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.



Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBCSN, NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
David Poile Is A Scumbag: On The Forecheck

If the Hawks record and stagnant roster weren’t a self evident indication of how rudderless and sclerotic this Organ-I-Zation has been since its most recent playoff ouster at the hands of tonight’s vistors, the Nashville Predators, then the fact that the Preds fired Peter Laviolette earlier this week while remaining ahead of the Hawks in the standings should drive the point home. But it remains unchanged that the Hawks are still outwardly holding the product on-ice to a playoff standard, and tonight poses yet another opportunity to gain points on a team they are currently (on paper) battling for a playoff spot, an opportunity which will surely end up being pissed away in creative fashion as so many others have the past two seasons.



RECORDS: Hawks 7-7-4   9-6-3


TV: NBCSN Chicago


You probably didn’t expect, after that complete shellacking two weeks ago in the same venue, when these two met up again the Hawks would be only three points behind the Predators. And with a win tonight in regulation, the Preds would be feeling hot giardiniera breath on their necks. Such is reality, which is what happens when various parts of your team rotate going haywire for a couple weeks.

The Preds have lost five of six coming into this (a couple in extra time), while the Hawks have sucked up 10 of 13 points in the meantime. Which is how you get this standing. That doesn’t mean these teams are just three points apart in quality overall, and you saw that the last game these two played. The Hawks haven’t been rolled like that since the Suhonen or Yawney days, and perhaps was the start of the process that got the Hawks to change their ways…however minor or major that actually was.

So what’s up with the Preds? Why has it fallen out of gear for them? Well one, the goaltending has been terrible. Pekka Rinne has only had one good start since that October disaster (for the Hawks), and it came against the Red Wings which barely counts. In his other three starts his SV% is .797. Saros has been better in the meantime, though he couldn’t stop that nine-goals-of-fun the Avalanche hung up on them.

The offense hasn’t been all that consistent either. They managed one goal against the Sharks, and one goal against the Rangers in this streak. When they have gotten goals, Rinne has employed the Roger Dorn defense in net.

Is that what the Preds are overall? Probably not, though they’re not an unholy force either. Their Corsi-percentage is just at tick over even. Their expected-goals is just a tick above that. Which is a tad strange for the Predators. And digging a little deeper, it gets a touch confusing.

In terms of attempts, the Preds give up a lot of them. Bottom-10 in the league. They also generate a fair amount for themselves. But when it comes to chances, it’s the opposite. They keep teams to the outside for the most part, but they also don’t get to the prime areas enough themselves. There’s a lot of noise in the Predators’ game right now, in that there’s a lot of stuff happening but not a huge portion of it really means anything. Still, when Rinne is off to the Kerry Wood Memorial Zoo then those half-chances and winged-hopes from the outside are still ending up in twine.

It’s generally not a good sign when your two leading scorers are d-men. One you can get away with. The Preds have a clear line from their top six to their bottom six and their top pairing to their bottom pairings. When Josi and Ellis are on the ice, good things happen and the Preds are on the right side of the ice. Same goes for either Matt Duchene‘s or Treat Boy’s line. But when Nick Bonino or Kyle Turris is the center, again, the Predators back up.

That’s probably why the Preds have made no secret they’d like to move Turris’s ass along, in another brilliant David Poile move. He’s currently centering their fourth line for the rate of $6M a year. They could also probably use another puck-mover on the second or third pairing. Didn’t they have one once? I seem to remember they did. He was pretty good, right? Correct me if I’m wrong.

Another factor the Preds might want to keep an eye on is that they’re currently shooting over 10% at even-strength, which leads the league by nearly a full percentage point. That is likely to come down, and then where will they be?

Turning to the Hawks, who will get Connor Murphy back tonight. While no team should need Connor Murphy this much, the Hawks do and he’s simply been their best d-man last season and the brief time he was around this one. At the moment he seems slotted on the third pairing, as Colliton doesn’t want to mess up what he’s got going with Keith-Gus and de Haan-Seabrook. This won’t take more than a period to change, given the mobility the Hawks need to counter the Preds.

Robin Lehner will be in goal, and he’ll probably need to perform a few miracles like he did last time in Nashville just to keep the Hawks from getting embarrassed. Hopefully this time if he does that it’ll result in points.

