INSIDE HOCKEY » Nashville Predators http://insidehockey.com Get Inside! Thu, 28 Aug 2014 14:43:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Barry Trotz: The End of an Era http://insidehockey.com/barry-trotz-the-end-of-an-era http://insidehockey.com/barry-trotz-the-end-of-an-era#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 11:50:57 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58249

The firing of Barry Trotz was the inevitable end to a second straight underachieving season for Trotz and the Nashville Predators. The team, despite a late season surge, faltered out of the gate and was never a factor in the Central Division. Injuries plagued the team but the Predators were able to salvage a winning season after the previous season’s fiasco where they finished in last place.

Barry Trotz (and the Predators) had reached his peak when Nashville reached the second round in the 2012 playoffs (the first they had ever done so as a team). But the past two seasons were retrogression in Trotz’s coaching career. The 2013 lock-out season took seven points from Barry’s coaching value according to my rating system and this season saw Trotz (and the Predators) running to stand still.

Barry Trotz (who was there from day one) nursed the Predators through their teething pains as an expansion franchise; saw the team become winners and playoff contenders; and nurtured the emergence of Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne as NHL All-Stars. And yet the last two seasons saw the team faltering, failing to advance further in their development as an NHL franchise. In the end Barry Trotz had outlived his usefulness as a coach in Nashville and Nashville GM David Poile was forced to pull the trigger.

Nashville is now on the cusp of a potential new era. Barry Trotz had emphasized the fundamentals: goal-tending, tight defense, and on-ice discipline. Will the second head coach in Predators franchise history do the same or will a new tactical mindset come to fore?

If David Poile wants to go in-house then Dean Evason (head coach of the Predator’s AHL affiliate Milwaukee Admirals) might be a potential choice. His coaching value after two seasons in Milwaukee is a creditable +9 with an ASR of +4.500 (solid and respectable numbers according to my rating system). Choosing Evason would be advantageous since he would be familiar with Nashville’s personnel. Tactically he would be no different than Barry Trotz since the Admirals show greater strength on defence than on offense; playing disciplined hockey (although a bit rougher than Barry Trotz would).

If David Poile looks outside the box then Jacques Martin is available or Terry Murray (who told me personally last fall that he very much wants to return to NHL coaching) or perhaps other NHL coaches who might be losing their jobs in the days and weeks to come?

What about Barry Trotz?

Trotz refused a front office job, preferring to remain a coach. Despite the setbacks of the last two seasons, Trotz remains a quality coach, worthy of a second chance in the NHL. There is no shortage of NHL franchises which could profit from his coaching wisdom: the Islanders, Edmonton, Calgary, and the Winnipeg Jets all could use Trotz’s commitment to the fundamentals and his skill in teaching young players how to play tight, disciplined defensive hockey. (All four franchises ranked near the bottom in team defence).

If those teams don’t hire Trotz then perhaps the New Jersey Devils might be interested in Trotz? If ever a coaching change is needed it’s definitely needed in North Jersey. Peter DeBoer has again failed to recapture the success of the 2011/12 season and one wonders if the Devils ownership and/or management will lose patience with DeBoer and find someone else.

If Lou Lamoriello makes the decision then Trotz would be a viable candidate. Trotz fits the mold that Lamoriello always seeks in coaches: cool, efficient technocrats who emphasize defensive hockey while keeping the team on an even keel emotionally and at a peak performance wise.

I suspect that a second act is brewing in Barry’s future. The question remains in what venue will it all play out?

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Ducks Dig a Hole Too Deep http://insidehockey.com/ducks-dig-a-hole-too-deep http://insidehockey.com/ducks-dig-a-hole-too-deep#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 14:51:00 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=58007

“Clink. Clink. Clink.” That’s gotta be one of two things in the spring of 2014. Either it’s someone in Flanders digging a trench as part of the WW1 centenary exhibit, or it’s the Anaheim Ducks digging yet another hole as they start a hockey game.

Take the latter bet if you’re headed to Vegas. In fact, on Monday night, they engineered their biggest come-from-behind win after going down to Winnipeg 4-0. Wednesday, it was Edmonton, and the deficit was 2-0. Friday, Nashville was in town, and like these other teams who had nothing to play for, they stuck it to the Ducks early, jumping out to a 3-0 and 4-1 lead.

There has to be a reason for this. Do the Ducks just not get their sea legs going until late? Do they not care, or do they just believe that no matter what, they can come back?

The problem with adopting this as a habit is that no teams that they play starting in mid-April are going to be as unbalanced (notice I didn’t say “weak”) as the squads they’ve been toying with, and eventually beating, of late. The Kings. The Sharks. Minnesota or Dallas. OK, maybe one of those latter two would show some weakness, assuming that they straggle into the playoffs to start with. But none will have been as underachieving as the non-playoff teams that Anaheim has met of late.

