Off the Podcast Episode 1 – 1/4 Season Review 2017

Your Off the Pipe Staff Nate and Taylor discuss the frist quarter of the 2017 Preds season.

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How has the new icing rule affected todays NHL?

by The Net Noodler

 

Hey loyal fans,

I was asked to do this piece and tried to refrain from addressing the situation as long as possible; however, due to the nature of the issue I can refrain no longer. It is known that there have been recent changes to the rules regarding icing and at the conclusion of this article we will leave the topic open for discussion. In order to get a true understanding of how the rule evolved, we must first go back to the origin of the sport itself and what constitutes fair and foul.

We all know that icing dates back as far as the days when the Northern Inuit tribes would don their saber tooth skates, grab their oak poles and meet atop frozen ice arenas in order to establish a dominant tribe within the region. This annual ritual, while dangerous, would be the sport which we have come to know and love. During these games it was common place for the players or “warriors” to perform icing. Nothing gets my heart pumping faster than the thought of a player skating at top speed and then sharply turning, essentially causing ice to spray up onto the tusks or “skates” of the opposing team member. Thus, icing was born. The above mentioned act can be similarly related to slide tackling which is a move that is performed regularly in the sport of soccer. The “icer”, however, would not want to fall down on the ice but rather stay up and keep skating. During the time the tribes were gathering icing was seen as not only a great display of the skill and tenacity of the performer, but also as a great offense to the receiving player. I would expect that the resulting play would cause watching tribes to scream and cheer as if one had just scored a goal. It would be thought that any great tribe of the era would have many players who regularly “ice” and these tribes would surely have been some of the greatest since the ability to ice was not only wonderful to watch but necessary to create a greater following thus growing the tribes membership; however, I digress. Let us now take a look at how one of the greatest plays in hockey history came to be despised.

The act of icing itself, while glorious, has a more dangerous edge- no pun intended. We must not forget that the skaters are wearing thin, sharp blades upon their feet and that ice, if you didn’t know, is quite slippery. As the sport grew from a ritualistic near battle between opposing forces to a more friendly continued tradition, we saw icing transform. More and more, less skilled players began to attempt to ice in order to boost their star status. Accidents abounded, some terribly gruesome, others even fatal. We even saw skaters begin to ice with one blade intentionally raised in order to cut the ankle of the opposing team members effectively incapacitating and eliminating them from the game. This is akin to “cleating” a term used in baseball in which a runner performs the same action while wearing a pair of cleated shoes. At this point officials, or “game wardens,” were forced to ban the action entirely. Too many great skaters were being injured and taken out of the game, some permanently. Most don’t even know that this ban or foul, one of the first, gave birth to what we know today as the penalty box due to the fact that it was a great shame to be taken away from your tribe members for an extended period of time. As wardens became stricter on enforcing the rule and tribe mentality shifted towards disdain and disapproval of those who would ice, we eventually saw icing disappear from the sport all together, which brings us to the most important part of our discussion.

Icing has returned! The rule itself has been reviewed and removed, to an extent, by the officials and now our generation will get to witness one of the greatest acts in hockey of all time. Just as in slide tackling and cleating, as long as one does not raise a blade off of the ice and does not ice in order to intentionally harm the other player, the foul will not be called. It seems as if the protective gear worn by the skaters, especially modern skates, has been deemed by referees to be safe enough to allow icing. Once again our skaters will be able to show off their skill and prowess in the sport and once again crowds will get an invigorating jolt of energy as they watch the other team’s player get embarrassed by being on the receiving end of a great white spray of ice. Who knows who will be some of the first players to attempt to ice? This is a skill reborn and many skaters now will need to practice in order to ice efficiently. Who knows if we will see some of the injuries and accidents that once plagued the move? Who knows if it will once again turn sinister and be used as a way to take great players out of the game? No one can. So now we must all wait and watch. We will all make our own opinions and see if the re-birth of this once great tradition will become a standard and more common place within the sport. Do you enjoy great acts of skill and a great laugh when a player is iced or do you feel that the play is too dangerous and cannot be allowed? You tell me for you, the fans, ultimately make the calls and decisions for the players and the refs alike. You tell me.

