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VOL. 43 | NO. 5 | Friday, February 1, 2019

Lucky 13? Preds have work to do before playoffs

By Chip Cirillo

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Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has been strong this season and is among the NHL leaders with a 2.47 goals against. That must continue.

-- Photograph By John Russell, Courtesy Of The Nashville Predators

The Predators look like a Stanley Cup contender again coming out of the NHL All-Star Game break.

So here are 13 things to watch for in the second half of the season with contributions from a panel of Predators experts.

Urgent need for better starts

John Glennon, The Athletic/author of “100 Things Predators Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die’’

“The Predators must consistently start games with more energy and more of a sense of urgency. They’ve scored just 39 goals in 52 first periods this season, which ranks 26th out of the league’s 31 teams.

It’s quite a contrast from the offense the Preds have produced in the second period (61 goals) and third periods (56 goals). When the Preds score the game’s first goal, they have a record of 23-2-1 this season, but Nashville is just 7-16-3 when allowing the contest’s first goal.’’

Secondary scoring lacking

Jim Diamond, Associated Press/co-author of “My Toughest Faceoff’’

“In order to succeed in the second half of the season and to make a deep run into the playoffs, the Predators will need to find some consistent secondary scoring. When healthy and in the lineup, the top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson has been consistently on the scoresheet.

But the remainder of the forwards have struggled to score with any regularity. Nashville will need to see production from the likes of Craig Smith, Kevin Fiala, and Kyle Turris when he returns from the injured reserve list.

One encouraging sign was Nick Bonino’s six goals in the seven games prior to the All-Star break.

If he can keep up that production or others can chip in, as well, the Predators will be a much tougher matchup for opponents to defend.’’

Diamond’s predictions: “The Predators will finish the regular season in second in the Central Division behind Winnipeg. They will win their first-round playoff matchup and fall to the Jets in the second round for the second consecutive season.’’

Struggling power play

Teresa Walker, Associated Press/author of “P.K. Subban: Making His Mark on the Hockey World’’

Walker

“The Predators went into the All-Star Game weekend 30th out of 31 teams converting just 13.1 percent of their chances with the man advantage. That simply won’t do, and they have too much talent not to be at least in the middle of the NHL.’’

Walker’s predictions: The Preds will finish second in Central Division and reach the Western Conference final.

McFarland

Peterson

Darren McFarland, Predators broadcaster, also is concerned about the power play: “The area the Preds need to improve on to make a deep playoff run is, without a doubt, it’s the power play. 30th out of 31 teams is simply not going to get it done in the long run. Eventually, especially in the playoffs, that will come back and bite you not being able to covert when you have a man advantage. Simply put, they need more bodies in front of the net.’’

Brent Peterson, Predators radio analyst/former Preds assistant coach/co-Author of “My Toughest Faceoff.’’

“The power play must improve or score timely goals the last part of the season and into the playoffs.’’

He predicts the Preds “will finish second in the Central Division and win the Western Conference and play for the Stanley Cup.’’

Preds must go to net

“A big key for the final 30 games of the season: Less play from the perimeter and more play in the high-danger areas,” McFarland says. “More bodies in front, making it difficult for the goaltender. Taking his eyes away and being in position for rebounds. This simple mindset can cure some ails.’’

Getting Kyle Turris back

“Another big key is getting Kyle Turris back in the fold and jump-starting that second line,” McFarland adds. “Turris has proven in the past to be able to do that and to help to get more production from Kevin Fiala.

Turris, a veteran center, is out with a lower-body injury. And they must keep everyone else healthy, too. Left wingers Miikka Salomaki (upper body) and Zac Rinaldo (undisclosed) were still on injured reserve at the break.’’

JoFA Line will play crucial role

“A player whose contribution is key to the Preds’ success: I’m going to give it to the entire first line of Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and Viktor Arvidsson,” McFarland says. “They have been solid all year with 98 points total, despite Arvidsson missing 24 games and Forsberg missing 17 games.

Johansen’s play has not dipped all year, even while playing with different players while his linemates were out with injuries. Arvidsson has 11 goals in his last 13 games, including a hat trick against Washington.’’

McFarland’s predictions: “Predators will finish second in the Central Division behind Winnipeg, but will make another appearance in the Stanley Cup Final and this time Hall of Fame General Manager David Poile and goaltender Pekka Rinne get to check off that final box to their resumes. Stanley Cup champions.’’