So this practice, one might safely say, really ought to stop. But nobody’s saying it, or none of the Ducks are listening if anyone (Mr. Boudreau), is saying it. Nashville was ahead 1-0 after about five minutes, then 3-0 with two quick goals between minutes 13 and 14. Anaheim came back to make it 3-1 at exactly fifteen minutes, but Nashville got another one at 17:05. All of this happened in period one, which means that there was more scoring in 20 minutes than there are in most Predators games, period.

The second period looked even less like Nashville hockey, with the game opening up and Anaheim’s defense finally deciding to punch the clock and make some good individual plays. The shots slowly turned from what they had been in period one, where Nashville was ahead 9-8. By the end of the frame, the Anaheim team had 24, while the visitors sat on 16. But the score hadn’t changed its differential. The Ducks had gotten a goal early on to make it 4-2, but then Nashville potted one more to make it 5-2.

Their cause wasn’t helped by two disallowed markers on one power play. The first was whacked in by Bonino, but the referee immediately said no—the play had been whistled dead. The second one appeared to be knocked in by Corey Perry, but the only real reason the paying fans thought it went behind Rinne was that the players reacted like it had gone in, but it didn’t look like they even knew on the replay. The last sighting of the disk was off the leg pad of the netminder, and then out in front of the goal line in the crease. Perry took a whack and it disappeared, but the goalie’s leg was shoved into the net at the same time, so who knows? It was one of those “physics goals”—where else could the puck possibly have been but in? But the referee was off in the corner when it happened and couldn’t see it, and the replays showed only the leg pad being forced past the line, but no puck. So no goal.

The Predators had to be giggling going into the dressing room, not the least because they’ve scored only 190 times in 76 prior games. What’s weird, though, is that seventeen times this year, they’ve put in four goals. Several more times, they’ve gotten five, six, or seven goals. How can that math work out? Lots of nights, they get only the one. Or None. They’ve been shut out eight times. Sixteen times, they’ve scored just once.

The picture that paints is of a team that’s either very good or very bad. Thus the picture it paints is not the one you’d imagine it to be, which is that every night, night after boring night, Barry Trotz’s system works to perfection in creating the dreaded 3-2 game.

In other words, Nashville is less a defensive team than a team with an identity more shifting than in the past. But they do have some ability to score. Weird, then to look at their roster and see that coming into the night, only two guys had 20 goals or more. And the more was Shea Weber with 21. Exiting the evening, Mike Fisher had joined the double-deuce club, with two on the night to land at 20 for the year.

IH asked Coach Trotz about the team’s offensive production over the course of the year, which sees them spotted with four-goal games and more, to which he responded with a bit of a chuckle. “It is a big surprising. But we’ve been giving up a lot more goals this year, as well. You look at the last ten years, and we’ve been in the top, at least the top ten every year in goals against. This year, it’s a little bit different. That is probably a little bit of youth served in net and on the back end, you know. You get eight or nine games into the season and your goaltending tandem has one NHL game under its belt. It was a little bit difficult.”

He put the cap on that with, “There’s been a lot of growth in this team. I like their growth a lot, and obviously the strength of our team is on the back end. I like us on the back end.”

Period three saw one thing notable for its lack. The Ducks were down 5-2, and Coach Boudreau didn’t mix his lines at all. His team did not come on late, unlike in past games. They had just five shots in period three, and none of them were dangerous. Most of the momentum was on the Nashville side of things, and the Ducks ended a futile night with a couple of penalties to make any chance of a comeback moot.

IH asked Trotz whether he had to warn the team that the Ducks are comeback masters, and he said, “They, they know. They have been following it. The only thing I mentioned is that the second period, they [Ducks] are like a plus-35 in the second period, and that to me was the real tipping point for the game.”

Also of note—Jonas Hiller came out to start period three, and no backup was on the bench. He had been pulled in frame number one after letting in four goals on eight shots (he eventually faced nine). The Ducks announced early on in P3 that Anderson was out with an upper body injury. He never did return to his backup spot. Naturally, I tweeted the Ducks to let them know that I’m the official backup backup goalie in LA (see my book Living the Hockey Dream for the details, and yes, this is true). They didn’t need me, though, which in the end was probably a good thing. Though I doubt I would have let in four goals on eight shots, as Hiller did to start off the night.

After the game, Pekka Rinne, who missed about fifty games earlier in the year with injury, and has now set the team record for wins, said, “Hopefully, there’s plenty more to come. My personal goal would be to finish strong. Obviously being healthy is the main thing, and then, so far, since my comeback, I’ve been, there’s been ups and downs, and I haven’t found a really solid consistency, and that’s the one thing that I want to feel comfortable. Comfort on the ice and on the right track. That’s my goal for these last few games.”

He later said, “You want to finish strong. It’s going to carry over for the whole summer, and you don’t want to be feeling sorry for yourself. You don’t want to finish on a negative note.” He cited the fact that the team gets another crack one night hence, in San Jose. That game will see them having won five of their last seven contests and gained a point in the other one. If only it could have begun a little bit earlier.