This will be something of a test of the Hawks new, aggressive, Loyola-Marymount ’89 ways. Then again, so was Vegas. The Hawks simply couldn’t deal with the Preds speed at forward last time, and they were turning the puck over before they knew they had it. This meant the Preds defense could pinch and move up in the zone to their hearts’ content, as there was no threat the other way.

If the Hawks are still serious about getting behind the opponent’s defense, while risking their defense and center being outmanned down low in their zone, they might get the Preds’ defense to back up. At least it could provide a quick outlet for a defense that’s going to be under serious pressure from the off, even if it’s just laying it out into the neutral zone and causing races back. But going back is where you want the bottom four D of the Preds. It hasn’t worked out well for them lately. The risk of course is that furious Preds forecheck will have even more fun with even less manpower and options for any puck carrier below his net or deep in his zone for the Hawks.

You’d think there’d be a measure of pride for the Hawks here as well. They were made to look like a high school team their last visit. That will still be fresh in the memory banks. Pekka Rinne was basically laughing at them in the postgame. The Hawks still like to think they carry the most pedigree in any matchup. It’s fading, but they still cling to it. Perhaps now would be the time to show it.



RECORDS: Hawks 3-5-2   Predators 7-3-1


TV: NBCSN Chicago


The cushy start to the season is over, and the Hawks will remember what it’s like to have a road trip. They’ll also remember before too long what it’s like to play some real opponents night after night. And those memories might not be too sweet. But that’s for later in the month. For the first time this year the Hawks will embark away from the UC for a while, with a four-gamer that starts in Nashville before the California songs starting this weekend. Could have asked for an easier start.

The Nashville Predators are in fine fettle, as has been the custom, as they’ve taken 15 of the 22 points on offer so far this year. They also come off having just gotten both points (the second in OT) off the Lightning in Tampa and having won three in a row. They did the first part without Matt Duchene, their shiny new toy, and he’ll return tonight.

Look under the hood a bit, and it’s not quite as rosy. The Preds are one team when Duchene is out there along with Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi (the newly rich Roman Josi), and another when just about anyone else is out there. Those three and those who join them carry the play at 55% of chances and attempts. Every other time the Preds are below water. They have the highest shooting-percentage in the league at nearly 12% at evens, which isn’t going to continue. They also have a top-ten SV%, which probably will given the recent track record of Pekka Rinne . Although Rinne most likely isn’t going to ring up a .931 all season. When he comes to Earth a bit, the Preds current PDO of 104 is definitely going to deflate.

Maybe Treat Boy Johansen is in a sulk because Duchene has replaced him as the #1 center, or he’s in a sulk because the Halloween candy hasn’t been discounted yet and his usual wheelbarrow of it is feeling the effects, but he’s been getting caved in and he starts most of his shifts in the offensive zone. Kyle Turris has showed a pulse after going cold and grey last year which has mitigated Treat Boy’s struggles a touch.

Still, this team might need to figure out what they’ll do beyond the top pairing, as new kid Dante Fabbro hasn’t been able to do the things PK Subban did yet, except for not being popular and black which were two things the Predators were definitely after by moving PK along to make room for him.

The Preds also might have some issues when they need the power play to chip in, as it’s been worse than the Hawks’ if that’s even possible. Maybe they could use a right-handed bomb from the point and circle? No? Ok. So yeah, there’s some air in this cake, let’s say.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be a world of trouble for the Hawks, as they have more speed basically everywhere and will use it aggressively. The Hawks were able to hang around the Knights earlier, but they had caught them on a back-to-back and were at home and maybe had their best effort this season or even last against them. They also had Connor Murphy. Even with Seabrook scratched again (and not a happy camper) Preds will be fighting each other to get over the boards when any of Maatta, Gilbert, Koekkoek, and Gustafsson are out there. Hey, that’s most of the Hawks’ defense!

As for the rest of the story for the Westside Hockey Club, Robin Lehner will get another start as he is more worthy of the harder tests right now. Crow will get at least one start in California, and starting with that swing the Hawks will basically be playing every other day for all of November so there will be more than enough starts for everyone.

