The Nightmare Before Christmas: Predators at Bruins

by Ed Neely

The Nashville Predators (22-12-2, 46 pts) went into the TD Garden on Saturday afternoon to take on the surging Boston Bruins (19-12-4, 42 pts) in a matinée matchup.  Both teams have been bitten by the injury bug in the first half of this season, but the Preds have not fared as well while injured, losing their last nine (0-7-2) on the road and their last three games straight.

The Preds currently have four key players on the Injured Reserve with Subban, Arvidsson, Forsberg and Sissons out of the lineup at the moment.  The good news is that Viktor Arvidsson and PK Subban both took part in the optional practice on Friday which signals their eminent return.

The game started out with the Preds on the ropes for the majority of the first period.  Pekka Rinne faced multiple sets of rapid fire high danger chances by the Bruins and was able to turn back all but one, a shot by Bergeron in which Roman Josi was checked into Rinne who was then taken out of the play.

The second period was tilted more in the Preds’ favor after the Bruins had a goal overturned on a challenge for Goaltender Interference.  The Predators tied it up at 13:01 on a shot by Ryan Johansen that came off a nice pass from Craig Smith.  The Preds were able to manage far more shots on net than the Bruins in the second and were rewarded for their efforts, but the period ended with two Nashville players, Johansen and Ekholm, in the box going into the third.

The Start of the third period saw the Predators attempting to kill a 5-3 and they were successful until the last 16 seconds of the penalty when Bergeron netted his second of the game.  Kyle Turris tied the game back up just before halfway through the final frame, with a nice shot from the top of the right circle and in to the far side of the net.  The Preds’ injuries finally took their toll and the Bruins put up another powerplay goal by the Rat, Brad Marchand, and an even strength goal by David Pastrnak before finally slamming the door with an empty net goal by Sean Kuraly at the 18:01 mark.

The Predators are off until after Christmas and will hit the ice in Smashville against the Dallas Stars on Dec. 27th.  This will give a bit more time to heal up and hopefully see the return of Arvi and Subban.  Hopefully they will be able to exorcize the ghosts of this Chrismas past and get back to their old winning ways.

Predators All-Time Top 10 List

alltimepreds.pngby the Off the Pipe Hockey Staff

As we prepare for the start of the season, the Off the Pipe staff have been having an ongoing conversation about who have been the greatest influencers in Nashville Predators history.  Which faces would go on the Predators’ Mount Rushmore.  Who would be enshrined in the Preds’ Valhalla? We all agreed to not intentionally keep any category of person, whether they be players, management, media or fan. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of agreement at the top of the list. However, our lower level picks were all across the board .  Here is the Top 10 list, according to the OTP crew.

Number 10

Nate Harber: Peter Laviolette – “He hasn’t been here long, but he had had a huge impact on this team. Western Conference Championship, Stanley Cup Final, Presidents Trophy. What more can be said”

Taylor Parks: David Legwand – “First ever draft pick is hard not to recognize. Was he a bust? Maybe, but his contributions were still evident.”

Jackson Walsh: Craig Leipold– “Perhaps a man that should be higher on the list, but as our first owner, we have to start at the very beginning. He’s the man who brought hockey to Music City and literally named the Nashville Predators. He was the one that pushed for the franchise to even exist in the first place and had the commissioners tour the arena to give their blessing. The Predators have had several owners since Leipold, but the guy who was there at the very start deserves recognition.”

Ed Neely: Paul McCann – “The Predators PA announcer has been with the team since the beginning of the 2006 season and has become known as one of the best PA men in the league.  He has a great deal to do with the game day experience and is one of the nicest men you’ll meet.  Thanks Paul!”

Number 9

JW: David Legwand – “The first ever Predator picked 2nd overall in 1998 behind Vincent Lecavalier and still the franchise’s all time point, goal, and assist leader with 566, 210 goals, 356 assists. The numbers alone give him a spot on our list, but he stayed for a while with both good and bad Predators teams (and the lockout) being the final inaugural member of the club to retire or move.”

NH: David Legwand – “The original Predator. Though not quite living up to his potential, his footprint on this franchise is undeniable. He holds nearly every scoring record on the team. Goals, assists, points, GWG.”

TP: Tomas Vokoun – “First marquee goaltender and anchor in the Predators goal that was drafted and developed. Helped the team win first playoff game against Detroit.”