“We’ve been I think 5-1-1 in the last seven,” Coach Trotz reiterated, “And there’s no quit in the dog, if you will. We looked a little rusty in the first five minutes, and I thought that Pekka had some dangerous pucks bouncing around. But he got us rolling the right way. We managed the puck and were able to capitalize on our chances. I thought we had pretty good response [even when they scored].”

Perhaps the biggest statement of all: “In the third period, I didn’t feel at all threatened, which I thought we would, because Anaheim’s been really great at coming back last couple of games.”

“Sploosh, sploosh, sploosh.” That is the best I can do to replicate the sound of the dirt being shoveled onto the Anaheim coffin for the night. No comeback in this one.

Notes

Hiller’s stock perhaps went down with this performance. I am not alone in this estimation.

Twitter is crazy, eh? Follow me @growinguphockey. Oh come on, just do it.

My new novel, Pond Hockey, doesn’t suck. There, try that on for size.

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Five First-Time Olympians Poised to Break Out http://insidehockey.com/five-first-time-olympians-poised-to-break-out http://insidehockey.com/five-first-time-olympians-poised-to-break-out#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 13:35:50 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=56200

By Jason Karnosky, AllPuck.com

Matt Duchene

Colorado Avalanche forward Matt Duchene will be competing at his first Olympics for Team Canada. | Photo by Dan Hickling for AllPuck.com

In the spring of 1998, Dominik Hasek was 33 years old. He’d never won a playoff series in his career, almost all of which was spent playing for the small-market Buffalo Sabres.

Hasek wasn’t an overnight star at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, but he was close. When Hasek led the Czech Republic to the gold medal, he went from a recognizable NHL player to the best at his position in the world.

Who will be this year’s Hasek? Here are five possibilities.

1. Matt Duchene, Canada

With young forwards Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon all blossoming this season, there is a reason why the Colorado Avalanche are National Hockey League’s surprise team. Duchene leads the three future stars, and all Avs, with 27 assists and 44 points. Those efforts led to a surprising Canadian Olympic team selection over the likes of Claude Giroux, Martin St. Louis, James Neal and others.

The maturation of this recently turned 23-year-old has been impressive to watch. For Team Canada, Duchene will likely fit onto a lower-line role, and will be expected to play a strong two-way game while showing off his great skating ability. On a team full of big-name stars and better-known talents, I expect the Haliburton native to be one of the tournament’s big surprises.

2. Roman Josi, Switzerland

When watching third-year Nashville defenseman Roman Josi play, it’s easy to forget that he’s only 23. The Bern native is one of the NHL’s best-kept secrets, and fast becoming a superb transition blueliner who can take over a game with his puck skills. Josi has six goals and 22 points in 44 games this year. Already, he fits in nicely on the Predators’ emerging young defense alongside Shea Weber and Seth Jones.

On the international stage, Josi has already stepped to the forefront in 2013 after leading Switzerland to his country’s first silver medal at the World Championships since 1935. Josi took home tournament MVP honors while leading all Swiss players with nine points. He was also named the tournament’s best defenseman. In Sochi, a larger audience will see first-hand the evolution of this talented defender as he helps Switzerland contend for a medal.

3. Cam Fowler, United States

When the U.S. unveiled its 2014 Olympic roster, one of the biggest surprises was the selection of Fowler over Team USA veterans Jack Johnson and Keith Yandle. The 22-year-old has done nothing but amaze in his fourth NHL season with Anaheim. On the league’s best team, Fowler is fifth in scoring with 29 points, while posting an impressive plus-12 rating. Put in perspective, the Northville, Michigan native struggled to a minus-28 rating in 2011-12.

Now heading to Sochi, Fowler will be expected to take all that he’s learned from mentor Scott Niedermayer and provide a youthful spark on an American squad quickly maturing into a perennial gold-medal contender. Likely to slot just behind cornerstone blueliner Ryan Suter, the smooth skating Fowler should be a player to watch on the big ice in Russia.

4. Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Sweden

Joining perhaps the best blue line in the world heading to Sochi, it’s easy to overlook Swedish defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Yet this 22-year-old has already emerged as the go-to blue liner on the Phoenix Coyotes and a player well worth paying to see every night with his dynamic two-way game.

Under the guidance of Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, Ekman-Larsson is strong and effective in his own end. He’s among the top 60 NHL defenseman in hits, one of few offensive stalwarts on the list. He’s also posted a positive rating in each of his first four NHL seasons. Meanwhile, Ekman-Larsson is an effective transition scoring defender, capable of contributing offensively night after night (26 points through 50 games). In Sochi, look for the Karlskrona native to play a significant role for the always-dangerous Swedes.

