Hockey

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Game Times: 7:00PM
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NBCSN (3/28), WGN-AM 720
Time’s Up: On The Forecheck
*All Stats Mentioned Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick*

As March comes to a close in whatever this oddball, virus-addled, mutation of a season ends up being, games that were already the proverbial “Four Pointers” between divisional opponents have started to become even more magnified, especially with the added element of “series” play introduced where a team can gain ground quickly if so inclined. It’s just such a weekend for the Hawks and visiting Preds, who sit on opposite sides of the playoff line in the Central division.

Hockey

Everyone’s favorite darling, basically because national media types love to get drunk there for free and it’s not cold. Generally that has shielded everyone’s eyes from this being a pretty repugnant organization run by a ghoul in David Poile, who just engaged in the long-running hockey and Southern tradition of when things go wrong blame the black guy. It’s also put the wool over most experts’ eyes that the Preds have taken two straight division championships and done just north of dick with them, or that Ryan Johansen blows, or Eli Tolvanen didn’t redefine the sport upon arrival, or Roman Josi is starting to age, or half a dozen other things. Is it finally going to, thankfully, crash down around their ears this year?

2018-2019

47-29-6  100 points  (1st in Central, out in 1st round)

2.88 GF/G (18th)  2.59 GA/G (4th)  +24 GD

52.1 CF% (7th)  51.1 xGF% (13th)

12.9 PP% (31st)  82.1 PK% (6th)

Goalies: Same crew. Pekka Rinne will take the starter’s role as he has done in Music City since before Marvel Studios existed. He was more than acceptable last year with a .918. But that was down from the previous season, and he is 37 now and one wonders if that’s a slide that’s just going to continue. No one outruns time forever. Encouragingly for the Preds, Rinne did get stronger as the season went along last year, with a .913 in February and a .927 in March after a very shaky winter period. Didn’t really save him in the playoffs though, where he put up his second consecutive .904 in seven games against the Stars. And that’s usually the story for Rinne when the games really matter, as other than that one run to the Final he’s been nothing more than ordinary in the spring. And he’s running out of chances.

There are probably some in the Preds braintrust that hoped Juuse Saros would take the job from Rinne last year. He wasn’t bad, but he didn’t outperform Rinne and if the Preds are going to move on from a club legend while he’s still playing the difference has to be clear. Saros is only 24 and has time on his side, and if he sticks around his career .920 one might think that could be enough to usurp the incumbent, should his age-induced slide continue. Either way, the Predators are solid here.

Defense: Well it must be pretty damn good if they thought they didn’t need PK Subban anymore, huh? Must be nice when you can jettison the d-man who had the best metrics on the team.

It’ll put more pressure on Roman Josi, whose influence hasn’t been as great the past two or three seasons but still puts up points. Matthias Ekholm should be his partner, as Ryan Ellis was completely exposed taking on top pairing assignments in the playoffs. He’s a great bum-slayer but don’t put him up against real players, or you’ll pay the penalty.

There’s also a lot of faith in Dante Fabbro, who was tossed into the deep end of the playoffs after being a point-per-game at BU the past two seasons. He could end up driving things on the second pairing, either alongside Ellis or forcing him down to the third pairing where he started in the first place. Then again, that’s probably not what you want out of a d-man you’re paying $6.2M until the Earth’s heat death. More brilliant work from Poile.

They’ll round it out with Matt Irwin, Yannick Weber, and Dan Hamhuis‘s slowly-turning-to-dust bones, and they’ve definitely got this. Again, solid, but if Josi isn’t around Norris-level discussion, it’s short a top-pairing guy.

Forwards: The headlines are Matt Duchene finally came “home,” if home is the place where you’ve made it clear you want to play for about five years because you’re a true Canadian shit-kicker. Duchene will certainly juice the second line, whether from the wing or in the middle.

The Preds as always will do it through a strength-in-numbers method. Their only proven top line talent is Filip Forsberg and he’s made of graham crackers. Viktor Arvidsson is probably a genuine top-liner as well or a tick below. Ryan Johansen is completely overmatched as a #1, at least when he’s not playing for a contract to blow on a lifetime supply of ding-dongs, but they’ll keep selling it. Mikael Granlund will get a full season in yellow before hitting free agency, which probably means a big season for him. Granlund’s and Duchene’s presence will shove Kyle Turris down the lineup where he will hope no one notices he’s not worth $6M a year either. Same goes for Colton Sissons, and Craig Smith, and Calle Jarnkrok, Marriage counselor Austin Watson is still here to fill out Nashville’s absolute bastard quota. It might not have the highest of ceilings but this crew probably has the highest floor.

