The Preds in 2017: What it was like, what happened, what it’s like now

(This post was written on the 2nd of March, and accidentally never posted. Accidentally, because it was never finished.)

 

On January 1st of this year, the Nashville Predators woke up to a new year and an old predicament. Expected to be a serious contender for the Stanley Cup this season, and coached by the popular Peter Laviolette, who had been given a two-year extension early in the season, the team was on the wrong side of the post-season line.

The Preds sat with 38 points after 36 games. Dallas with 39, Winnipeg with 37, all were on the outside looking in, as Calgary (42) and Los Angeles (40) were “in” as wild card teams in the West.

James Neal was leading the team in goals with 14. Ryan Johansen had 27 points to pace the team, but only 13 of those points came at even strength. Viktor Arvidsson was the team’s first half revelation with 10 goals (besting his full season rookie total of 8) and 24 points, and Filip Forsberg, who had just two goals in October and November, added 6 in December to move towards respectability though seemed a longshot to best or even reach his 2015-16 total of 33 (when he only had ONE goal in October and November.)

On the blueline, Roman Josi had 19 points, but was an uncharacteristic -4. His 2016-17 partner Ryan Ellis had 12 points and was +6. P.K. Subban, out with an injury had played 29 of the team’s first 36 games, and despite a -11, had 7 goals and 18 points to pace all Predator rearguards.

In goal, Pekka Rinne was 13-10-5 with a 2.53 GAA and a .915 save pctg. Juuse Saros came up from Milwaukee and established himself as both the first legitimate backup to Pekka in quite some time, and an early revelation with his effective and efficient play. Saros’ first six games gave him a rather unremarkable 3-2-1 record, but had a spectacular 1.16 GAA and an unworldly .957 save percentage. Third goaltender Marek Mazanec had a couple of unspectacular starts and was 0-2, 4.73 and .839

Some team stats: Goals For: 101 (ranked 16th), Goals Against: 97 (ranked 14th), Shots For: 1156, Against: 1068. Power Play: 20.3 (ranked 10th), Penalty Kill: 81.3 (ranked 16th)

It was time for some balls to drop and to scream HAPPY NEW YEAR!

January and February were months that saw the Preds right the ship and turn things in a direction that led to more stable waters.

(January stats)

Jan to Feb.jpg

(February stats)

Preds Feb to Present.jpg

What this meant was some stability that led to the Preds gathering points and cementing themselves into a post-season berth, with a pretty strong foothold on the 3rd seed in the Central Division.)

The team took advantage of being the fifth highest scoring ream in Jan/Feb to move into the 8th spot in the NHL for the season, averaging 2.95 goals per game. However, with the insurgence of goal scoring came a new, startling lack of detail in the defensive zone, and while the team dropped to 23rd out of the 30 NHL teams in goals given up, for the season this slotted them into the very middle-of-the-pack at 16th, averaging 2.76 goals surrendered. Shots saw similar trends, as the team had the most shots on goal in Jan/Feb (at 840) but gave up 840 as well in the similar period, which was the 3rd most given up in the league. This put them at 5th in shots for the season (at 31.7 per game) but while they were eighth best from the start of the season, through December, their Jan/Feb totals dipped them all the way to fifteenth, giving up 30.3 shots per game.

In contrast, from a shots given up perspective, last year’s Preds team ranked number one in least opponent’s shots on goal allowed at 27.3. The 2014-15 version of the Preds finished sixth, at 28.3, and the 2013-14 team (Trotz’ last season) had them at eleventh with 28.9 allowed. So, to be up over 30 this season is cause for concern when discussing goaltending, and defensive positioning in the defensive zone.

How is the team that was ranked number ONE in shots given up now the number TWENTY EIGHT team in this category over two months worth of games in 2017?

The answer could be held within the loins of the streamlined new goalie pants the NHL has trotted out in mid-season, but more likely it’s in a “Chinese Fire Drill” approach to the transition from offense back to defense that the Predator skaters have enlisted as a substitute to a more sublimated chalkboard system outlined by the coaching staff.

If your name is Matt Irwin, or Yannick Weber, it’s just a matter of time before you are fully exposed. Granted, with the full health of the top four defensemen, you are limited in your exposure, your numbers are trending in the wrong direction. As the trade deadline blew through the NHL on March 1st, few were calling for the Predators, and GM David Poile to grab a defenseman. In fact, Poile himself was on the hot seat as the Colorado Avalanche were looking for Mattias Ekholm as the focus of a package the team was looking for in exchange for star center Matt Duchene.  In the end, Poile stood firm in not giving away another of his prized blue-line. Giving up Seth Jones 13 months earlier in the Ryan Johansen deal was the first ding in the armor of a defensive corps that allowed the fewest shots in the NHL. Granted, Johansen was the top line center that the team seemingly needed to bring the offense to the next level, but in losing Jones, the Predators started to expose the lack of depth that the team had in terms of quality NHL defenders. Off-season free agent acquisitions Irwin and Weber were brought in, in addition to veteran Matt Carle in the hopes of patching together a third pairing that would keep the team’s stingy D just as stingy.