5. Vladimir Tarasenko, Russia

On a St. Louis Blues team not known for its elite skill up front, Vladimir Tarasenko is emerging as his team’s game-breaker. In his past 13 games Tarasenko has 14 points, upping his season total to 17 goals and 31 points. Perhaps most impressive for the 22-year-old: A plus-12 rating, representing just how much Tarasenko’s overall game is maturing under the guidance of Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.

An always explosive player who loves to shoot, the Yaroslavl native might get lost on Team Russia as opponents try to match their best defenders against Alex Ovechkin, Pavel Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin and Ilya Kovalchuck. This means Tarasenko might find some unusual skating room to shine and become a well-known face on the home favorite Russians.

Five more poised to step out on the international stage: Gabriel Landeskog, Sweden; Olli Maatta, Finland; Zemgus Girgensons, Latvia; Tomas Tatar, Slovakia; Valeri Nichushkin, Russia.

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Photo Gallery: Predators vs Flyers (01/16/2014) http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-predators-vs-flyers-01162014 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-predators-vs-flyers-01162014#comments Fri, 17 Jan 2014 20:23:20 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=55574

The visiting Nashville Predators defeated the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 4-3, after Roman Josi scored in the seventh round of the shootout.

THREE STAR SELECTIONS
1st Roman Josi (#59 NSH)
2nd Shea Weber (#6 NSH)
3rd Wayne Simmonds (#17 PHI)

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Skinner Making Case to Team Canada http://insidehockey.com/skinner-makes-case-to-team-canada-game-winner-beats-preds-2-1 http://insidehockey.com/skinner-makes-case-to-team-canada-game-winner-beats-preds-2-1#comments Mon, 06 Jan 2014 21:35:44 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=55107

Team Canada is set to name their roster for the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi on Tuesday morning.  Jeff Skinner of the Carolina Hurricanes might be the hottest Canadian player in the NHL over the last five weeks and hopes to hear his name called. Skinner has earned 22 points (16 G, 6 A) over his last 16 games.  The last two points came as the game winner against the Nashville Predators on Sunday night.

With Carolina captain Eric Staal sidelined with a lower body injury, head coach Kirk Muller asked Skinner to step into the first line center role. While his face off percentage might not have been equivalent to what Staal brings to the line up, his play in the offensive zone did. The scoring opened in the first period with a Skinner assist to line mate Alexander Semin, who somehow wedged the puck in from behind the net off the back of Nashville goalie Carter Hutton.

Carolina was content to play the Smashville style for the entire first two periods and was outshot by the Predators 23 to 19 over the first 40 minutes.  Coming out of the second period intermission, Carolina’s hectic schedule (six games in 10 nights) seemed to slow the Hurricanes down.  Nashville took advantage on a power play and right winger Patric Hornqvist kicked sorry, deflected the puck off his skate past Carolina goalie Anton Khudobin.

Khudobin in only his third game back from an ankle injury that placed him on IR in October has been perfect on the season. The Russian netminder moves his record to 5-0 with a 1.99 GA average and save percentage of .940.  Granted, this is a small sample size, but the confidence he has shown over the last couple of nights proved to the Carolina coaches that they should stick with his hot hand and start Khudobin over Justin Peters, who had tallied a win against the Predators in Nashville on Dec. 5.

Like this Carolina team has done all season, they kept fighting, and when Carolina forward Tuomo Ruutu centered a pass to Skinner with 3:31 left in the game, he was able to bury it 5-hole on Carter Hutton.  Canes win, Canes win, Jeff Skinner game winner! Did you hear that coach Babcock?

Carolina heads to Buffalo on Tuesday to take on the struggling Sabres before coming back home to welcome the Toronto Maple Leafs into Raleigh for the first time this season.

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Niklas Svedberg Proves Palatable as Bruins Backup http://insidehockey.com/niklas-svedberg-proves-palatable-as-backup-option-for-bruins http://insidehockey.com/niklas-svedberg-proves-palatable-as-backup-option-for-bruins#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 16:22:14 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=54976

When goaltender Niklas Svedberg was called up to Boston last Friday, it was supposed to be the culmination of a lifelong dream, as the 24-year-old Swede was set to make his NHL debut Saturday in Ottawa against the Senators.

But then Dennis Seidenberg was injured in last Friday night’s game, and Svedberg’s NHL hopes were put on hold while the Bruins recalled defenseman Zach Trotman on an emergency basis and sent Svedberg back to Rhode Island for the interim.

Six nights later, Svedberg finally got a second chance to make his NHL debut, and it was worth the wait. Svedberg made 33 saves on 35 shots to help the Bruins to a 3-2 overtime win against the Nashville Predators.

“Ever since I started playing, this is where I wanted to be so I’m real happy with this win,” Svedberg said. “It’s just one game, but it’s real fun to get the win in my first game.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Swede. In the first period, Svedberg struggled at times with rebound control, but his defense bailed him out to preserve a 0-0 game through the first period.

