predators have been totally inept in handling the pressure.
  • Speaking of inept, the power play was 0-6. The Predators have only 1 power play goal in 19 attempts in this series. I know the Ducks have the top rated penalty kill, but the Predators have looked particularly bad. If, and that is a big if, they get in the zone, the Ducks have done a good job of attacking the puck and taking away shooting lanes. It doesn't help the Predators that they usually fail to get net front presence and take away the eyes of Andersen. This unit has to get going or it will continue to bite the Predators in the butt.
  • The failure to keep the Ducks out of the slot is disappointing and it will cost the Predators this series. Where the Predators can't get to the slot, the Ducks, by contrast, have had free rein from in close. This has to get cleaned up quickly or the series will be over in 6.
  • Mike Ribeiro has been awful. A non-factor in this series, he has contributed nothing to the play of the team in any zone. This is not a time to be a passenger, but Ribeiro has been nothing but excess baggage. 
  • At least the Predators broke their scoring drought. Until Fisher's goal, the Predators had not scored a goal in 5 periods.
  • The Ducks have the number one power play in the League, and the Predators penalty killers have played their tails off. They killed off all 5 Ducks power plays tonight.
Let's face it, the Ducks have exerted their will on the Predators, and the good guys haven't matched the intensity and effort of their opponent.

Unless they do, this series is over in 6 games.

The next test comes Saturday in Anaheim. We will find out what kind of character this team has.

Hopefully, it will be a positive response.

My three stars:

1. Frederick Andersen

2. Nate Thompson

3. Mike Fisher

Monday, April 18, 2016

Predators Play Smart Hockey in 3-2 Victory Over the Ducks

The Nashville Predators looked to take a 2-0 lead in their first round playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks. The Predators held a 1-0 lead after a 3-2 win in their first game at the Duck Pond...uh...Honda Center.

The Predators knew that the Ducks were going to come out with great intensity and fire as they tried to even the series. They also knew the Ducks would goon it up to take the Predators off their game.

The Predators refused to engage the Ducks in their style of play, instead playing smart hockey in capturing a stellar road win by a 3-2 margin.

Andrew Coglianio staked the Ducks to a 1-0 lead when he blocked a shot a came in on a breakaway and beat Rinne 5 hole to give the Ducks a 1-0 advantage.

That goal was answered by Mattias Ekholm in the last minute of the first period as he beat John Gibson with a beautiful backhand from the slot. 

Craig Smith and Shea Weber added second period goals to give the Predators a 3-1 lead.

Nate Thompson scored with 2:27 to make it 3-2 and increase the heart rate and pucker factor Predators fans everywhere.

With Gibson pulled for the extra attacker, the Predators defenders did their job, thwarting any quality scoring attempts by the Ducks and secured the 3-2 victory.

Some observations:

  • You can see why the Ducks have the number one penalty kill. They attack the puck and do a very good hob of clearing lanes in front of their goalie. The Predators are going to have to do a much better job of getting motion and moving the puck if they are going to be successful in this series.
  • HUGE save in the first period by Rinne. Mattias Ekholm had the puck stripped from him behind the net by Jakob Silfverberg and he fed Ryan Kessler coming down the slot alone. That save was vintage Rinne and is the kind of save that can get into the heads of the Ducks.
  • Matty Ek! Ekholm pinched down low, cruised into the slot, and lifted a beauty of a backhand past Gibson to tie the game with less than a minute to go in the first period. Ekholm has quietly emerged as a solid defender that has some surprising offensive pop. His goal was Forsberg-esque and something you don't expect to see from a blue liner. 
  • The Ducks are a very talented team, but it is in their DNA to be a goon squad. The Predators showed great discipline in not being drawn into the thuggery that the Ducks were trying to foment.
  • How great is it to have an asset like Roman Josi on your blue line. His speed and vision on the ice make him such a dangerous playmaker. He used those assets to help set up the goal by Craig Smith to give the Predators a lead in the second period.
  • Speaking of Smith, his work to find a soft spot in the defense was excellent and his shot was a perfectly placed rocket inside the post for his first goal of the playoffs. The Predators need the Honey Badger to contribute and he is off to a good start.
  • What a rocket by Shea Weber. He just kept pounding away on the point on the power play. Gibson had a clean look, but the Captain just blew a bullet past him for the team's third goal.
  • Full marks to the defense for collapsing in front of Rinne and clearing the front of the net. The Ducks made an intentional effort to run Rinne and crowd him, especially in the third period. The D did a good job of cleaning up rebounds and getting the puck out of danger.
  • For the first time in franchise history, the Predators have won the first two games of a playoff series.
  • The Predators showed superb discipline in not engaging the Ducks in their goonish style of play. Yet the Predators were the more cleanly physical team, pounding the Ducks with hard and clean hits all night. This is a side of the Predators that is fun to watch and I believe has surprised the Ducks.
  • Absolutely stellar defense by the Predators in the third period. Everyone knew the Ducks would be pressing to get back into the game, and the Predators limited the Quack Attack to just 5 shots in the third period.
  • Shea Weber had 27:36 TOI, followed by Roman Josi with 25:47.
This was a quality win by the Predators. They refused to engage in the thuggish play of Anaheim's goons and instead were physical and solid in all zones. Playing disciplined hockey, while the Ducks are running around after the whistle, will continue to frustrate the Ducks and set the Predators up for more success.

This series isn't won, but the Predators have seen the formula to capture it.

Now to bring it home and close it out.

My three stars:

1. Craig Smith

2. Pekka Rinne

3. Shea Weber

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Predators Drop the Final (Meaningless) Game of the Year to the Stars 3-2

The Nashville Predators finished the regular season with a stop at Dallas to take on the Stars. For the Predators, the game meant nothing. In fact, Pekka Rinne, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Fisher, Shea Weber, and Roman Josi did not make the trip.

The game was certainly meaningful for the Stars, however. Win and they have a chance to clinch the top spot in the Central.

After going up 2-0 on goals by Ryan Ellis and Calle Jarnkrok, the Predators gave up a hat trick to Jason Spezza to fall 3-2.

This game was...blah.

It meant nothing, and the best thing about it was that the Predators got out healthy.

Other than that, just...meh.

Of note, Craig Smith, Filip Forsberg, and James Neal played all 82 games for the Predators.

There is not much else to mention about this game.

A full playoff preview will come next week.