The addition of P.A. Parenteau was Poile’s only move on deadline day, but could point to forwards Cody McLeod and Vern Fiddler as fourth line additions that brought grit to the Preds lineup. With the October injury to Miikka Salomaki, and the seemingly ineffective play of veteran Mike Ribeiro (jettisoned to the club’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee) and opening night fourth line winger Cody Bass, the team cycled through a number of options, such as free agent acquisitions Reid Boucher and Derek Grant, and Milwaukee callups, Freddie Gaudreau, Harry Zolnierczyk and Pontus Aberg. None have actually put a lock on the role, despite some gritty efforts by Zolnierczyk, occasional strong play from Colton Sissons, and now the Fiddler-McLeod combination.

(January/February combined stats)
preds-jan-to-present

(All season combined stats)
screen-shot-2017-03-03-at-12-40-02-amThis post was written on the 2nd of March, and accidentally never posted. Accidentally, because it was never finished.

Today this post serves as a calling card to the Predators post-season run. Fact is, it was a very lackluster first half for the team and signs of life showed in January and February. Stability crept in during March and come April it was unclear that the Preds had the goods to do what they’ve done, but they’ve done it. And, they’ve done it losing Kevin Fiala, Craig Smith, Ryan Johansen and Mike Fisher for varying lengths of time. Hats off to the Nashville Predators for proving that hockey is a team sport, and that on any given night, any one of the players dressed could be the difference maker. Four more wins and a real difference will have been made.

I consider this a charmed life…

I am a hockey fan. I know of nothing else that makes me happier than to be sitting within a snowball’s throw of some ice, players, sticks, gloves, puck, etc.

I went to my very first NHL game in New York City at the “old” Madison Square Garden. Thanks to the internet, I found the boxscore from the game. It’s hard to read, but it was on my 10th birthday, and I got to see Red Berenson get three points… THREE OF JUST SEVEN POINTS HE SCORED THAT SEASON.

Over the next decade I discovered pot, booze, pills, and the stuff teenagers in the early 70’s in New York City made more of a priority than sports… ROCK AND ROLL!

I got a job in the music industry in 1971 and began working records to radio stations. Had some success, moved to California in 1975, down to LA from SF in January, 1976, and there I fell in love with hockey all over again, and the Los Angeles Kings were my constant source of companionship. Literally. By 1978 I was 23, a Vice President of Sire Records, and constantly hanging with members of the Kings. Smoking pot, drinking copious amounts of Molsons and Labatts, and meeting guys like Pete Weber, who didn’t indulge in any of that crap, so far as I knew, but he and Bob Miller were the Kings radio and television announcers before the decade turned. I never missed a Kings game, unless I was on the road. I had fierce fan/player battles with a moronic hulk of a defenseman named Dave Hutchison. Not to say this guy was stupid or anything, but he did get knifed by a hooker on a Vancouver street corner on an off day, while the Kings were waiting to face the Canucks. Needless to say, Dave went on IR with a “hand laceration.”

My biggest brush with fame in that era was when Rogie Vachon ALMOST became the first NHL goalie to be credited with a goal.

In the early 80’s, the Kings had a fantastic team … in the regular season, but in the first round of the playoffs (Best of THREE, if you can believe that) they took a dump. I still have a BOX of unused Kings playoff tickets. I think the opening round was 11 dollars!

In the late 80s, while living in NYC, I met NHL executives, Stu Hackel and Gerry Helper (among a few) and Hackel had me help edit the NHL Guide and Record Book a couple of times, and I am pretty sure my name showed up in the book at least once. It was a big deal for a nerd like me.

Perhaps not as big as the 14 minutes of my 15 minutes of fame that was used up when I had insider knowledge on the impending Wayne Gretzky trade to Los Angeles, and being the crazed-myopic Kings fan that I was, I hated to think they would mortgage the future, and felt the trade needed to be stopped. I called on my pal Stu (Hackel) and gave him my intel, and he led me to Glenn Cole in Montreal and Steve Dryden/Bob McKenzie in Toronto. Check the issue of the Hockey News from August, 1988 with the headline “The Trade,” and read about a “New York Music Exec that called to ask us to check on a rumor…” LOL, thank God my nefarious plans were thwarted, right? 🙂

I shuttled back and forth between New York and LA over the next twenty years or so. I was in the building in Toronto, when the LA Kings beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in that semi-final in 1993 that sent the Kings to the Cup finals against Montreal, and if Marty McSorley hadn’t had that illegal curve on his stick, I’d have seen my first Cup Finals.