P.S.

The name Hockey itself is derived from the word “Haki” which is a word shouted at the top of a player’s lungs while making a great play in the game. Additionally, the name Predators finds its roots in a great southern tribe whose regular attendance to the games would be accompanied by large amounts of fish, specifically catfish, which were of abundance in their region and a staple of their diet. No one knows the tribe’s original name though excavations of sites and studies are still underway.

Preds Quarter Season Review

by Ed Neely

NASHVILLE PREDATORS 2017-18 QUARTER SEASON REVIEW

We are 26 games into the 2017-18 campaign and things are looking promising for the Nashville Predators. The Preds (16-7-3) are sitting in 3rd place in the Central Division with 35 points and one point behind both the 1st place Winnipeg Jets and 2nd place St. Louis Blues.  The Predators are currently the 3rd best team in the West and the 4th best team in the NHL, but the season didn’t start out so rosy.  When we really break things down by positions, lines, pairings and netminders, we will see why the Preds are having success right now and what they will need to do to continue having success.

CENTERS

 I have two words to explain much of the success that the Predators are having at the center position and as a team.  Those two word are Kyle Turris.  That is not to say that he is the best center on the team, but his acquisition has allowed the coaching staff to slot players where they need to be. He has helped turn the Preds’ center corps into one of the strongest groups in the league, where in previous years it was a position of weakness for Nashville. With the Turris trade, the center depth is as follows: Johansen, Turris, Bonino and Sissons, but it is on the wings where the center depth lies and where the Turris trade really shows up.  With Turris anchoring the 2nd line, the 3rd and 4th lines are heavy with natural centers. Bonino and Sissons are the obvious centers, but we also have guys like Jarnkrok, Watson, Salomaki either on the roster as centers or who have spent significant time playing center earlier in their careers. Lest we forget the good news story from last year’s Stanley Cup Final, we also have none other than Freddie Gaudreau.

All of the center depth has created a great deal of flexibility in the faceoff circle, with at least two players with a good chance to win the drop on every line.  This equals better possession numbers than previous years from every line and has the Predators as the 2nd best team in faceoff win percentage with 52.9%. By contrast, the Preds were the eighth best team last season and won 1.5% fewer drops. More possession generally equals more scoring and this has held true this season.

WINGS

The Preds’ wingers have been more productive at this point in the season than they were last year as well.  To date, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson have accounted for 22 of the 79 goals scored this season and the rest of the wing depth has contributed 25 goals.  The wings have tallied 58 of the 128 assists the Preds have this season.  By contrast, the centers have contributed 12 goals and 27 assists and the defensemen have registered 20 goals and 46 helpers.  This is what a balanced attack looks like.

LINES

The Predators now have four relatively stable and productive forward lines. The JoFA line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson is one of the most productive lines in the NHL over the last couple of years and this season is no different.  The Predators top line has accounted for 25 goals and 37 assists so far this season.  That is 31.6% of the goals scored and 28.9% of the assists for the team this year.

With the arrival of Kyle Turris, the 2nd line is made up of Turris, Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala. Their lines has become one of the fastest in the league.  Smith is on pace to score 28 goals this season which would be the best of his career.  Fiala has 3 goals and 12 assists already this season with both of his goals and seven of his assists having come since the acquisition of Turris.  This line should continue its productive ways and continue to get better.

With the return of Nick Bonino from the injury that kept him out for 10 games, the 3rd line currently includes Bonino, Pontus Aberg and Calle Jarnkrok.  This line has been very reliable in the faceoff circle and in terms of plus/minus, but it will likely change again with the impending return of Scott Hartnell from his injury.  At that point, the Bonino line will likely include Hartnell and either Jarnkrok or Sissons.  Both Jarnkrok and Sissons shoot right and are better than 50% in the faceoff circle, but Sissons wins draws 8% more frequently than Jarnkrok.  That fact alone could put him as the 4th line center.