Svedberg proved he was up to the challenge for the Bruins in the second period. While the team in front of him played lifeless hockey, Svedberg made some nice saves during a 16-shot period for Nashville.

The Swedish goaltender’s one mistake of the period came when, after making a stop on Mike Fisher from the left side of the net, Svedberg allowed a juicy rebound to squirt out to his right, where an unguarded Viktor Stalberg waited. Stalberg slipped the puck past a diving Svedberg for the Predator’s first goal of the night.

While better rebound control could have saved Svedberg on that shot, the Bruins defense was equally at fault for allowing Stalberg to go unnoticed on the opposite side of the net.

“I thought in the second when they did throw a lot of pucks at him, he stood tall and made some good saves,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I liked his game tonight. He was good, and he just showed us that he’s a guy we need to look at and keep an eye on.”

The defense was similarly chaotic on Nashville’s second goal of the night. After the Bruins failed to clear out a loose puck from the front of the net, Shea Weber slapped a rebound past Zdeno Chara and Svedberg to tie the game at 2-2.

Overall, however, Svedberg was calm and controlled, and his game gives Boston something to think about in the near future. The Bruins could be eying Svedberg as a backup candidate for Tuukka Rask after current backup Chad Johnson struggled at times in recent outings. Johnson has been particularly shaky on wraparound goals as his lateral movement is lacking.

And while Johnson is three years older than Svedberg and has more NHL experience on his resume, Svedberg has proven he deserves a shot in the NHL after stellar results at the AHL level over the last two years. Thanks to his 37-8-2 record last season with the Providence Bruins, Svedberg became the first AHL rookie since 1994-95 to be named the AHL’s top goaltender. This season, Svedberg (who has split time in Providence with Malcolm Subban) is 13-5-3 with a .909 save percentage.

“I think he’s improved over the course of the year with his experience,” Julien said of Svedberg before Thursday’s game. “Earlier on, when I first saw him, when he first came, he had to make some adjustments to his game because of how they played in Europe versus here and the adjustment was like, in Europe, they really make those plays down low … He used to play a little deeper in his net, and now he plays out a little bit more, so he’s made that adjustment.

“From there on in, I think he just kept getting better and better, you could see his skill level was pretty good. He’s had some bumps along the way here this year but as of late, what I’ve been told is he’s been playing pretty well.”

Although Johnson won the backup job out of training camp and Svedberg was sent back down to the AHL following Thursday night’s game, Svedberg showed he is a palatable option in net with his performance against Nashville. For now, it looks like the young goaltender could continue to see spot starts at the NHL level until the Bruins officially decide what to do about a backup goaltender.

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Photo Gallery: Predators at Bruins (1/2/14) http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-predators-at-bruins-1214 http://insidehockey.com/photo-gallery-predators-at-bruins-1214#comments Fri, 03 Jan 2014 03:03:52 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=54969

The Boston Bruins beat the Nashville Predators 3-2 in overtime Thursday night in Boston. The game winning goal was scored by the Bruins’ Brad Marchand.

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Stars Ring In New Year With Victory http://insidehockey.com/stars-ring-in-new-year-with-victory http://insidehockey.com/stars-ring-in-new-year-with-victory#comments Thu, 02 Jan 2014 16:01:21 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=54785

The Stars rang in the new year by continuing the same effective play with which they rang out the old late in 2013. Dallas upended Los Angeles, 3-2 on New Year’s Eve at American Airlines Center to finish the week with two wins in three games and earn points in their 7th straight game (5-0-2). It was also the team’s 4th victory in five games on home ice.

Forward Erik Cole contributed his second 2-goal game in the team’s last three outings, forward Tyler Seguin netted his 20th of the year and goalie Kari Lehtonen stopped 23 shots to improve his record to 16-8-7. Dallas upped its mark to 20-12-7 for 47 points, just two behind 8th place Phoenix in the Western Conference.

“Instead of winning a game and looking to see if we gained any ground, we decided to forget about that,” said Cole, whose 10 goals have eclipsed the nine he scored for Montreal and the Stars during last year’s lockout-shortened campaign. “(We’re just concentrating on) focusing on our play and what we can do to win games. (When) we just focus on that, one day we’ll wake up and we’ll be in 5th (place) or 4th or 3rd or whatever.”

Cole tied the score 1-1 on a power play late in the 1st period with his 9th goal of the season, and added an even strength marker late in the 2nd stanza to give Dallas a 3-1 lead. Seguin, who reached the 20-goal plateau for the 2nd time in his four-year NHL career and is on pace to easily eclipse his career high 29 red lights achieved in 2011-12 with Boston, also scored while Dallas held the man advantage three minutes before Cole’s 10th of the season.

Seguin’s goal, only the team’s 5th man advantage marker on home ice this year, marked the first time since Oct. 11 that the Stars have scored on multiple power plays in the same game. The team entered the game with the NHL’s 29th-ranked power play at (11.7%), and its worst at home (4.8%).