EN: Filip Forsberg – “Prince Filip is the product of what could be considered the most lop-sided trade in NHL history when he came to the Preds from the Capitals for Martin Erat and Michael Latta.  Filip has earned many nicknames since he has been here, but Scoresberg is probably the most appropriate.  He is a human highlight reel and has a knack for making jaws and jockstraps hit the ice on a regular basis.”

Number 8

TP: Pete Rogers/Jeff Camelio – “Head and assistant Equipment Mangers over 30 years combined with Preds. Behind the scenes guys that deserve a ton more credit.”

NH: Terry Crisp – “You can’t have Pete without Terry for all the reasons above. Plus Crispy is the most likable guy in team history.”

JW: Mike Fisher– “While not a Predator for his entire career, being well known as an Ottawa Senator, Fish was that veteran player that gave the team morale in the 2016-18 playoff run(s). Being married to country singer Carrie Underwood, he was psyched to be here in Nashville, but he often would put on a show of his own. One of his notable highlights is his 3rd overtime goal in Game 4 of the 2016 Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sharks. He notably retired after the historic 2016-17 Cup run. His career is likely over for good, but he won’t soon be forgotten.”

EN: Sean Henry – “The Predsident has been with the Predators for eight years and has been the CEO since 2015.  He is very much the face of the customer service and community side of the organization.  He can be seen every game day walking the stands or concourses talking to fans and is very responsive to both season-ticket holders as well as game day purchase fans.”

Number 7

NH: Pete Weber – “The first play-by-play guy in Preds history. He’s the voice of the Nashville Predators. Pete did a fantastic job of teaching hockey to a budding southern market and growing the fandom.”

TP: Pete Weber/Terry Crisp – “The faces of the franchise when Nashville came to town. From hosting hockey classes to helping teach the game to Nashville to numerous historic calls, Pete and Terry should be on the Predators’ Mount Rushmore.”

JW: Shea Weber– “Arguably one of the most famous players and definitely a fan favorite. Weber began his bout with the Predators when drafted in 2003 and still remains second to Legwand in goals scored all time. During his time in Nashville he racked up an insane amount of points and was a two-time Norris trophy finalist, as well as a Hart trophy finalist. He was practically Mr. Predator, and was a pivotal piece to the 365 Pediatric Cancer Fund.”

EN: Peter Laviolette – “Lavi has taken the Preds to the Stanley Cup Playoffs all four years he’s been behind the bench and has brought the Preds to a new level of success. He’s helped them to hoist their first Division and Conference Championship banners and their first President’s Trophy. Laviolette has transformed the Preds from being only a stingy defensive team to a team that is a significant offensive threat as well.”

Number 6

JW: Filip Forsberg– “The man known as “Scoresberg.” His 255 points are slowly bringing our young forward into superstar status. He’s always the guy you can depend on for a crucial goal when needed, something the Preds haven’t always had.”

NH: Shea Weber – “Weber gave the Preds their street cred for having the best D core in the NHL.”

TP: PK Subban – “A-list celebrity, top 5 defensemen, most notable Predator that leads one of the best defensive blue lines, cover athlete of NHL 19, numerous Norris trophy finalist and winner. Most polarizing player in the entire NHL, and he’s pretty dang good as well.”

EN: David Legwand – “Leggy is the original Predator and the all-time leader in games played, goals, assists, points, goals created, even-strength goals and game-winning goals.”

Number 5

TP: Mike Fisher – “The King of Nashville’s most famous celebrity couple. A huge part of the Predators franchise on and off the ice. Does a ton of charitable work off the ice and Captain during the cup run.”

JW: Terry Crisp – “What Nashville needed for anyone to take hockey seriously in Music City. Terry was a guy who knew the game, a veteran of the sport, and has won two Cups as a player and one as a coach.”

NH: Local owners – “Got to love ’em. Your team would be the Hamilton Predators if they hadn’t stepped up. Ten years later, it’s hard to believe there was ever a chance of losing the Preds.”

EN: Shea Weber – “Weber was the quarterback of the Preds  blue line for years. He’s the longest serving captain in team history and the first one drafted by the Predators organization.  His Howitzer of a shot was enough to make any opposing player turtle in front of the net.  He is either 1st, 2nd or 3rd in nearly every statistical category, for skaters, in franchise history.”