With the return of Scott Hartnell, the 4th line will likely include Colton Sissons and the hard hitting Austin Watson and either Cody McLeod or Miikka Salomaki, either of which will add even more physicality to the line that is generally tasked with reminding opposing teams that hockey is still a very physical sport.  Watson is currently 8th in the NHL in hits per game and, while both McLeod and Salomaki are very physical players, Salomaki is considerably more productive in scoring and considerably less likely to end up in the penalty box.  This reason alone should result in more playing time for Salomaki against most teams while McLeod would be reserved for teams like the Ducks and Oilers who like to drop the gloves.

DEFENSEMEN

The Nashville Predators defensive corps has been a bit of an enigma this season.  Over the last couple of years the Predators blue line has been the envy of the league, and while that is still true, the traditional defensive stats have been mediocre.  Nashville is 16th in shots against per game, at 31.7 allowed, and has a -2 shots per game differential.  The shot differential is not necessarily a hit on the defense though, because the Preds are 26th in shots for per game.  The return of Ryan Ellis should help increase the number of shots on goal which should also help the shot differential. The Preds have a team shooting percentage of 10.2%, which is 7th in the league this season and would have put them as the 2nd best shooting team last year.

The Predators are sitting much better over last season is in scoring by defensemen.  Every regular performer is producing at rates higher than last season, yet their share of overall scoring is not higher than last season.  The good news in all of this is that Preds Associate Captain, Ryan Ellis, is due to come back from knee surgery in a month.  Ellis was the top goal scoring and 3rd point producing defenseman on the team last year.  He was also 3rd on the team in average time on ice and led the team in blocks averaging nearly two blocks per game. So the defensive performance, as well as scoring, should improve with his return.

PAIRINGS

The current defensive pairings include Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm, P.K. Subban and Alexei Emelin, and Matt Irwin along with either Tony Bitetto or, before his injury, Yannick Weber.  The top pairing has been productive on offense, with 12 goals and 20 assists, and strong on defense with an even +/- rating and an average of 25:07 time on ice.  The Subban/Emelin duo has tallied 4 goals and 17 assists and is -1 in terms of +/- while playing an average of 22 minutes per game, though P.K. plays roughly six more minutes than Emelin due to his work on Special Teams.  The weakest pairing, by far, is the 3rd pairing of Irwin and Bitetto.  While they have accounted 3 goals and 5 assists, they have been a bit weaker on defense and have a combined -1 +/- rating.

The real question comes with the return of Ryan Ellis.  Last season, Ellis and Josi were very productive together both in terms of scoring as well as defensive production.  Ellis had 16 goals and 22 assists last season and played 24 minutes a game. His return likely means that he will play alongside Roman Josi.  That means that P.K. and Matty Ekholm will likely resume their successful relationship from last season.  The 3rd pairing will become some combination of Emelin, Irwin and Weber.  Both Emelin and Irwin shoot left, but Emelin has been very strong on defense over the last 10 games and has come up with some very skillful defensive stops.

GOALTENDERS

The story of this season has undoubtedly been Pekka Rinne.  Pekka has continued his stellar performance from last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.  He currently has a 2.35 goals against average, which is 8th in the NHL and .926 save percentage, putting him 8th in the league.  He is tied for 2nd in wins and 4th in shutouts.  Rinne has singlehandedly kept the Preds in a number of games this season and has already had multiple highlight reel saves this year.  If Pekka can keep up this performance, the Preds stand a very good chance of competing in the Division title race.  The only concern is whether he will be overworked by the end of the season, which is where the backup Goaltender situation comes into question.

The current Predators backup, and heir apparent to the Nashville crease, has had a less than impressive beginning to the season if you look only at his stats.  Juuse Saros, is 1-3-1 with a 3.7 goals against average and a .870 save percentage. This is way down from his 2.35 GAA and .923 save % from last season.  It is not unusual for a backup to be below .500 when you consider the kind of starts they tend to get.  Backups usually pull the 2nd half of back to backs and other games on the road.  This puts them more frequently in hostile environments supporting a team that is more tired than the regular starter.  Saros had starts against the reigning Cup champions, the hot NY Islanders, NY Rangers and an OT loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.  He had impressive win against the LA Kings who were 11-1-1 at the time. It is also important to note that Saros is only 22 years old, which makes him the 3rd youngest goalie to start a game in the NHL this season and the youngest goalie to win a game.  So long as Saros is able to steal points more often than not, it will give the coaching staff the comfort to play him more frequently, thereby giving Rinne much needed rest. If, however, Saros struggles much more, look for management to give Anders Lindback and try in goal.  Lindback is the leading goalie in the AHL at the moment with a .925 sv% and 2.32 GAA.  He is 11-4-0 with the Milwaukee Admirals.