“We just weren’t getting enough pucks at the net (to create) second and third chances,” said Cole. “We just (were not) being as opportunistic as we should have been.”

Stars Sing the Blues

Two nights before, the Stars rallied from a 2-0 deficit but dropped a 3-2 verdict in overtime to the St. Louis Blues on Sunday, Dec. 29 at the AAC. Kevin Shattenkirk beat Lehtonen on a power play with 10 seconds left in overtime to decide the verdict.

Dallas overcame a 2-0 deficit with 2nd period goals by Jamie Benn and Ryan Garbutt. Benn’s 13th of the season and 4th in the last 5 games occurred on a power play to cut the St. Louis lead to 2-1. Garbutt tied the score, 2-2 three minutes later with his 7th of the year and 2nd in the last two games.

“We had our opportunity in overtime and we didn’t get it done,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. “We can look at the two one-timers that we shot. We missed the net on both, and their one-timer found a hole.

“This was an important point to comeback and point to get,” added Ruff after goalie Lehtonen stopped 19 shots. “The game could’ve (gone) the other way when it was 2-0, and you’ve got to give our guys a lot of credit for battling back.”

Earlier, the Stars thought they had scored in the game’s first minute for the 2nd straight game, but Cody Eakin’s apparent marker on a rebound was waved off when it was ruled that Garbutt didn’t allow Blues goalie Brian Elliott to make a play on the puck.

The game marked Blues forward Brenden Morrow’s first performance in a visitors’ jersey at the AAC, which opened in 2001 with Morrow as an emerging Dallas standout. “I just wanted to get through this one tonight,” said Morrow, the Stars’ captain until he was dealt to Pittsburgh prior to last season’s trade deadline. “I knew this was going to be the hardest one.

“Playing those guys in St. Louis (on Nov. 23 wasn’t) the same as playing in this building,” added Morrow, who ranks 8th in the Dallas franchise career list in points (528), 7th in goals (243) and 10th in assists (285). “It was a little different just from making a different walk to the locker room. This is the only (visitor’s locker) room that I haven’t seen yet in my career. So to see it from here and get on the ice from this end was a little bit different.”

Stars Upend Preds

The Stars opened the week by moving forward on their quest to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2008 as Cole netted his 7th and 8th goals of the season while captain Benn and Garbutt added one each in a 4-1 victory over Nashville at American Airlines Center on Friday, Dec. 27.

Defenseman Aaron Rome returned to strengthen the backline in front of goalie Lehtonen, who stopped 33 shots to improve to 15-8-6.

Benn scored just 42 seconds into the game, giving his line (which includes Tyler Seguin and Valerie Nichushkin) a total of 12 markers in the last six games.

“(Benn) came in with pretty good speed there from the side and somebody fell and their skates got jammed up in my pads, so I couldn’t get across,” said Nashville goalie Carter Hutton. “And you know a guy like that is not going to miss an open net. (It’s) definitely a tough way to start, but I thought I settled in well after that.”

After Antoine Roussel missed a penalty shot, Valeri Nichushkin clanked one off the post, and the Stars fumbled a 3-on-1 break, Nashville tied the score, 1-1.

But Cole took control, netting his 1st goal of the night 24 seconds after Nashville had tied it, added his 2nd marker six minute later to make it 3-1. Garbutt finished the scoring with his 6th goal early in the 3rd period.

“Erik has played well for a good bit of time. When he’s on the puck, he’s hard to knock off,’’ Ruff said. “We have one real good line that draws the first defense. If the other lines can go against the other defensive pair, we can get opportunities. We need that second line.”

The victory reflected the Stars’ outstanding play by the entire team, according to defenseman Alex Goligoski. “We’re playing smart right now,’’ he said. “We’re not turning pucks over, we’re not giving up a lot of odd-man rushes, and that’s different than we were playing at the beginning of the year.’’

Stars’ Player of the Week – Erik Cole

Lanky forward Erik Cole opened and closed the week with two-goal performances as the Stars captured five of a possible six standings points. Cole’s goals helped the Stars defeat Nashville, 4-1 and Los Angeles, 3-2, giving him 10 markers for the season – one more than he amassed with Montreal and Dallas during the 2013 lockout-shortened campaign. As the season progresses, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound native of Oswego, New York is looking more like the goal sniper who lit the lamp 26 times for Carolina in 2010-11 and erupted for 35 goals with Montreal in 2011-12.

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Rangers’ Woes Continue, Drop Second Straight http://insidehockey.com/rangers-woes-continue-drop-second-straight http://insidehockey.com/rangers-woes-continue-drop-second-straight#comments Wed, 11 Dec 2013 20:35:31 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=54341

While reporters bustled about the New York Rangers’ locker room getting quotes for their stories with leaders of the team, Henrik Lundquist sat in front of his locker patiently waiting for his turn to be swarmed. His slouched posture, blank stare and defeated demeanor spoke louder than any words that could come out of his mouth. His woes and his team’s woes continue to pile on as the New York Rangers dropped their second straight with a 4-1 loss to the Nashville Predators last night at Madison Square Garden.