For all the buzz coming off a 5-1 win over the woebegone cattle ranchers that ended up as LA Kings, the Hawks gave up too much possession and shots in that one. That kind of effort here would see them give up nearly a touchdown or 50 shots or both. This can be a game too fast for the Hawks if the Preds want it, so the Hawks defense is just going to have to get rid of it ASAP, get it off the glass and out to the neutral zone and hope the forwards can win those races. If the Hawks can get the pucks to their forwards with any frequency, they can have at the bottom two pairs of this Preds outfit. Then they just have to beat Rinne, which takes more than a smile these days.

There are going to be some ugly shifts either way tonight, and hopefully Lehner is up to the task. But if the Hawks are going to be what they say they are, they have to get points off teams ahead of them. So far this year their wins are against terrible Oilers and Kings teams. That’s not going to get you anywhere in the long run except back in the lottery with those Kings and Oilers teams. Fuckin’ figure it out.


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?


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



New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers










Tampa Bay





Los Angeles

San Jose 







Everything Else

So what banner are you going to raise now, assholes?

The Nashville Predators, everyone’s darling and if you don’t believe just ask them, have once again bitten the dust before doing anything anyone will remember. And this is truly their nature. Aside from that run in ’17, this is what the Predators do. They’re that veritable “dangerous team no one wants to play” until they run into a team that doesn’t seem to mind terribly in the first two rounds and off they go before any kind of silverware is in the building. And hey, maybe that’s enough for fans who maybe don’t notice while they’re telling everyone who won’t listen that they’re the wildest fans in the league. I always wonder how they cram the 11,000 back into that car they smash outside so they can go back to the shed. Must be quite the sight.

As no hockey writer wants to endanger their free moonshine and grilled pigeon, you won’t hear a bad word about another flameout far too early for a team with this cap situation. But let’s go back through entrenched throbbing brain David Poile’s moves to make this team a Cup-winner, shall we?

Kyle Turris is signed for another five years, and for their investment the Preds have gotten 20 goals and 65 points in 120 regular season games and a solitary playoff goal in two years, and a bewildered gape while he was second best to Radek Goddamn Faksa this spring. Look, when the Ottawa Senators are offering up their consistently fourth-highest scorer, you have to jump on it, ok?

Poile’s other center, Treat Boy Ryan Dough-hansen has managed 44 goals in three years and 179 points. This year, Nashville’s “first ever true #1 center” ranked 35th among centers in scoring. Hey, that averages out to mean only four teams have two better centers! Over the past three seasons, he ranks 31st among centers, behind luminaries like Ryan Getzlaf (hasn’t cared in five years), Brayden Schenn (now a wing), Sean Couturier (checking center), Jonathan Toews (was told he is ready to be a white walker), and Eric Staal (a million years old and playing in a wasteland). That David Poile sure can spot a pivot!

Oh but it doesn’t stop there. Various pundits couldn’t help but have to change their shorts when Poile added tried and tested PLAYOFF GRIT with Wayne Simmonds (never seen a conference final) and Brian Boyle (an ent with no wisdom). Simmonds was on the fourth line within five games and Boyle had a stupid look on his face when something wasn’t falling off of him. Sure can win a draw in the 2nd period, though.

That Mikael Granlund sure looked like he’d fit in. He scored one goal.

All of this would be more than enough rope to hang Poile with, and then you throw in his penchant for stocking the Preds with a true shithead or three every season and you wonder how this guy hasn’t been chucked into the river. Don’t worry, Poile will get more spins at the wheel because due to Southern hospitality/incompetence he can’t actually ever be fired. Maybe one day Preds fans will figure out they’ve only had one and a half true top line forwards for like four years. Maybe after the next standing ovation they’re told to give during a TV timeout.

It’s ok, Preds fans will tell you, Matt Duchene and his glorious record of success are already on their way to Music City in the summer. Funny how that will work when the Preds have all of eight dollars under the cap to spend. That’ll happen when you pay Ryan Ellis for looking great against bums and then are shocked when he can’t handle a top-pairing role. Whoopsie daisy!

The Preds are that team and fanbse that has carried itself with a completely unearned arrogance and are going to look awfully stupid when they continue to be first and second-round kindling. One Final appearance and suddenly these guys think they’ve redefined the sport. The Devils have the same amount of appearances. So do the Sharks. And the Hurricanes. And the Ducks, and the latter two actually bothered to win it. The Flyers have the same. The Canucks. The Rangers. And yet Nashville will have you believe they’re a traditional power. Maybe the next Cody McLeod acquisition will push them over. God knows they’ll try.