In 1998-99 I attended my first Stanley Cup Finals game, but had to do so in Buffalo, where the Dallas Stars ended up winning the cup, on a controversial call in triple overtime.

the 1999-2000 season I was attending a boatload of New Jersey Devils games and got to see Game One of the final between the Devils and the Stars. It was a rollicking 7-3 Devils win, and although I did not get to be in attendance to celebrate the Cup (the Devils won in 6 IN Dallas,) I considered it my FIRST “Cup” team.

I moved back to LA in mid-2000, and my love affair with the Kings began again. Additionally I started flying to Manchester, NH to see the Monarchs, the team’s AHL affiliate, and my obsession with some moderate game-worn jersey collecting began.

The Kings were pretty terrible, and as dedicated as I was, I took to the internet to rip them to shreds on a few (read: thousands of) occasions. I wrote game stuff for letsgokings dot com, and was present at the 2003 NHL Entry Draft in Nashville, where I was the first to interview Dustin Brown, after his selection by the Kings that day.

I saw my first NHL game in Nashville five years later, and as I see here, I wrote about it.

Prior to that, however, a couple years before, I was finally in the building for a Cup victory… IN ANAHEIM, no less. I was one of the few Kings fans that also happened to love the Ducks. I love hockey. That Ducks team was INCREDIBLE. Sami Pahlsson, my God, the man was a beast! Pahlsson-Moen-R. Niedemayer were the best checking line I had ever seen. It was June 6, 2007 when, sitting in the absolute last row at the Honda Center I witnessed my first Cup. Glorious.

The NHL entry draft was in Los Angeles in 2010, and my friend Stu helped get me a writing gig with NHL.com — Do you know how cool it was to open my mailbox and see a check from the National Hockey League for services rendered? I know I was giddy for a while… and there was a YouTube clip to prove it. (ABSOLUTELY NOT SAFE FOR WORK IN THE FINAL FIVE SECONDS.)

The Kings needed a Cup badly. It was a 45 year wait, and I’d suffered through an awful lot of them. Finally, I got to witness the incredible. The team was not only the “8th seed” in the West, but just a month before season’s end, we were all so happy we thought we didn’t have to waste money on playoff tickets. LOL. Well, that changed in a hurry. First came a 6 game winning streak, then a couple losses, then three of four wins before the final two losses in the regular season but, with overtimes and shootouts, the Kings picked up 21 of the final 28 points in the regular season and grabbed a playoff berth. Sixteen wins later, I cried for at least a full 24 hours. Tears of joy as Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter, Vyacheslav Voynov (so the linchpin) and a cast of characters (Penner, Richards, Scuderi, Mitchell, King, Nolan, … the whole thing was surreal) made Los Angeles a TRUE hockey market from that moment forward.

There was a lockout and I moved to Nashville a day before my friend Rich Clune, in January of 2013. I knew Gerry Helper, and certainly knew of his boss, David Poile. My love for Poile was immense, because it was he and Kings GM Dean Lombardi that worked out the waiver deal that brought Clune back to the NHL, where for better or worse, he would toil under Trotz, making friends and fans, and continuing to impress management with his attitude and his work ethic on and off the ice. I learned a little more about the behind-the-scenes mechanics that the GMs occasionally go through to help a marginal player like Dicky to get regular playing time in the show. Teammates and fans both grew to love Clune, but Laviolette’s regime brought sweeping change, and after two shifts on opening night, Rich was swept to Milwaukee, never to appear in Nashville again.

I’m a hockey nerd. Here, NHL (and Kings) broadcaster, my old pal, Jim Fox and Bob Miller get to poke a little fun at how nerdy I can get. YouTube clip here.

This year has been my fifth season in Smashville, and I’ve made both friends and enemies. I sit in 207 with WONDERFUL people I have become very close to (waving to Linda, Jordana, Leslie, Sue, Steve, Valerie and of course, my dear friends, Lee and Amy and their great kids, Jack and Caroline.)

There’s so much more, but it’s 2:30am and I promised a friend I would be up at 8 and make a drive to spend some important time with him. Tonight has been insane. The loudest I have ever heard and NHL building. In fact, throw in a lot of Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and whatever concerts, and it was the loudest arena I’ve ever had the privilege to attend. My head is still ringing.

The Preds were not the better team tonight, and to beat Pittsburgh (yeah, I know… it’s not necessarily Pittsburgh, but come on…) they have to play a whole lot better… and they CAN.