Number 4

NH: Garry Bettman – “Bettman gets a lot of hate, but Preds fans should be really appreciative of the Commissar. He believed hockey could work in Nashville and stuck by us during the stressful period of us potentially losing the franchise.”

TP: Shea Weber – “Oh captain, my captain. Known for his huge slap shot and “take no crap” attitude, Weber was the face of the franchise for a number of years. Best known off the ice his work with “Best Buddies” of Nashville and the 365 Pediatric Cancer fund.”

EN: Pete Weber and Terry Crisp – “I know that this is technically two people, but they are like peanut butter and jelly or catfish and hush puppies; they go together.  The way they helped the fanbase in Smashville learn the game cannot be overvalued.  Without these two personalities, the game would not have taken such a strong hold in this city.”

Number 3

JW: “When you look at the seasons he’s been in net, the Preds would not have made it as far as they did. Most notably including the Stanley Cup Final in 2017.”

TP: “Pekka. Rinne. Vezina Trophy winner, 300 plus wins, and beloved Nashvillian. Drafted in the 8th round, no one could have guessed he would have this great of an impact.”

NH: “How could he not be on the list? Pekka is the best goalie in franchise history and has been between the pipes for some of the team’s biggest achievements.”

EN: “It was easy for me to put Pekka near the top of my list.  He has been the heart and soul of this team for 10 years and has been actively working to develop his replacement.  No other player who has just brought home the trophy as the best in his position would work to develop the kid trying to take his job.”

Pekka Rinne comes in third on our list and will almost certainly be the first player in Predators’ history to have his sweater hanging from the rafters in Bridgestone Arena.  This former 8th round draft pick has played 567 games in a Preds sweater, including 83 in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and has a career goals against average of 2.37 and a .919 Save percentage.  He is the most unselfish player and finally brought home the Vezina Trophy last season, getting the national recognition for his skills in net.

Number 2

TP: “It takes a certain kind of person to take on a new hockey team in the south, but Barry Trotz was right for the job. One of the greatest guys you will ever meet, Trotz built the Nashville Predators “his way” and had a playoff contender nearly every year. All you need to know, Trotz is the only opposing coach that is not a part of the “he sucks too” chant.”

NH: “Trotz, while never making it past the second round with the team, should not be seen a unaccomplished coach. Barry deserves so much credit for the success of the franchise. Let’s be honest, he coached some very crappy Preds teams but managed to keep us competitive year in and year out. His off ice contribution to the community and helping to grow the fanbase cannot be understated.”

EN: “Trotzy was always a calming force for the Predators, both in the locker room and on the bench and in front of the cameras.  He is also such a great guy off this ice that the city fell in love with him and his family.”

Trotz Coached 1,196 regular season games behind the Predators bench and another 50 in the post-season.  He was the stability for this team during the hard years and was the architect of the vaunted Preds blue line.

Number 1

The unanimous choice for most important person in the Predators franchise history among the Off the Pipe Hockey staff is Predators General Manager, David Poile.  Poile is the only GM in franchise history and the mind behind the method for building this team.  He is widely thought of as one of the best GMs in the game and is known to be a master deal maker.

NH: “This is the man with a plan that’s been with the organization from day one. He has made absolutely amazing one-sided trades over and over again. This organization would be nowhere without him.”

TP: “The wizard. The mastermind. The GM. Since the very beginning he has been at the front of the Predators organization and has delivered. And now the NHL’s all-time winningest GM.”

JW: “He built this team from nothing and has made it a perennial contender.  The guy may not have a Cup yet, but the wins speak for themselves.”

EN: “David Poile is the brain behind the Predators organization. The brain drives everything in the body and Poile drives every function of this team.”

The OTP staff ran a poll on the Nashville Predators Fan Page on Facebook and the overwhelming top Predator in franchise history was Pekka Rinne (259 votes) with David Poile coming in second (48 votes).

Reader Alex Kolstee said “Gotta be Pekka Rinne, but won’t be long before Forsberg rises to his top form. Scary thing is that I don’t think he’s in his prime yet.”

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Reader Joel Shanker looked at it from a different angle “Come on now….the best player was Martin Erat. I mean look at what he returned….a young prospect named Forsberg…now a human highlight reel. Erat gets my vote!! (Sarcasm for those who take me seriously).”

IMG_2133.jpg

In what is possibly the biggest shocker in the poll, Barb Murphy, of 5/3 Bank infamy, was the third leading candidate with 13 votes.  There is either a baker’s dozen of readers who are in grave danger of failing their next drug screening at work, or a lot of people who are trying to step up their troll game.