SPECIAL TEAMS

If there is one place where the Preds are excelling, it is in Special Teams.  The Predators are currently the 2nd best team in the league on the Power Play and 7th best on the Penalty Kill.  Nashville is scoring on the Power Play 26.7 percent of the time, which is 6.2% higher than the league average.  They are killing off 83.3% of their penalties, which is 9.5% higher than the league average.  There is no reason why the Predators can’t continue to have the best Special Teams play in the league, especially with the return of Ryan Ellis.

OUTLOOK

Despite a less than impressive October (5-5-2), the Predators have become one of the strongest teams in the league.  The acquisition of Kyle Turris and the return of Ryan Ellis, Scott Hartnell and Yannick Weber should make the Predators even stronger and likely help the Preds to improve on their already impressive performance.

Projected Record: 58-15-9 with 125 points and 1st in the Central Division, just ahead of the St. Louis Blues.

Bonus Projection:  The Chicago Blackhawks will miss the playoffs!

The Pekka Problem

by James Pendergraft

Going into last season there were a lot of questions surrounding Pekka and how many years he has left of solid playoff shape hockey. His 2015/2016 campaign wasn’t quite as good as his 14/15 campaign winning 41 of his 64 games played. He has seemed to win fewer and fewer games over the past 2 seasons even though he had a huge part in the Predators’ most recent playoff run. The question still looms, will Pekka Rinne be able to win enough games this season to get the Preds back to the playoffs?

If Pekka continues the downslope he could lose more games than he wins in Nashville this season and of course nobody wants to see the friendly Fin go down like that as he’s been with Nashville for over a decade. He is certainly one of the most mentally tough and competitive goalies that I have ever seen (the guy doesn’t even like getting scored on in practice). But as much as we love him, when is it time to pull the plug and let our younger guys have some of the spotlight? I’m not saying he won’t be the number 1 goalie for Nashville this year because he definitely will be the starter. I’m just questioning how good he is going to be.

Letting go of Marek Mazanec this past free agency, signing Anders Lindback once again, and drafting another 6’5 goalie in Tomas Vomacka leaves me wondering, when Pekka is done who is going to backup Juuse Saros? With many people thinking Lindback wont make it to the NHL level and Tomas Vomacka being a fresh draft pick, where do we stand with our goalie situation?

Nobody wants to see Pekka have an impekkable season more than me, and I really hope he has 2 more solid years in him. No matter what the season holds I am confident that we will make another deep playoff run and the Rinne wall will stand strong at least one more season. When it is all said and done and Pekka calls it quits his number will be retired and hopefully he stays in the organization.

The Ascension of Mattias Ekholm or a Son of (Matty Ice on Fire

To say that Mattias Ekholm has had a good season, so far, would be an understatement.  The veteran defenseman has nearly matched his career high in goals in only 20 games and is currently riding a franchise record for defensemen, four game goal streak.  But what has caused this increase in production?

In the previous five seasons, Ekholm has been a productive member of the Predators defensive corps, but his production has generally come in the form of assists.  In his last two seasons, since taking a top 4 role, he has put up 27 and 20 assists, but has only netted 8 and 3 goals respectively.  This year, with the absence of Ryan Ellis, he has already put up 5 goals and 8 assists and it is only November.  He is currently tied for 4th on the team in goals scored, sixth in assists, and has a 15.6% shooting percentage. The real magic is on special teams where he has scored 3 with the man advantage and 1 while a man down and has a 50% shooting percentage.

Ekholm’s progression started to accelerate two seasons ago with departure of his regular defensive partner, Seth Jones.  This moved Ekholm up to a pairing with Ryan Ellis, which increased his ice time by 2 to 3 minutes a game and increased his usage on special teams.  The departure of Shea Weber saw Ekholm’s role increase even further as he played most games with PK Subban and increased his time on ice to more than 24 minutes per game and saw regular use on the 2nd power play unit, but his goal scoring dipped as PK Subban pulled some of his numbers, but his assists remained above the 20 mark.