Prediction: My comrade in arms Fifth Feather thinks this squad is headed for a collapse. I wish I could get there, though the chance that Peter Laviolette‘s style finally is too much for the players is non-zero. The chance for Pekka Rinne to look his age is also non-zero. But the chance of both Rinne and Saros being bad is pretty close to zero. The defense certainly lost most of its fun to New Jersey, but it’s still more than enough as long as they keep Ellis away from anything flammable. They’ll be more than that if Fabbro is the real deal. The forwards carry more than enough speed and dash to light up most teams.

There isn’t a guarantee in the West to expose Johansen or outgun them, but they can also lose to anyone as they did last year. They very easily could win the division again. They could very easily eat it early with the wrong matchup. If that happens again, there could be changes.

But they’ll still be assholes.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Boston

Buffalo

Detroit

Florida

Montreal

Ottawa

Tampa Bay

Toronto

Arizona

Calgary

Edmonton

Los Angeles

San Jose 

Vancouver

Vegas

Colorado

Dallas

Minnesota

 

Everything Else

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Schedule

Game 1 in Nashville tonight, 8:30

Game 2 in Nashville Saturday, 5pm

Game 3 in Dallas Monday, 8:30

Game 4 in Dallas Wednesday, 7pm

The only series that might become more staccato than the Penguins and Islanders is this one. The Stars are going to have no interest in making this open or fast, considering their lineup is filled with soldiers of The Foot after their top line and top pairing. And while the Preds boast three or four trap-busters on the blue line, they also don’t have much beyond their top line, thanks to injuries and every deadline acquisition they made being an utter flop. If the Jets are vulnerable, then the team that couldn’t put them away until the final day of the season in the division isn’t much surer of a bet either. Smells like a real upset possibility.

Goalies: This one’s about health. If THE BISHOP! is healthy, then the Stars do have something of an advantage. Bishop is the Vezina candidate behind Vasilevskiy, and also comes with playoff pedigree as he has the same single Final appearance to his name that Rinne does, along with another conference final the following season. But still, health. Bishop is slated to go tonight, but he’s returned from injury a couple times in the second half and then had to go back on the shelf again. He did start the last game and didn’t die, but missed time at the end of March and in February. If he’s playing and upright, it’s hard to see him giving up a ton.

There are teams over which that would give the Stars a bigger advantage than Nashville, though. Pekka Rinne recovered from a midseason wobble to close with a .927 in March and a .935 in April. While we seem to be the only ones to point out that aside from 2017, Rinne has been a playoff pothole, no one else cares. He was good until he wasn’t last year, and then the Predators went home. There isn’t going to be much margin for error here, because the Stars just aren’t going to give up much with a healthy Bishop. If it’s not 2017 again, the Preds might have to turn to Saros or be in serious trouble. Rinne can’t get away with being fine here.

Defense: And this is where the Preds’ big advantage is. Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg are awesome, but that’s about all the Stars can boast. And they don’t really take the hard assignments, and if you trust the likes of The Circus Bear and Esa Lindell and Ben Lovejoy to quiet Forsberg and Arvidsson, then you see more good in the world than I ever could and I envy your view. If Jim Montgomery can get cute and get those two and his top line out against the softer underbelly of the Preds, maybe they play them even. But that’s no given, especially without home ice.

This has been the strength of the Preds for a while now. The only complaint you might be able to lodge against them is that Ryan Ellis hasn’t looked great against harder competition, but that’s nitpicking. And as much barbed wire and landmines the Stars will plant in the neutral zone, the Preds just keep rolling out guys who can get through it like Josi or Subban or this new asshole Fabbro. At some point they can find a weakness, and then it’s just up to the clods on their bottom two lines to actually convert those opportunities. That’s up in the air.

Forwards: If the Stars had slightly more depth, I’d be tipping them here. They have Radulov-Seguin-Benn, and Hintz has actually allowed them to slide Benn down a bit. But Jason Spezza is basically metamucil now, and even with the return of The Hobbit Zuccarello, they’re still short. Jason Dickinson is playing second center for this team, and you didn’t know he existed until right now. Much like last year’s first round, once the Preds figure out how to keep the opponent’s top line from light flares, they’re almost all of the way there.