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Agree with our top 10 picks?  Let us know in the comments below.

Preds Outlast Avs for Game 2 Victory

by Ed Neely


The Nashville Predators hosted a matinee meeting with the Colorado Avalanche in Game 2 of their 1st Round playoff series.  The Avs were still without Goalie Semyon Varlamov and Defenseman Erik Johnson for a 2nd post-season game in a row and also without former Predator Samuel Girard, who was last seen looking for his jock strap after being undressed and spanked by Filip Forsberg in Game 1.

This meeting between the Preds and Avs started much like game 1. The Avalanche got on the board with their 1st shot on goal. Former Predator, Gabriel Bourque, beat Pekka Rinne just over the top of his glove side pad 2:34 into the 1st period. The rest of the period was a dead heat, with Rinne and Bernier turning away a number of high danger chances.  At least in this game, the Predators looked like they came out of the locker room on time, but the Avalanche would not just roll over for a deeper and more talented Preds team.  The score remained 1-0 Avalanche after one period.

The Preds woke up in the 2nd period with three unanswered goals before Hart Trophy contender, Nathan McKinnon cut back into the Preds lead.  Kevin Fiala (from Sissons and Turris) got the Preds on the board with his third career post-season goal at the 1:01 mark with a shot off the skate of Patrik Nemeth.  Viktor Arvidsson gave the Predators the lead 12;36 into the 2nd with an unassisted laser from the right faceoff circle that beat Bernier on the far side.  At the 16:32 mark, Ryan Johansen put a beauty of a backhand past Bernier that capped a sequence started by P.K. Subban.  Subban made a possible goal saving block that upended Tyson Barrie and ended up on Joey’s stick, from Mattias Ekholm.  The Smashville faithful, egged on by Johansen, erupted and felt the rout was on, until Nathan McKinnon, put a backhand past Pekka with just under 3 minutes remaining in the period to cut the lead to 3-2 Predators.

The third period was a defensive and goaltending struggle, until the 7:16 mark when, in a blown play by Avs defenseman Nikita Zadorov, Nick Bonino capitalized on a near too many men penalty by the Avs.  Bones took the puck into the offensive zone and gave it to Kevin Fiala, who fed Austin Watson for his 2nd goal of this series and.  Yet Avalanche still would not go away.  Just under halfway through the third period, Gabriel Landeskog put a powerplay goal past Pekka Rinne with Turris and Sissons in the box. This cut the Predators’ lead back down to one goal.  The Avs, down by a goal, pulled Bernier with around 2 minutes to go and when P.K. Subban appeared to have iced the puck for the 2nd time in a row, Ryan Hartman cautght the Avs defense sleeping and put the rebound off the end boards into the back of the net to put the Preds back up by 2 goals with just over a minute remaining in regulation.  The Avs got one of those goals back with just under 40 seconds remaining when Kerfoot put a wrister past Rinne through traffic an cut the lead back to a single goal.  The Preds closed them out with wins in the faceoff circle and good defensive puck movement to preserve the 5-4 victory and to move to a 2-0 lead in the series.

What we learned

Special Teams are critical to winning in hockey and especially in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  The Preds continue to warm the bench in the home penalty box with both teams committing 7 penalties each, but Nashville has been able to kill off 9 of 10 penalties this series, while scoring 2 powerplay goals on 9 attempts.  The Avs had the 8th best powerplay and 4th best penalty kill on the season, but this has been an advantage for the Preds so far.

The Predators’ depth is the key difference in this series.  Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and P.K. Subban have been averaging around 25 minutes of playing time and no Preds forward has played more than 18 1/2 minutes in the series, while Nathan McKinnon has averaged 23 minutes and his line mates have played well over 20 minutes each.  This reliance on their top line leads them to be far more tired late in the game and creates a significant advantage for the Preds.

The Preds fly out from Signature Flight Support tomorrow at noon, so get out there early and send the boys off to the Mile High City where they will work to sweep the Avs out to the golf course.  They will need the rest because the Jets appear to be hitting their stride against the depleted Wild.