You can be sure in the next day or two there will be “whispers” that PK Subban is the problem, that his dating of Lindsey Vonn and his suits mean he’s not committed to the cause, that he’s a dressing room issue, because hockey and the South form a perfect nexus of the tried and trusted tradition of “When in doubt, blame the black guy.” It certainly couldn’t be that Subban was the only one who figured out how to bust the Dallas trap while good clean boy Roman Josi was trying to remove Jamie Benn’s skate from his colon. Perish the thought.

Once again, while the Preds try to claim their strength in numbers is higher than that of any star power, they’ve lost because they don’t have the star power. This year it was Seguin and Benn. Last year it was the entire Winnipeg top nine. The year before that it was Crosby and Malkin. We could keep going. Pavelski and Thornton and Couture put them to the sword in ’16. Keith and Kane the year before. Maybe you’d think they’d learn? But that would go against what they do in the Confederacy, wouldn’t it?

Oh, and the little matter of teams figuring out that once Ol’ Shit Hip has to move side-to-side, he starts to sound like a car stripped of its converter.

This is what you are, Predators. Your hockey’s Trail Blazers, a funny little quirk of the league’s geography but never meant to be around when things matter. Except you’re not nearly as cool. But look at this way, Rocco Grimaldi has even more time to figure out which Planned Parenthood he’ll spend his summer outside yelling or for Poile to find another sex criminal to sign to his second line. Some traditions never die.

Everything Else



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


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


TV: NBCSN Chicago


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




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else


RECORDS: Predators 26-15-3   Hawks 16-22-7




Not exactly the easiest week for the Hawks. Sunday saw them face the hottest team in the league, a test which they passed. Then they got the Pacific leaders, who let them hang around for two periods before it was swirly time in the third. Tonight it’s one half of the Central’s twin towers, and then Saturday night it’s the defending Western champs who are tied with the team that just held the Hawks at arm’s length on Monday. Boy, the Devils and Rangers can’t get here fast enough!

It’s been a wonky year for the Preds, so the fact that they’re still sitting one point off the Jets, though having played two games more, is a real work by Peter Laviolette. Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, PK Subban, Kyle Turris (still) have all missed serious time, and yet here they are. Unfortunately for the Hawks, all but Turris are back in the lineup and this is just about as close to the full Predators experience as they’ve been since the beginning of the season.

To wit, a team that had won two of 10 road games before Monday went out and promptly destroyed the Leafs in Toronto, winning 4-0 and holding perhaps the biggest arsenal in the league to 18 shots. So yeah, that’s not exactly encouraging for tonight.

The Preds had something of a dip in December, as both Juuse Saros and Ol’Shit Hip fell off their hot pace. Which makes you think it was a structural thing, and it might have been as without Subban you’re only going to get away with playing Dan Hamhuis and his walking stick as a second pairing player for so long. Still, even with that, the Preds are third in the league in shots against overall per game and sixth in scoring-chances against at even-strength. They’re top-10 in both team Corsi-percentage and scoring-chance-percentage. The one area they’re deficient is they’re 18th in high-danger-scoring-chance-percentage, mostly because they don’t create a ton. That is probably a product of not having Arvidsson and Forsberg for a while, because this is a team that has always depended on its top line to do most of the damage. That has been corrected now.

It’s still perhaps the most devastating blue line in the league, with all of Ellis, Josi, and PK among the premier puck-movers in the league (sidenote: Has anyone in recent history racked up a more impressive social resume than Lindsey Vonn? If she were a dude she’d be Tony Stark. Get it, girl). This is clearly their strength.

Also, in four games in January they’ve given up four goals in regulation, with three of those somehow coming to the Red Wings. So yeah, the goalies are probably fine now. Go get ’em, Hawks!

For the Hawks, the question will be tonight where does the returning, conquering hero Henri Jokiharju slot in. The Hawks may have caught a break in that Brent Seabrook is sick, which would give them shelter to keep The HarJu on his normal side, on a shielded third-pairing, and keep the other two pairings together, as they’ve been working. No word on whether Colliton/Bowman spiked Seabrook’s nachos-for-four last night at Four Moons.