Not that the Nashville group is all that impressive. If it proves that way, Seguin could make Treat Boy’s life hell, and Kyle Turris is nothing but a bemused expression. Granlund, Simmons, and Boyle have failed to do anything since donning yellow. But with Craig Smith and Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons and one or two others, there’s just slightly more depth in piss yellow than victory green.

Prediction: You know I desperately want to pick the Preds to spit it here, as their organization’s and fanbase’s piousness combined with their claims to still be adorable have both proven full of horseshit and tiresome. And Bishop is a goalie capable of doing it himself. That’s the only hope for the the Stars here though, as they have pretty much the same holes as the Preds do, just bigger. They’ll make it awfully difficult though with a healthy Bishop. This one feels like seven home wins.

Preds in seven. 

Everything Else

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RECORDS: Hawks 36-33-12   Predators 46-29-6

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

THIRD MAN INTERNS: On The Forecheck

When the music’s over, turn out the lights…

The Hawks wrap it all up on 2018-2019 tonight, and as mentioned earlier, it doesn’t come with the relief of last year. This team doesn’t deserve any more than it’s got, and the front office certainly doesn’t, but it sure does seem like the Hawks wasted more than most teams than miss the playoffs did.

And now in most ways, this is the worst possible outcome. They didn’t make the playoffs, and they’re nowhere near the top of the draft to get a franchise-turning player. Drafting 11th is really not going to do anyone any good, at least not for next year. It’s the middle. It’s the muck. It’s purgatory.

We’ve already been over what the storylines were yesterday. It’s some’s definite last game with the Hawks. It might be some more important players’ last as well. Do they know it? Do they care? Won’t get our answers for a while. Last night it looked like they did. Quotes before and after the game suggest they do, but their actions on the ice all season tell a different story.

So for the Hawks, it’s just about crossing the last one off the calendar. For the Preds, there’s way more riding on it. They can clinch the division tonight with any kind of win.  A loss in extra-time would do the job if neither the Jets or Blues win. If both the latter lose in regulation, the Preds don’t have to do shit.

Which means the Preds could play any one of the Jets, Blues, Stars, or Avs in the first round. The first two are probably ickier first-round matchups than you’d want if you plan on being a Cup contender. But then again to complain about playoff matchups makes you a member of the Toronto media. There really isn’t an easy way out of the West, because there isn’t really a standout team.

The Preds also have some form to find. They’ve won four of five, and seven of their last nine, but that was after a month or more of being no more than so-so. Pekka Rinne found form again, going bonkers in March after spending the middle portion of the season making the winds in Tennessee whisper, “Saros.” They still don’t have much of a second-line, but the top unit of Arvidsson-Treat Boy-Forsberg have done enough lifting. Maybe Granlund finds it in the playoffs. First time for everything and all that. Kyle Turris doesn’t appear to be much more than a passenger with a bewildered look on his face.

The Preds would also do well to figure out the power play, which has looked all season like the Hawks’ did for the first third of the season. You’d think with that firepower on the blue line you could accident a power play, but this seems to be Predators tradition.

You sort of wonder what the Preds will do if they run up against a really defensively stout team like St. Louis or Dallas. Maybe their three or four trap-busters are enough to grind out four 2-1 wins. Or maybe their lack of depth scoring really comes to the fore if a team is able to snuff out the top line. The Preds will get their answers soon enough.

One more game, and then assuredly what will be a pretty hilarious press conference Monday when McDonough and Bowman try and walk back everything they said before and during the season in order to not have to fire Bowman. It’ll probably be way more entertaining than this one.

 

Game #82 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

The Hawks had no business keeping this game as close as they did. The Predators should be wondering what witch doctor they crossed who kept them from closing this out way earlier and robbing them of both points. Let’s get to it:

Box Score

Corsica

Natural Stat Trick

– For about the first three minutes the Hawks were outshooting the Predators and looked in control. Nashville quickly righted that situation and within what felt like a nanosecond, Colton Sissons (who sounds like some asshole high school quarterback from Texas) scored to take a 1-0 lead. The Hawks did score a power play goal in the first but then gave the lead back in what actually was a nanosecond (OK, it was like eight seconds later). A four-minute penalty was thrown in there, and with the exception of a solid power play the Hawks got domed in the first—behind in shots (17-13), goals (2-1), and possession (56-44 CF%).