It is not just the Blueshirts’ inability to play on home ice, the Rangers are now 5-8-1 at the beautifully renovated Madison Square Garden and 0-2-1 on their nine-game home stand, or their struggle to find an offensive groove, the Rangers have only scored two goals in the past two games, but, now, the team must play without two of its leaders. The team confirmed Marc Staal sustained a concussion in Saturday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils and while doctors diagnosed the severity of the of concussion as less serious than his previous one, it is hard to tell when he will be able to return to the lineup. Last night, the Rangers lost another key component to their team as Captain Ryan Callahan suffered a second-degree MCL sprain and will be out four to six weeks. This is the third time this year the Rangers will be playing without their captain who is known for his gritty, hard-hitting style of play that usually sets the tone of the game. With a top defenseman out and the loss of Callahan, the Rangers’ will have to step up their game even more in order to regain their footing and position in the standings.

Rangers’ head coach Alain Vigneault has made his thoughts of his team’s performance well known to the media in the past few weeks. He knows he has all the pieces for a winning team, but cannot fathom why those pieces of the puzzle won’t come together. Vigneault decided to try a strategy that most coaches use when their team isn’t generating offense, and that is to switch up the lines. Before the game he stated, “I’m switching things up because we are .500.” At the beginning of the game Rick Nash was paired with Derick Brassard and Carl Hagelin, Derek Stephan, Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider were reunited, Callahan, Brad Richards and Brian Boyle skated together, and the fourth line consisted of the recently called up Arron Asham, Dominic Moore, and Derek Dorsett who came back after missing the last few games with a sore wrist.

The lines continued to shift as the Rangers’ had a tough time putting the puck behind Carter Hutton, who had not started a game for the Predators since Nov. 10. The team’s lack of offense has been the Rangers’ Achilles Heel all season and it proved true again last night as Nash, who recorded his 600 career point, was the only one able to get the puck between the pipes.

While the Rangers started the game with a jump, the Predators began to gain momentum in the latter part of the first period. Nick Spaling put the Preds on the board with six minutes to go in the first. The play started to unravel for the Rangers when Ryan McDonagh went hard into the boards after gathering David Legwand’s rebound that bounced in front of the net. He slid the puck behind the goal line and was taken down by the eventual goal scorer Spaling. With McDonagh down Rangers’ defenseman Justin Falk had to cover two men while others came back to help. Falk slid toward Patric Hornqvist who received the puck from a diving Legwand and with Falk down, Hornqvist passed to Spaling who was open in the slot. A one-two-three play and the Preds found themselves with the lead.

The Rangers have not fared well when their opponents score first and last night was more of the same. After Spaling’s goal, the intense atmosphere in the arena started to dissipate, and the Rangers weaknesses came to light. The Predators struck again with nearly two minutes left in the first. Matt Hendricks and Rich Clune took advantage of Michael Del Zotto playing deep in the offensive zone and started a two-on-two play the other way with Anton Stralman and Dominic Moore on defense for the Rangers. Hendricks realized Clune was a step ahead of Moore and sent a lead pass to him as he was streaking toward the net. Clune used his backhand to tuck the puck behind a stretched out Lundqvist. The first period ended with the Rangers outshooting the Predators 10 to six, but they found themselves in two-goal hole.

“I thought we started out all right, but it makes it real challenging when you are down two nothing early. With the difficulty of our offense right now as far as scoring goals, it makes it very challenging and that’s what happened tonight.” said Vigneault postgame.

In the second period, the Rangers cut the lead in half with a heads up play by Richards. Richards received a pass from Brassard and saw Nash cutting toward the net. Nash made it look like he was going to back hand a shot on the short side, which made Hutton lean toward the side. With the goalie off balance, Nash went to his forehand and wristed a shot into the net. The Rangers continued to try and find their offensive game, but did not sustain a solid forecheck. They had opportunities, but couldn’t convert.

“We were able to get one there on a good passing play, and I think from there we were looking for pretty plays a little too much. We have to get back to our forechecking mentality,” McDonagh explained.

Hope for a Ranger comeback ended early in the third when Hendricks notched his second goal of the season and put his team up by two. As Lundqvist put it, “That third goal killed us.” Paul Gaustad added an empty netter and secured the Preds victory.

“The only thing I know right now is you can only go up,” said Lundqvist. “Right now it’s extremely tough mentally and you try to be positive, you have to. There are so many games left; it’s just a really tough stretch. It’s hard for us to get points and you just have to work through it, stick together and be positive. It is definitely a test for all of us.”