Photo taken from NHL.com video

Sharks – The New Chicken of the Sea

by Ed Neely

The Nashville Predators (49-16-11, 109 points) play host to the San Jose Sharks (44-23-10, 98 points) at Bridgestone Arena tonight in the deciding match for the season series.  The Preds fell 4-1 to the Sharks in San Jose on November 1st and then dropped a touchdown on them in February with a 7-1 shellacking of the Pacific Division’s 2nd ranked team on February 22nd back home in Smashville.  This game will be a good test heading in to the post-season and could be a preview of the Western Conference Final.

The Sharks, coming off an overtime loss to the Blues on Tuesday night, are still one of the hottest teams in the league at this point, having gone 8-0-1 in their last 9 games and the Preds have gone 5-2-2 over the same length of time.  The Sharks have benefited greatly from the acquisition of Evander Kane, whom they picked up from Buffalo at the trade deadline.  This essentially rehabilitation move, is working out better than anyone could have imagined and Kane has posted 9 goals and 5 assists in the 14 games he has played in a Sharks uniform.  When you combine Kane’s recent production and that of Brent Burns (62 points), Joe Pavelski (61 points) and Logan Couture (57 points), they have the ability to put the puck in the back of almost any net in the NHL.  They will have some added motivation tonight because they can clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight.

The Predators righted the ship on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Wild in a 2-1 Shootout win that was the most complete effort by the Predators in weeks.  The Preds have, perhaps, the most balanced scoring team in the league right now, having 4 players with at least 20 goals, 14 with at least 10 goals on the season and 2 more ready to pass that mark.  The Preds have outscored their opponents 53-38 since the last time they played San Jose,  This team is looking to build on the last game in an effort to get the mojo back that has seemingly been missing since Calle Jarnkrok was injured against the Jets on March 13th.  Jarny’s absence has been felt much more than most fans in Nashville would have ever thought.  When you add that to the loss of Preds Masterton Trophy nominee, Austin Watson (day-to-day, upper body), who is one of the emotional leaders of this team and is known to hit anything (and everything) that moves, not shy away from blocking any shot, and is a devil on the penalty kill.

If this game should come down to another goaltending duel, the Predators should be able to hold their own.  Pekka Rinne has gone 41-11-4 this season and is the current front runner for the Vezina Trophy has 8 shutouts on the season, 5 of which have come since the All-Star Break.  The goaltending situation in San Jose is a bit different this season.  Martin Jones has posted a respectable .929 Save % and 2.20 GAA over the last 5 games, but only has a .918 Save % and 2.45 GAA on the season.  Jones’ backup, Aaron Dell, has posted worse numbers on the year with a 2.67 GAA and .913 Save %, so no matter who is in net for the Sharks tonight, look for them to try and make it a shooting match in order to level the playing field.

Tolvanen Watch:  Predators prospect and KHL phenom, Eeli Tolvanen, officially landed in Smashville in the overnight hours and was on the ice for the morning skate today.  He will be wearing the #11 and could see playing time as soon as Saturday against Buffalo.  The Predators coaching staff want him to watch one game from the press box so that he can cut through the jet lag and get a feel for Bridgestone Arena and the raucous Smashville crowds, before he makes his Predators debut.

Injury Update: Calle Jarnkrok skated with the team yesterday but still has no time frame for his return other than “the end of the regular season”.  Austin Watson took part in the Morning Skate today and is still listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.   Yannick Weber is still listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Projected Lineup: The projected lineup, based on the line rushes in this morning’s practice are as follows (no starting goalie has been announced):

Forwards

Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Viktor Arvidsson

Kevin Fiala – Kyle Turris – Craig Smith

Miikka Salomaki – Nick Bonino – Colton Sissons

Scott Hartnell – Mike Fisher – Ryan Hartman

Defense

Roman Josi – Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm – P.K. Subban

Alexei Emelin – Matt Irwin

Goaltenders

Juuse Saros

Pekka Rinne

 

Photo: Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports

Fear the Beard

by Ed Neely

The Nashville Predators have been on a historic run this season and there are many reasons behind their success.  If you polled a hundred sports writers, they might tell you the main reason for this run is Pekka “The Great Wall of Finland” Rinne, and they would be right.  Rinne has been stellar all season long but there is a clear dividing line between impressive production and greatness.  You could say that it was the acquisition of Kyle Turris in November that balanced the lines and made teams account for more than just JoFA.  You could say that it was when Juuse Saros turned the corner on November 4th and was able to put the demons of his first three starts behind him.  You could even say that it was when Viktor Arvidsson woke up in early November and started producing to the level of his shiny new contract.  You could say all of those things and be able to make a decent point, but the numbers point to another line.  That line was crossed on January 2nd, 2018 when Ryan Ellis returned from off-season knee surgery.