Preds need production from second line

Robby Stanley, NHL.com, offers this observation:

“Perhaps the primary area of concern for the Predators in the second half of the season will be the production of the second line. The Predators can rely on offense consistently from their top line of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson, but a consistent scoring threat outside of that trio will be needed if they want to compete for a Stanley Cup. Injuries have prevented the Predators from getting an extended look of what Kevin Fiala, Kyle Turris and Craig Smith look like together this year, but that line struggled against the Winnipeg Jets in their second-round loss last season. If general manager David Poile doesn’t feel like there’s enough consistent scoring, he’ll have to address that at the trade deadline.’’

Stanley’s predictions: “The Predators will finish in second place in the Central Division behind the Winnipeg Jets. I predicted the Predators to win the Stanley Cup before the season, so I’ll stick with that.’’

Writer Chip Cirillo’s take:

Goaltending must stay strong

The Predators must like their goaltending at the all-star break.

Pekka Rinne ranks among the league leaders with a 2.47 goals-against average and three shutouts. That earned him a spot in the NHL All-Star Game in San Jose last week. It was the 36-year-old veteran’s fourth selection to the game. The 6-foot-5 Finn boasts a .915 save percentage. He won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie last season, but cooled off a little in the playoffs.

Backup Juuse Saros is also putting up good numbers: 2.48 GAA .914 save pct. and a 12-6 record. He made a career-high 47 saves in Nashville’s last game before the break, a 2-1 win at Vegas – the NHL runner-up last season.

All-star captain getting it done

Cirillo

Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban calls Roman Josi one of the NHL’s most underrated players. But people are starting to notice because the Predators’ captain played in his second all-star game last week. Josi, a defenseman from Switzerland, had eight goals and 28 assists at the break. The Predators will count on him heavily during the second half of the season and again in the playoffs.

Mark your calendar

Nashville has two games left with Winnipeg, the team that ended its season last year in the second round of the playoffs. That really stung because the Predators had won the President’s Trophy for the NHL’s best regular-season record. They had home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs.

A Stanley Cup seemed possible, but it never happened.

Both teams are good again this year and another playoff meeting seems likely. So, every time the Central Division rivals meet this year it’s a measuring stick – a glimpse into what might happen later.

Predators captain Roman Josi’s play could determine how far the Predators go in the playoffs.

-- Photograph By John Russell, Courtesy Of The Nashville Predators

Nashville beat Winnipeg 3-0 at Bridgestone Arena in the first rematch on Oct. 11, but it was a foreshadow of the Predators’ power-play woes as they went 0 for 9 with the man advantage.

Two of those power plays included two-man advantages. Winnipeg’s power play ranked fourth in the NHL (26 percent) at the all-star break, giving the Jets a huge advantage if the rivals meet again in the postseason.

The Jets evened the season series with a 5-1 win in Nashville on Jan. 17 as Connor Hellebuyck made 37 saves. Losing a one-sided game like that must have put a little doubt in the Predators’ minds. Yes, it’s just one game, but…

Nashville’s last two games against the Jets will both be in Winnipeg on March 1 and March 23. Many times, the regular-season series is misleading. Nashville won three of five against Winnipeg in the regular season last year, only to fall in a seven-game playoff series. But it’s still a good barometer of where each team stands.

Blue line needs to keep bringing it

Nashville’s defense needs to continue its strong play to help the Predators get in a strong playoff position. Entering the break, Nashville ranked second in the league with a 2.58 goals-against average. Only the New York Islanders (2.41) were better.

New York is guided by former Predators coach Barry Trotz, who is in his first season with New York after winning the cup with Washington last season. Winnipeg was close behind Nashville, ranking sixth at 2.77. Josi, Subban, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis, Dan Hamhuis and Matt Irwin give the Predators one of the NHL’s best defense corps.

Ekholm on course for career year

Ekholm is headed for his best season, considering he already had career highs for assists (31) and points (37) at the break. The 6-1, two-way defenseman from Sweden has been rock solid in the back end. He’s mobile and plays with an edge.

Preds in the hunt

Nashville entered the break tied for first in the Central Division with Winnipeg, but the Jets had played four fewer games. The Predators and Jets were tied for third in the Western Conference behind Calgary (71 points) and San Jose (65).

Nashville will have a chance to gain ground on San Jose when it visits the Sharks on March 16. The Predators don’t have any games left with Calgary after dropping two of three against the Flames earlier in the year.

Cirillo’s predictions: Central Division: second; Playoffs: Western Conference finals

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