I wrote before Game 5 that it was time for the fans to “buck up,” because losing Johansen and Fisher was not going to deter an entire team. Plenty of people thought the Predators would lay down and die after those two injuries, but I was CERTAIN they would not. Look at the opportunities given to guys like Sissons, Watson, Gaudreau, and Jarnkrok… Move ’em up, move ’em in, MOVE DUCKS OUT! It was that simple.

After each goal tonight it sure sounded like… HEY!   HEY!!  HEY!!! USED DUCK!

If you can squelch a few Ducks, this team surely has the capability of taking down some Penguins! More before the Series starts, but thank you for reading. I just wanted to let you know how grateful I am to have hockey in my life.

MN

OK, Preds fans… Buck up! Injuries happen…

The Pittsburgh Penguins tied their series with the Ottawa Senators last night. Defensemen Brian Dumolin and Olli Maatta each scored their first goal of the post-season. A third defenseman, Chad Ruhwedel played six minutes and exited with an injury. In fact, and Preds fans should identify with this, when Bobby Ryan hit Ruhwedel, knocking him to the ice, where he lay, as defense partner Ian Cole exacted revenge on Ryan. The outcome: No penalty for charging on Ryan, penalty on Cole for roughing. Ruhwedel gone from the game in the first period. Pens skate five D. None of those five defensemen wore the name LETANG or SCHULTZ on the back of their jerseys. Up front? How about injuries to Kuhnhackl, Rust and Patrick Hornqvist? Players in the lineup included Josh (10 games) Archibald and Carter (27 games) Rowney. Winning is possible if you play within the team’s structure and execute the coaching game plan.

Losing Ryan Johansen is terrible. And, as terrible as he was through most of the regular season, he was a complete beast in the post season, and very likely the straw that stirred the drink. Be honest, people, had you seen Johansen play with this kind of intensity on a Wednesday in Winnipeg? This Ryan Johansen hit, and got hit, passed and received passes, intimidated when he was faced with intimidation. This Ryan Johansen I LOVED. But alas, he is gone. Thigh surgery… I’d love to know more. I’m not sure I’ve heard of coming off the ice, bypassing the dressing room, going straight to the hospital for thigh surgery. But, it is what it is, and now, just as the Pens did, the Preds need to put on their big boy skates and go out and do damage in Anaheim tonight!

While we don’t know what Lavy has in store for us from a roster perspective, we know that we have multiple options. Putting Calle Jarnkrok with Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson seems likely. Is it as dominant a unit? Perhaps not, but both Forsberg and Arvidsson seem to will most of their chances with their feet. Either one is capable of going solo, ala Stevie Nicks when Fleetwood Mac don’t want to tour. Both guys have multiple weapons in their arsenals and all Jarnkrok has to do is play his game and make sure one of those two wingmen have the puck heading into the Duck zone. And, of course, what has to happen THEN is that SOMEONE GETS TO THE FRONT OF THE NET AND TAKES AWAY GIBSON’S EYES. He stops virtually everything he sees!

Johansen was on the ice as the Preds have gone 1 for 17 on the power play. Losing Johansen may not help, but it may force the coaches into some alternate thinking that can hardly get any worse than the power play has looked. This series would be OVER if the Preds had capitalized on their man advantage chances, and “BULLSHIT” NBC announcers, it’s NOT the Ducks penalty kill being special, it’s the Preds total inability to bring the puck into the offensive zone and station a body that isn’t 5’8, 180 (as much as I love  you, little guy) in front of the Duck net. Simple. Johansen fed the puck, yes, but with no traffic… who cares.

Then, there are the remaining three lines. Do you add Kamenev to the mix? General wisdom thinks “no.” I think a kid who was 2nd round, 42nd pick in 2014, who scored over 20 goals for MKE this season has just as much chance to have success, if not more, than 7th round, 205th overall pick in the SAME draft, Ondrej Kase, who granted spent 53 regular season games in Anaheim (compared to Kamenev’s 2 with Nashville,) but the talent level is at worst comparable, and at best a landslide for our guy. Let him play. Let him play a bunch. Especially on the man advantage. Tell him to keep his feet moving. Wonderful things just might happen.

Wonderful things probably won’t happen if it’s just more of the “put Fiddler out there” — while I admire his veteran presence and willingness to walk through walls for this team, we need speed and creativity. Maybe put Neal up on the line with Jarnkrok and Forsberg, and let Kamenev play with Arvidsson. Who knows. Lots of options, but the bottom line is this:

The Preds are not dead because of these losses. The Preds have withstood injuries in the past. I already stated that 1 for 18 on the PP happened with Johansen and with Fisher. You still have five Preds to four Ducks. KEEP THE FEET MOVING AND PUT A MAN IN THE CREASE.

Is the horse dead yet? GO PREDS! YOU CAN DO THIS!!!