Part of the increase in scoring this season could be from his increased responsibility due to the absence of Predators Associate Captain, Ryan Ellis, who has been out with a knee injury he sustained last season which required surgery to correct.  This has propelled Ekholm into a top pairing role with Captain Roman Josi and increased his responsibility on both the power play and penalty kill as well.  He is seeing an average of 24:50 in ice time per night and is eating up a ton of special teams time.

Another possible reason for his increased success is that Ekholm has made the shift from the left side to working primarily on the right, which is kind of curious for a left shooting defensemen, but has given him a different look at the net than a right shot would have and brings his shots on goal more from the center than from the sides.  In past seasons, most of his goals have come from the point or the left side of the ice. It could be that this has opened up both sides of the net to him and forces goalies to defend both corners. He is shooting the puck at a career high pace as well, though I am not sure if that is of his own volition or at the direction of the coaching staff.  He has averaged 113 shots on goal over the last three seasons, but this season he is on pace for more than 130 and this could increase even further if he continues to have the hot stick.

If he can maintain his current pace, he will score 20 goals and have 32 assists, which would put him in the top five of all defensemen in the league based upon last year’s scoring numbers.  Do I think that this will happen?  Probably not.  He is likely to cool down some and see his time reduced when Ryan Ellis returns, but I do think he has every chance to finish with 15 goals and 25 assists, which would still put him in the top 25 of all blue liners in the NHL.  Not bad for the 87th highest paid defenseman in the league.

Preds Waste Their Flaming Hot Start

The Predators caught fire out of the gate, playing their best 1st period of the entire season.  Nashville was gifted an early power play when Mark Jankowski was called for tripping at 5:24 of the first period.  Filip Forsberg scored his 7th goal of the year moments later at 6:29 with the assists going to Roman Josi and Scott Hartnell.  The Flames would struggle matching the early pace of the Predators and would be called for a second penalty at 7:19 of the 1st.  It would only take a mere 24 seconds for the Predators to capitalize with as PK Subban would dish a pass to Josi who would snipe a shot through the goaltender Mike Smith, giving the Preds a 2-0 lead that would last the rest of the 1st period.

 The 2nd period score would end as it began, with a 2-0 score.  Pekka Rinne was dialed in from the beginning, making several fantastic saves to keep the Flames scoreless through two periods.  Nashville had several chances to break the game open and extend their lead, but were unable to do so.  The 3rd period would stay deadlocked until 10:35 when the Flames finally solved Rinne.  Matthew Tkachuk would score his third of the season with a wrist shot from the right circle with a little help from a Pred’s stick.  Not even three minutes later, Michael Ferland would tie the game up with a backhand shot that slipped by Rinne.

 Overtime would not find a victor, as both team had several chances but both goaltenders stood strong.  Overtime would be highlighted by a Pekka Rinne save on Johnny Gaudreau that would send the game to a shootout.  The Flames would ultimately get the deciding goal on the stick of Matthew Tkachuk and would take two points from the Nashville Predators.

 Three Quick Thoughts

Kevin. Fiala.

 I’m going to need to know what Fiala did in a past lifetime to deserve the luck he received tonight.  Picture this: A WIDE OPEN NET.  The goalie is literally behind the net, standing against the boards.  You are 5 feet in front of the net with the puck sliding towards your puck.  Would you be able to hit the shot?  Fiala whiffed as the puck appeared to hop over his stick.  It could have been the dagger, but instead the Preds limp away with one point.

2. Pekka Rinne continues to shine

 He played arguably one of his best games, single handedly keeping the Preds in the game at times with his stellar play.  It’s sad his play only amounted for a single point for the Predators, but his play should serve as optimism for this season.

 3. A point is a point, right?

Yes, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but we will take the point.  It’s disappointing to see the game end without a win, but the Predators have consistently racked up points this young season.  The biggest discussion that could be had is wondering what the identity of this team is.