– The Hawks managed to pull their shit together in the second and killed off the remainder of the four-minute penalty. They kept taking dumb penalties through the period, but Jonathan Toews scored a short-handed goal on Kampf’s tripping of Viktor Arvidsson right at the end. The PK looked very shaky at times but not at that moment. In fact, the pass from Kruger was perfectly placed as Toews was streaking into the slot, and his precision getting it past Rinne while moving at top speed was a thing of beauty.

– We’ve been saying for basically the entire season that Alex DeBrincat is not a fucking third liner, and apparently Coach Cool Youth Pastor came around to that notion today, because Top Cat was finally back on the top line. And what did he do? Scored a goal and had seven shots on the night. The goal was on the power play off a pass from Kane, and the entire play showed once again that Kane and DeBrincat work extremely well together, and every day that they’re not permanently on a line together is a crime against basic common sense. No, playing with Kane wouldn’t put him on the top line but the point is that DeBrincat should be in the top six. Don’t bother with tonight’s experiment with Saad on the stupid third line that is already pretty useless with Kampf and Caligula. Put Saad back with Toews and Kahun, and play DeBrincat-Strome-Kane. That’s a solid top six. I feel like I keep saying some iteration of this into the ether and you know doing the same thing repeatedly while expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity. Thanks a lot, fucking Hawks.

– Anyway, they didn’t have many power play chances but the one they scored on had the movement we’ve been braying about over here, along with Toews in the high slot drawing defenders, which left Top Cat open for Kane’s pass. So maybe all that repetition isn’t totally insane.

– By the third it was pure luck that kept the Hawks in it. Nashville had a 58 CF% in the period and it was a whiffed shot and an untimely post that kept them from taking a two-goal lead. And they managed to let Wide Dick Arty score, so you know there was some combination of bad breaks and foolish mistakes. It only took about a minute into OT for Filip Forsberg to put it away with his second of the night.

Henri Jokiharju had a solid return tonight, with a 63 CF% and a team-leading 23 CF% Rel. It’ll be interesting to see how Colliton maneuvers the defense when Seabrook returns from his bout of acute suck-itis that kept him out tonight.

– On a bit of a side note, the intermission segments on the broadcast tonight really epitomized how this league has no fucking clue who or what it is, or what it wants to be. The first intermission had a (very staged) segment with PK Subban handing out sweaters to a couple teammates, and they were made from recycled plastic supposedly taken out of the ocean. I’m skeptical of some greenwashing here, but nevertheless it featured timely themes, a black player, and was generally forward-thinking/feeling. Then, in the second intermission, we got Mike Milbury and Keith Jones showing grainy, shitty footage of themselves fighting fellow oafs back in the day and guffawing about how hilarious those days were. It couldn’t have been more backwards-looking or contradictory if someone had set out to make these segments as jarring as possible. Clearly there are multiple voices trying to direct these broadcasts, but the old guard has not lost that battle yet.

Back to the Hawks, they were fortunate to get one point since it was really Collin Delia bailing their asses out with a couple big saves in the third that even allowed them to get to OT. It won’t mean much in the end, but we’ll take it, right? Onward and upward.

Everything Else

J.R. Lind is always our Preds guy. Follow him on Twitter @JRLind.

The Predators have only won two of their last nine on the road. What’s the story there?
It’s hard to discount the injuries the team had to deal with in the last bit of 2018: Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, P.K. Subban and Colton Sissons all missed significant time and now Kyle Turris is out for a bit. The Preds were also due for a bit of a come-down, particularly on the road, where they started out so hot. The good news is guys are starting to come back and the team looked as good as they’ve looked all season Monday against Toronto with a 4-0 win and holding the Leafs to 18 shots.
Both Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros had something of a rough go in December. So does that make it a team problem more than the goalies having a down stretch?
 
Based on both guys’ last few starts, it seems like it was a general team issue, particularly on the back end. Subban’s injury led to Laviolette having to do some unusual things with the pairings, occasionally splitting up Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi and sticking, say, Dan Hamhuis – an extremely good third pair guy, but a little long in the tooth – on the first pair or playing Matt Irwin with Mattias Ekholm and so on. Since the calendar turned, the team is 3-0-1 and Saros has given up one goal in his last two starts and Rinne is coming off that shutout. I suspect Chicago will get Rinne as a divisional foe with Columbus coming on the other side of the back-to-back, but both guys have looked a lot better as the injured players have returned.
How much of this is Arvidsson and Forsberg being out?
 
