Hockey

vs

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

vs

Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Send David Poile To Gitmo: On The Forecheck

In a less-dystopian universe, one where each team played to what their roster says they should be, tonight’s matchup on West Madison would be one filled with Western Conference playoff intrigue. The Predators jockeying for home ice in the first round and the Hawks clinging to hold on to one of the last wild card spots. But instead, it’s the Preds still trying to figure themselves out as they keep running out of road in the regular season, and the Hawks actively imploding.

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

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

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

You’ll have to excuse JR a bit. Apparently down in Nash-Vegas, he hosts an enormous Royal Rumble party every year. When we sent this to him, he wasn’t sure who he was and definitely didn’t know how his arms worked. We thank him for playing hurt. 

 

Game #50 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Everyone’s darling. It’s always so much fun when the Canadian media “discovers” that hockey can be enjoyed somewhere else other than some main artery in Toronto or that one strip of bars in Calgary where everyone wears a jersey because they don’t actually own anything else. Of course, this also happened in 2012 when the Canucks played the Predators in the 2nd round and they were shocked to discover the Nashville fans had better and more fun traditions than, “two college kids ripping off a game from It’s Always Sunny,” and “waving a towel.”

Whatever, the Nashville Predators made the most noise they ever have in the playoffs last year, and outplayed the Penguins for a good stretch of the Final. But in the same vein as, “didn’t, lawyer fucked me,” they went the, “if only Pekka Rinne was actually as good as we keep telling people he is” route for defeat excuse. Here’s the thing though: Pekka Rinne is still here. And he’s a year older.

Nashville Predators

’16-’17 Record: 41-29-12  94 points (4th in Central, lost Final to PIT)

Team Stats 5v5: 51.3 CF% (5th)  51.3 SF% (7th)  50.7 SCF% (14th)  7.8 SH% (13th)  .926 SV% (9th)

Special Teams: 18.9 PP% (16th)  80.9 PK% (15th)

Everything Else

As is tradition here, we will break up our preview over two days. I’ll take the back end today, because most tend to think I’m a horse’s ass, and then Matt will be around tomorrow to take you through the forward group. So let’s dive right in before they drain the pool, shall we?

Goalies

Pekka Rinne: 31-19-9, 2.42 GAA, .918 SV%, .929 EV SV%, .862 SH SV%

Ah yes, this old thing. You remember this. The Hawks have only faced one other goalie three times in the playoffs, and that would be Roberto Luongo. He was able to turn the tables on the Hawks at the third time of asking, but the 2011 team is not this team and the Predators are not the ’11 Canucks. When we first did this dance in 2010 it was a little scary facing Rinne, but then the Hawks punted him to a .911 over six games and won. In 2015 Rinne’s limitations were already well known to everyone, and while Crawford and then Darling took their turns swallowing mouthwash, Rinne couldn’t take advantage and put up a .909 over six games and was once again sent home. There’s no reason to think this will go any differently.

Everything Else

 at 

Game Time: 7:00PM CST
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
Get The Red Out: On The Forecheck

In what is looking more and more to be the case as games tick off the schedule, this will be the last meeting between the Hawks and Predators until Game 1 of the Western Conference Playoffs. And with both teams apparently locked into their respective positions within the division, tonight in Nashville and here on out remain about getting healthy and tightening up play more than about results.

Everything Else

predator vs oldschool

Game Time: 8:30PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, NBCSN (US), SportsNet (Anglo), TVA3 (Franco), WGN-AM 720
Arrested Development: On The Forecheck

For already the second time in the series, the Hawks have an opportunity to go up two games on the Nashville Predators, this time to push them to the brink. The last time didn’t go so well, but the Hawks are now doing so on home ice where they can dictate the matchups. The key, as always, becomes execution.