There is a reason why the Predators named Ryan Ellis as the Associate Captain of this team.  He is a key part of the deepest and most productive Blue Line in the NHL and a look at the way the team reacts to his presence or absence in the lineup is very illustrative.  Before Ellis returned to the Predators line up they had gone 23-10-5 (51 points) and they were in the hunt for a Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.  Since his return, they have gone a mind boggling 25-4-5 and have amassed 55 more points in and that included his first two games back in which he clearly looked rusty.

Ryan Ellis has turned in some impressive numbers in the 34 games he has played this season.  He has 7 goals and 17 assists and averages 23:11 of ice time per game.  He has 2 goals and 2 assists on the power play and 3 shorthanded assists as well.  Ellis is averaging more than 5 shot attempts per game and puts 2.67 shots on goal per game all while posting a defensively responsible, and team leading, +/- rating of +25.  He is tied for 3rd on the team with .74 points per game, which is almost a quarter point higher than any other season in his career.

The rest of the team has become markedly more productive since Ellis has come back from injury as well.  The Preds, as a team, have posted a 3.26 goals per game since he returned, which is .63 better than without him.  They have also improved their goal differential by .63 per game and their shot differential by 4.96 shots per game.  The Preds have improved in both short-handed goals for and short-handed goals allowed by 2 goals each.  The only stat in which the Preds have not improved since Ellis returned is power play goals for and against.

But how does Ryan Ellis stack up against other defensemen in the league? He is on an 82 game pace for more than 16 goals which puts him on par with the best defensemen in the league.  He is also on pace for 40 assists if he had not missed the first half of the season.  This would have him in the top 15 of all defensemen in the league.  He is in the top 15 in turnover differential at +1, ahead of guys like Brent Burns(-45) and Drew Doughty (-59) and even our own P.K. Subban (-47) and Roman Josi (-19).  As a matter of fact, he is the only Predators blue liner who has more take-aways than turnovers. Now I am not saying that he deserves to be in the Norris Trophy conversation, but if you extrapolate his playing time out over a full season, he could very easily receive consideration.

So yes.  We can say that the bulk of the success for this season can be laid on Pekka Rinne’s shoulders, as every team can trace their success or demise to the man between the pipes, but I submit Ryan Ellis as the single most important skater on the team.  When you add all of these numbers to the times that Ryan Ellis has literally dived in behind Pekka to function as an auxiliary goalie, it is easy to see why most teams in the league FEAR THE BEARD.

Preds Shine as Stars Fall and Records are Set

by Ed Neely

The Nashville Predators welcomed the Dallas Stars into Bridgestone Arena Tuesday night for a Central Division match up with Stanley Cup Playoff implications. This was an opportunity for the Stars to claw further up the standings or the Preds to set a franchise record 9 win streak.

The first period was a back and forth affair with only one truly dangerous scoring chance when Kevin Fiala sent a laser of a shot that just kissed the crossbar and deflected back out. The first period also saw two too many penalties for the good guys given the skilled shooters on the Stars roster, but both Penalty Kills stood tall.

The second period started where the first left off with a fast back and forth pace of play that got more and more chippy as the period went along, with 7 total penalties between the two teams in the 2nd period alone. But as the period went on, the Preds started to outpace their opponents in quality chances. The 2nd period ended right where it began, in a scoreless tie.

The final frame of the night started off fast and the tie was finally broken at the 5:33 mark when Austin Watson and Colton Sissons pressed hard on the forecheck and then Ryan Hartman threw a sweet backhand from the left face off dot and beat Kari Lehtonen top shelf to go up 1-0. The score stayed that way until the 19:46 mark when John Klingberg tripped on the Stars’ net and turned the puck over and Nick Bonino capitalized to bury it in the empty net. The score ended up in a 2-0 shutout.

What we learned

Rarified air. The Preds set a franchise record for the longest win streak at 9 games and Pekka Rinne became just the 18th goalie in league history to record 300 wins and 50 shutouts in a career.

Vote for Pekka. Pekka Rinne drew into a tie with Andrei Vasilevskiy for the most shutouts on the season. He has 3 fewer wins than Vasilevskiy but has played in 6 fewer games. Pekka has a better Goals Against and Save Percentage as well. If there was ever a year when Rinne deserved the Vezina, this is the year.