Losing your two top goal-scorers is going to hurt any team, and then add into what those guys bring physically – Forsberg probably doesn’t get enough credit for that part of his game and Arvidsson is a stellar forechecker – and Nashville had to make some adjustments. It also had a ripple effect down the lines, with guys like Ryan Hartman and Phil Di Giuseppe actually seeing time on Ryan Johansen’s wing. But for a team that expects to play into June, getting more minutes for depth guys isn’t necessarily a bad thing and the extra ice time helped jumpstart Kevin Fiala, who had looked moribund early.
What will the Preds be looking for at the deadline?
 
Similar to last year with Hartman, a middle-six or bottom-six wing with a little size or physicality. The rash of injuries this year really put into focus how important depth can be and the series against the Jets last year – and it seems inevitable Winnipeg and Nashville will face-off again – the Preds did get pushed around a little. They don’t need a big, splashy move and I’m not saying Wayne Simmonds, but Wayne Simmonds.

 

Game #46 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

This one’s on us. We didn’t give our Nashville friends enough time for this, so we’ll just rerun what we did with JR Lind a couple weeks ago when the Hawks were in Nashville. We’ll make it up to you. 

Most points in the West, second-best goal difference, the Vezina leader…is there anything to complain about in Predators Land?
 
As Blackhawks fans know, there’s always something to complain about, no matter how sterling the season is. Obviously, the Preds are very, very good and were able to sustain success from last season with a minimum of moves (David Poile’s biggest free agency acquisition was bringing back Dan Hamhuis on the traditional This Guy Used To Play Here Contract).
The acute complaint is that the Preds are on a two-game losing streak, just the second time this season they’ve gone consecutive games without a point; largely this is a result of a bizarre inability to solve the Arizona Coyotes.
The more chronic issue is the power play (currently 30th ahead of only…uh hi!). It’d be easy to blame that on the recent spate of injuries with Viktor Arvidsson, Kyle Turris and Pernell Karl Subban all out, though it was worse when everyone was reasonably healthy.
Kevin Fiala has been in a season-long slump (he finally scored five-on-five Tuesday) in what many expected to be a big year for him after a breakout season last year. And while he was sparkling when he was playing everyday when Pekka Rinne was injured, Juuse Saros has been mediocre in a lot of his spot starts lately.
There’s always something to complain about.
Seriously, how has Pekka Rinne been able to come up with a career renaissance at 35?
 
After his surgery and then missing so much time because of the post-surgical infection, it really looked like he was on the downhill. Then goalie Yoda Mitch Korn left with Barry Trotz and the overwhelming feeling really was that it was time for Poile to go franchise goalie hunting in the ninth round again. And then we all realized there wasn’t a ninth round anymore. Fortunately, Rinne had a career year and finally won the Vezina, signed a very team friendly extension for two more years counting $5 million against the cap (somehow David Poile got the guy to take a pay cut after winning a Vezina).
So I don’t know what kind of magic he’s working. The only complaint (and this is a weird one, I recognize) is that he might be playing too well, because as a Preds fan, you’d like his regular season workload to be a little lighter so he’s tanned, rested and ready for the playoffs. Last season, he played a lot more down the stretch as the Preds pushed for the President’s Trophy and as he secured the Vezina. Ideally, he’d get a lot more rest in March and April.
If there’s one quibble, the Preds have gotten 14 goals from Filip Forsberg but no more than eight from anyone else. Is scoring something of a worry down the line? Or is the socialist method of scoring going to see them through?
Part of that is the injuries. Arvidsson, who hasn’t played since Nov. 10 and is out for a few more weeks, is the guy with eight. Then it’s a jumble of dudes – nine with between four and seven goals, led by Old Friend Ryan Hartman (who I contend should just be signed to a series of one-year deals from now until the end of time).
Arvidsson’s absence has meant a rotation on Ryan Johansen‘s wing opposite Forsberg, which has included such strange experiments as Rocco Grimaldi. The STF line of Smith-Turris-Fiala has been ho-hum outside of Turris, who is hurt. Smith is inconsistent and Fiala can’t score. But, there are worse things that having one guy who scores 40, another who scores 25 in an injury-plagued year and nine or 10 who go for 15 to 20.
How is the power play this bad with all the weaponry on it? (please don’t turn this question around on us)
 
Who knows? Nothing seems to work. Subban is hurt and Ryan Ellis has had trouble scoring (at evens and on the power play), which takes away two of the big outside weapons. With Arvidsson out, the coaches haven’t really found a consistent net-front threat (having tried Nick Bonino, among others, down low). Eventually, it’ll click, we’re told, but it’s getting close to 30 games in now and it’s still 14 some-odd percent so.