That will be for one night, but the Hawks are going to have to answer that question soon enough. The simplest and best solution would be to pair Keith and Seabrook again, but make that your third pairing. Then you can slot the four of Dahlstrom, Murphy, Gustafsson, and HarJu any way you want. You can leave Dahlstrom and Murphy to do the hard work-which they haven’t been as good at of late but it’s the best you’ve got–and let Gustafsson and Jokiharju bumslay a bit. Or you just divide it up evenly with Dalshtrom letting Jokiharju freelance more and Murphy doing the same for Gustafsson and Keith and Seabrook take the rest. This is the easiest and cleanest solution, and hence it’ll be the one the Hawks don’t take.

No word on what goalie is going tonight as it was a pretty informal get-together this morning. You would think it would have to be Delia, but we keep saying that. The other change is John Hayden is in for Chris Kunitz. Contain your excitement, we just mopped.

Not much to say here. The Hawks have played the Preds tough since giving up the first four goals to them in their first meeting in Nashville, and beat them there later. But this is the full Preds death squad minus Turris. And with something to play for. Might want to hide under your seat for this one.


Game #46 Preview Suite




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

In a vacuum, what would you say about a team giving a 29-year-old defenseman an eight-year extension at $6.25M per year? Crazy right? No d-man is any good past 33 or 34 unless they’re a chiseled god like Zdeno Chara, right? Fit to be tied, you’d say! Pure ridiculousness! Well, you’re not the Nashville Predators, who did just that with Ryan Ellis before this season, and he’ll be that well-paid until he’s 37. Not bad work if you can get it.

On the surface, you can see it. For most of his career, Ellis has been a nifty, second-pairing guy who really pushed the play, anchored a second power play unit, and got you around 35 points. He’s also right-handed, which NHL GMs consider something around tritium levels of valuable on their blue line. Not bad. The past couple years he’s even moved up to the top pairing with Roman Josi, perhaps being the only top pairing in the league with two players that are swift and get up the ice, and not the yin-and-yang of pusher and center-fielder you’ve seen in places like here. Certainly worked out for the Predators, who have gotten a Final appearance and a division crown out of it.

Still, look a little deeper, and it’s not as rosy. This season. Ellis has exclusively been with Josi, and they’ve been ok together. But in the limited sample that Ellis has been away from Josi, he’s been awful. 40.5 CF%, 37.5 GF%, 41.8 SCF%. And that’s not uncommon. Last year, the number with and without Josi are much more even, but that was only in half of a season as Ellis missed the first half with injury. So they have about as much sample of Ellis being useful without Josi as they do of him being utterly helpless. Two years ago, the first time Ellis was pretty exclusively with Josi, it was much the same as this year as his Corsi and scoring-chance percentages dip 5-10% without Josi.

Still, much like we discussed with Jake Guentzel on Sunday, if you sign Player A knowing he’s going to play with Player B, who’s probably responsible for making Player A what you’re paying him to be, it’s not a huge issue. There’s no reason to anticipate that Ellis won’t be playing with Josi the next few years, and both are a few years away from when you really start to worry about the aging process.

Even next year doesn’t provide much of a cap problem for the Preds. Ryan Hartman and Kevin Fiala will be RFA, but neither is going to break the bank you wouldn’t think. The Preds will have about $15 million in space, which will easily accommodate those two.

It’s the following year where things might get a touch messy. As that’s when Josi is unrestricted. And he’s going to require just a touch more than the $4 million per year he’s been making. Certainly north of Ellis’s number is a gimme, and his agent might be looking at PK Subban’s $9M and say, “Well, my guy is playing on the top pair here and shielding that guy, so gimme gimme gimme.” Are the Preds really going to pay half their blue line somewhere between $22-25 million a year? ? Or more? At the moment they’ll have room for that, but they’ll also one day have to have more than just a top line.

It appears the Predators didn’t ask themselves very hard whether or not Josi can carry a host of other d-men to impressive metrics and use, because it would appear for all the world he can. Could they have just slotted Subban there next year and found someone else to bum-slay with Matthias Ekholm? Would that have freed up enough cash to make a real splash like Matt Duchene or Mark Stone, something they might need to get past the Jets or Sharks if they fail to this season?

They aren’t asking yet, but they might be.


Game #46 Preview Suite




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built