The new guys are good. Both the new new guy, Ryan Hartman and the old new guy, Mike Fisher, showed why they were added to this roster at this time. Hartman had the game winning goal and was a factor every time he was on the ice and Fisher played with more grit and passion than guys 10 years his junior. Both are tough players who are relentless. Their presence only reinforces the idea that this Nashville Predators team is the deepest in the NHL and is positioned very well for another deep run.

Photo credit: ANDREW NELLES / TENNESSEAN.COM

Predators Cool Off Avalanche in OT, Extend Lead in Division and Conference

by Ed Neely

The Nashville Predators (42-14-9, 93 points) headed to the Mile High City on the final game of their western road trip to take on the resurgent Colorado Avalanche (35-24-6, 76 points). The Preds looked to increase their lead in the Central Division and Western Conference, while the Avalanche were trying to claw their way into a Wild Card spot. By game’s end, both of these goals would be closer to reality. With a 4-3 overtime win, the Predators increased their lead in the Central to 8 points over the Winnipeg Jets (38-17-9, 85 points) and their lead in the Western Conference to 6 points over the Las Vegas Golden Knights (41-18-5, 87 points). The Avs momentarily took over the final Wild Card spot, but with the Ducks handily beating the Blackhawks, they will hold on to that spot…..for now.

The Preds earned the first lead of the game off an Austin Watson (10) wrister, from Sissons and Ekholm, at 3:09 in the 1st. The Avs tied it up at 12:57 in the 1st off a Nikita Zadorov (6) slap shot from Soderberg and Lindholm. The Preds dominated the 1st half of the 1st period and the Avalanche owned the 2nd half.

The 2nd period was a struggle for both teams, with very little happening until Kyle Turris (12) threw a knuckle puck past Semyon Varlamov at the 8:08 mark off a nice pass from Kevin Fiala below the goal line to Ryan Ellis at the point. The rest of the 2nd was much like the beginning, with both teams getting chances and both goalies turning them back.

The 3rd period was a tough one for Kevin Fiala when he allowed a turnover at the Preds blue line and then knocked the puck past Pekka Rinne after he turned aside a Matt Nieto (13) wrist shot at the 4:38 mark. Colorado took the 3-2 lead at 14:22 in the 3rd when Mikko Rantanen (22) blew a slap shot past Rinne, from MacKinnon and Barrie. The Preds woke up many casual fans and frequent complainers when they pulled Pekka with just over 2:00 to go in regulation, but those people stopped complaining when Ryan Ellis (6), from Subban and Johansen, fired his cannon from the left circle and put it in the back of the net to tie the game with 1:06 remaining.

Overtime ended almost as quickly as it started when Filip Forsberg (18) fooled Varlamov into thinking he was going behind the net and then fired his twisted wrister through the 5 hole to win the game and bring home the 2 points.

What we learned

This team doesn’t quit. The Preds fought adversity in each of their past 4 games to bring home wins. Gone are the days from seasons past when the Preds were prone to blow late-game leads. Now this team believes that they are never out of a game.

This team is DEEP. The Preds learned the lesson well from the Playoffs last season, when 18 forwards played at least 5 games in the postseason due to significant injuries. Lavy made the decision in the past two games to rest significant weapons so that they would be better rested for the stretch. Last game, they sat Roman Josi, Alexei Emelin, Craig Smith and Scott Hartnell and put Mike Fisher, Tony Bitetto, Miikka Salomaki and Matt Irwin in their places. Today, he rested Roman Josi, Craig Smith and Mike Fisher and put Matt Irwin, Miikka Salomaki and Scott Hartnell. This tells me that Lavy has a plan and is not afraid to execute it.

Pekka is really good. Rinne secures his 35th win of the year in only 48 games. Only Tampa’s Vasilevskiy has more wins (38) and he has played 6 more games than Pekka. Rinne has placed himself firmly into the Vezina Trophy conversation and has easily secured the title of MVP for the Predators.

Next game is Tuesday night in Smashville against the Dallas Stars (37-23-5, 79 points). The Stars are trying to stay out of a Wild Card spot and in the division race and the Preds are looking to make a push for the President’s Trophy and to welcome Mike Fisher back to Bridgestone Arena with a win.

David Zalubowski AP Photo