 

Game #36 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs. 

RECORDS: Hawks 9-12-5   Predators 17-8-1

PUCK DROP: 7pm

TV: WGN

KISS MY GRITS: On The Forecheck

There’s no such thing as sympathy in the NHL, so even if you’re getting your dick knocked in the dirt night after night, the next team on the docket is going to be real excited to repeat the punishment. So it is for the Hawks, who head from one division favorite to another and the one actually on top, the Nashville Predators. And even in their beat-up state, you fear how quickly it could get out of hand if the Hawks don’t straighten the fuck up. So, cheerful, eh?

Let’s start with the Hawks. Henri Jokiharju will return after an illness, and looks to be paired with Duncan Keith again. The Keith-Forsling Axis Of What The Fuck? never really worked, though it didn’t work for the same reasons that the Keith-HarJu pairing has struggled at times. Both players are inclined to be aggressive and get up the ice, and only one is supposed to play that way. The HarJu is more defensively inclined than Forsling though, and overall this pairing has done ok this season. So it’s good and proper to have it back. But you can look forward to more tweets from us about Keith having to change his game when he gets caught outside the circles again.

That slots Forsling down with Gustafsson in what can only be called “adventure time,” and Brandon Manning and Brent Seabrook are paired in what can only be called “fuck my life.”

Cam Ward looks to be the starter, which is fine because Crawford hasn’t been all that good and could use the extra day. The lines are going to pretty much stay the same, with Dylan Strome at least starting between Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane. Jeremy Colliton went away from it in the 3rd against the Jets but will give it another go. To maximize what they do well and to eliminate as much of what they don’t as possible, they really should only start exclusively in the offensive zone. Toews’s and Kampf’s line can do the defensive starts if need be, and you don’t want any of Kane, Top Cat, or Strome there either.

Right, the Predators. The headline, other than their marvelous and expected record, is that a good portion of their team is on a trainer’s table. Kyle Turris, Viktor Arvidsson, and PK Subban all will miss out tonight, and Arvidsson is a long-term casualty. It’s put a dent in their mojo, as they’ve lost three of the last four, including getting capsized at home by the Coyotes and getting trounced by the Blues. So if there was ever a time to catch the Preds, it would be now. If the Hawks were anything resembling a coherent outfit, that is.

If there’s a bone to pick with Nashville, is that they can look a touch short on scoring. With Arvidsson out, Filip Forsberg is the only player with more than eight goals in the lineup. Ryan Johansen has gone back to “Treat Boy” status, and Ryan Hartman isn’t going to continue to shoot the lights out forever. Subban was chipping in a bit from the back, points-wise at least, but he’s out now too.

Another quirk of the Preds is that their power play is just as bad as the Hawks’ somehow. It won’t get any better with Subban out, but then again there isn’t a power play that the Hawks’ kill can’t cure.

Given how the Hawks play defense, there’s no reason to think that Peter Laviolette won’t turn the Preds up to 11 and pressure them all over the ice. The Hawks simply can’t match their speed, though they played them pretty tough last year, going 2-2-0. Still, if the Hawks can find their way past what will be a furious forecheck (they can’t), they can get some rushes and chances in the open ice behind it.

Of course, waiting there is Pekka Rinne, coming off collecting his first Vezina and dead-set on getting a second. He’s your clubhouse leader, as he leads the league in GAA, SV%, even-strength SV%, and difference between his expected save-percentage and his actual. He’s simply been brilliant, so you can have a great game and still lose because you can’t pierce him. Which is great for a team like the Hawks that struggle to score.

It’s the Flames tomorrow night, who are playing some of the best hockey around. Which means if the Hawks can’t find another gear and some stability in their own end, they’d be a Top Cat miracle goal from losing seven in a row and 15 of 17. Not that 14 of 17 is that much better.

The season is on the very edge of the precipice. Maybe they should act like it on the ice…or perhaps they’ve already accepted their fate.

Game #27 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Well, not that JR. Not sure where we found JR Lind. He isn’t either. But he’s been our Preds guy for a long time now, which disappoints him to no end. Follow him @JRLind. 