Richards reiterated Lundqvist’s thoughts. “It’s tough right now. It’s not a fun part of the game but it’s a great challenge to come together here and get back to work tomorrow. No one is going to feel sorry for us; no one coming into the building is going to give us a win. We have a lot of work to do.”

The Rangers go back to work Thursday night when emotions will run high as former Rangers Marian Gaborik, Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky will return to MSG as the Blue Jackets come to town.

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Caps Top Struggling Predators http://insidehockey.com/caps-top-struggling-predators http://insidehockey.com/caps-top-struggling-predators#comments Sun, 08 Dec 2013 05:32:50 +0000 http://insidehockey.com/?p=54292

The Washington Capitals, a mediocre 3-5 since mid-November, had a breakout game Saturday night, crushing Nashville 5-2 and handing the Predators their fifth loss in a row. The game against Nashville was the first in the Capitals fifth set of back-to-back games so far this season. They travel to Madison Square Garden tomorrow night to face the New York Rangers at 7 p.m.

Both Troy Brouwer and Karl Alzner broke out of lengthy goal scoring slumps, with Brouwer notching his first goal since November 9th and Alzner scoring his first goal of the year and first since February 12, 2013. Alzner’s goal also marked his first career goal at the Verizon Center.

“He’s been asked to (generate more offense) for sure,” Caps head coach Adam Oates said of Alzner. “I’ve asked him to add (offense) to his game. I know it’s still defense first, but he plays so many minutes, every little touch that he makes just benefits us.”

Rookie blueliner Nate Schmidt added his first goal in the NHL and defenseman Patrick Wey made his NHL debut in the win. Alex Ovechkin and Eric Fehr also scored for the Capitals and Braden Holtby made 34 saves.

“It’s an incredible feeling to share with your teammates,” an effervescent Schmidt said of his first goal.

Broken slumps and exciting milestones aside, the win against Nashville was a well-rounded effort for the Capitals. They achieved what has largely been elusive for them so far this season – a strong start.

“Lately a lot of the time we’ve been coming from behind, having to come down from either one or two goals,” Brouwer said. “You’re not going to have a ton of success later on in the season doing that. We were able to squeeze out some points here and there, but you can only win so many games like that.”

After an early penalty kill, Washington gained momentum, seized control of the play and didn’t relent until the final buzzer. Even after building a 3-0 lead, they kept pressure on Nashville, sustained extensive time in the offensive zone and didn’t allow an obscene amount of shots. They did not get discouraged when Predators defenseman Roman Josi scored with 22 seconds left in the first period to cut Washington’s lead to two. They kept their composure when, in the final period, Nashville scored a quick answer goal to cut the home team’s lead from three goals to two with nearly an entire period remaining in the game.

Since the Caps built an early lead and were able to distribute ice time throughout four lines, they should be well rested and fresh for tomorrow night’s Metropolitan matchup in New York.

“Getting out front, especially early in the first, was one of the few things before the game we talked about,” Schmidt said. “Make them do an uphill battle for the rest of the game. We’ve been the ones who’ve been behind a lot lately.”

After the game, Oates said he had not yet decided who would be in net tomorrow night in New York.

Another specific positive from the game that Oates brought up in his post-game press conference was the Capitals performance in the faceoff circle. The Caps outperformed the Preds 53 percent to 47 percent and scored three goals following faceoff wins.

While both teams limped into Saturday’s tilt, the Predators struggles are amplified because of the strength of the Western Conference. In addition, the loss against the Capitals marked their 20th game without injured starting goalie Pekka Rinne. Nashville’s next chance to climb the standings comes this Tuesday, also against the New York Rangers.

Game Summary:

Troy Brouwer scored his first goal in nearly a month, corralling Eric Fehr’s rebound and backhanding the puck past Marek Mazanec’s right pad at 6:44 of the first period. Washington doubled their lead off of a set faceoff play later in the first period. Just three seconds into their first power play of the night, Nicklas Backstrom cleanly won a faceoff and shoveled the puck back to Alexander Ovechkin, who blasted a slapshot past Mazanec for his 22nd goal of the season.

After another faceoff win, Karl Alzner’s shot from the point found its way through traffic and through Mazanec’s five-hole. It was Alzner’s first goal of the season and first since February 12, 2013.

The early 3-0 lead resulted in one of Tom Wilson’s more spirited bouts of the season, with Jumbotron replays of the fight drawing ooh’s and aah’s from the Verizon Center crowd.

Preds defenseman Roman Josi cut Nashville’s deficit to two with his first goal of the season with only 22 seconds left in the first period.

The Caps held onto their 3-1 lead through two periods before Nate Schmidt scored his first goal in the NHL to give Washington a 4-1 advantage at 3:29 of the third period.

Predators forward Eric Nystrom answered with his fifth goal of the season only 23 seconds later, but Nashville never really made a serious push and Eric Fehr ended up capping the scoring with Washington’s fifth goal of the night at 14:50 of the third period.

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