Most points in the West, second-best goal difference, the Vezina leader…is there anything to complain about in Predators Land?
 
As Blackhawks fans know, there’s always something to complain about, no matter how sterling the season is. Obviously, the Preds are very, very good and were able to sustain success from last season with a minimum of moves (David Poile’s biggest free agency acquisition was bringing back Dan Hamhuis on the traditional This Guy Used To Play Here Contract).
The acute complaint is that the Preds are on a two-game losing streak, just the second time this season they’ve gone consecutive games without a point; largely this is a result of a bizarre inability to solve the Arizona Coyotes.
The more chronic issue is the power play (currently 30th ahead of only…uh hi!). It’d be easy to blame that on the recent spate of injuries with Viktor Arvidsson, Kyle Turris and Pernell Karl Subban all out, though it was worse when everyone was reasonably healthy.
Kevin Fiala has been in a season-long slump (he finally scored five-on-five Tuesday) in what many expected to be a big year for him after a breakout season last year. And while he was sparkling when he was playing everyday when Pekka Rinne was injured, Juuse Saros has been mediocre in a lot of his spot starts lately.
There’s always something to complain about.
Seriously, how has Pekka Rinne been able to come up with a career renaissance at 35?
 
After his surgery and then missing so much time because of the post-surgical infection, it really looked like he was on the downhill. Then goalie Yoda Mitch Korn left with Barry Trotz and the overwhelming feeling really was that it was time for Poile to go franchise goalie hunting in the ninth round again. And then we all realized there wasn’t a ninth round anymore. Fortunately, Rinne had a career year and finally won the Vezina, signed a very team friendly extension for two more years counting $5 million against the cap (somehow David Poile got the guy to take a pay cut after winning a Vezina).
So I don’t know what kind of magic he’s working. The only complaint (and this is a weird one, I recognize) is that he might be playing too well, because as a Preds fan, you’d like his regular season workload to be a little lighter so he’s tanned, rested and ready for the playoffs. Last season, he played a lot more down the stretch as the Preds pushed for the President’s Trophy and as he secured the Vezina. Ideally, he’d get a lot more rest in March and April.
If there’s one quibble, the Preds have gotten 14 goals from Filip Forsberg but no more than eight from anyone else. Is scoring something of a worry down the line? Or is the socialist method of scoring going to see them through?
Part of that is the injuries. Arvidsson, who hasn’t played since Nov. 10 and is out for a few more weeks, is the guy with eight. Then it’s a jumble of dudes – nine with between four and seven goals, led by Old Friend Ryan Hartman (who I contend should just be signed to a series of one-year deals from now until the end of time).
Arvidsson’s absence has meant a rotation on Ryan Johansen‘s wing opposite Forsberg, which has included such strange experiments as Rocco Grimaldi. The STF line of Smith-Turris-Fiala has been ho-hum outside of Turris, who is hurt. Smith is inconsistent and Fiala can’t score. But, there are worse things that having one guy who scores 40, another who scores 25 in an injury-plagued year and nine or 10 who go for 15 to 20.
How is the power play this bad with all the weaponry on it? (please don’t turn this question around on us)
 
Who knows? Nothing seems to work. Subban is hurt and Ryan Ellis has had trouble scoring (at evens and on the power play), which takes away two of the big outside weapons. With Arvidsson out, the coaches haven’t really found a consistent net-front threat (having tried Nick Bonino, among others, down low). Eventually, it’ll click, we’re told, but it’s getting close to 30 games in now and it’s still 14 some-odd percent so.

Game #27 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

It was all lined up for the Preds last year. Coming off their first Final appearance, and after a big trade that supposedly landed them the #2 center they’ve always needed (even though they don’t really have a #1), and a career-season out of Pekka Rinne at 35, this was their moment.

And they fluffed their lines.

They ran into a team that did what they did but better. They ran into a team with four genuine centers and two that could claim to be #1s. Rinne looked his age. Sure, it took to a Game 7, but the Preds only got to that by having to revert from their style and basically trap the Jets. It could only work for so long, because Pekka Rinne for his whole career save one playoff run has been just good enough to get you beat. And so it proved.

Oh, and the summer had yet another Predator proving to be nothing more than a shitbag, which of course they’ll welcome back with open arms because that’s what they do in Music City. AW HERE IN THE SOUTH WE THINK HITTIN’ YOUR WOMAN IS A SIGN OF LOVE. YOU YANKS JUST WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND WITH YOUR FANCY COMPASSION.

Anyway, the Preds are just going to roll it back, with essentially the same team and Rinne another year older. Funny thing though, the Jets haven’t gone anywhere, the Blues suddenly look a little spiky, and the Sharks await whoever survives this cage match. The Preds very well may have missed their boat.

2017-2018: 53-18-11 117 points  267 GF 211 GA  51.5 CF% 50.9 xGF% 8.1 SH% .935 SV%

Goalies: This could be the start of something big. And by “big” I mean a controversy. The Preds have seemingly wanted to hand the job to Juuse Saros for a while now. But they watched Rinne have a renaissance starting in the ’17 playoffs and all through last season. They can’t exactly just dislodge him due to policy.

And yet he’s turning 36 in a month. He has the Game 7 full-body dry heave during the Preds’ best chance for a Cup hanging over him. It won’t take much for their to be a whiff of a switch. They nearly did it two seasons ago before Rinne discovered Ponce De Leon’s secret.

Which in one sense is great for the Preds. Saros has been excellent whenever called upon, even though he’s small and small goalies really struggle in today’s league. If Rinne stumbles, their season won’t be torpedoed.

On the other hand, you’re talking about an organizational legend, the longest-tenured Pred by some distance, and a fan favorite. A team leader, and there’s no telling what kind of effect turning things over to Saros could have. This seems to be a team that has cohesion, but you’ve seen it rip teams apart before. It’s one fissure everyone has to keep an eye on.

Most likely, Rinne is just good enough during the season to keep these questions at bay. But in the spring if something should go haywire, it’ll take quite the tap-dance for Peter Laviolette to negotiate.

Defense: Well, they had the best defense in the league, so no reason to not return with it. Or they did until the Sharks traded for Erik Karlsson. But this is still the strength of the team. They added Dan Hamhuis again to fill out the third pairing, and even though he’s a million years old now he can probably take 12-15 minutes a night and do it well. It’s still the top four that’s the envy of most of the league.

It’s actually only middling defensively, as they give up an average amount of attempts and chances. But with Ellis, Josi, Subban, and Ekholm, they create far more than they surrender. You can’t find a team that has more players that get the team up the ice from the back themselves. Ellis is here for the full run this time, which will help them stay at the top of the division. Sure, they need some bailing out from their goalie at times, but they also keep the Preds on the right side of the ice enough.

Forwards: We’re the only ones who think this, and no matter how much we shout it from the rooftops no one seems to listen. When Ryan Johansen is not playing for a contract, he’s playing for a lava cake. As I said in the Preds’ eulogy, he had the same amount of points as Jonathan Toews last year and everyone tells me Toews is clinically dead. Mark Scheifele kicked his ass up and down the ice in that series last year, mostly because RyJo was still digesting the family size bag of M&Ms he ate at intermission. There’s no reason to think that won’t continue.

The Preds backed that up by acquiring Kyle Turris, whom reports suggest did play in last year’s playoffs. I’m not sure where there’s evidence of that. Maybe I need decoder glasses for it or something.

Turris and Johansen will do enough in the regular season to make you think the Preds are strong down the middle. And then they’ll run up against the Jets or Sharks or Blues, who actually have real center-depth, and the Preds will have a real damn problem.

Other than that, it’s still the same crop of quick forwards who never stop working and basically run most teams out of the building most nights. They’re probably looking for more from Kevin Fiala this term, who had something of a breakout with 23 goals last year. If they get it they’re more than fine. If they don’t, they’re just a touch short on scoring.

Outlook: Here’s another thing to watch with the Preds this year. Lavvy is almost certainly past his sell-by date. He wore out his act in Carolina and Philly well before this, and his intense ways can grind on players. If things go just a little sideways early in the season, they could pull the rip-chord on him. The goalie situation won’t help.

But other than those two maybes, there’s a lot more certainties with Nashville. One of the best blue lines in the league. Two good goalies. Maybe not the forward corps most people think, but certainly one good enough to cash in on the puck-movers they have at the back. They’ll be at the top of the division and conference again.

But there’s also no reason to think that an encounter with Winnipeg will go that much differently. If they survive that, there’s still San Jose, who won’t be nearly as tested in the Pacific, likely. It looks like it’ll be too much for Treat Boy and the gang to overcome.