P.K. Subban staying in Nashville

P.K. Subban is staying in Nashville. That’s the message from Predators GM David Poile being reported by Pierre LeBrun. Poile went as far to say that he hasn’t even received any calls on Subban.

The rumors, which apparently have turned out to be simply just that, made sense. The contracts of defenseman Ryan Ellis and goalie Pekka Rinne expire after next season, while the entry-level deal of forward Kevin Fiala also expires. The contract of captain Roman Josi is up following the 2019-20 season and the Swiss blueliner will be due a substantial raise from his current cap hit of $4 million, per capfriendly. If space needs to be cleared, Subban’s $9 million cap hit is a good starting point.

This is good news for fans of the Predators. Subban is a dynamic player on the ice and a dynamic player off it. There’s nobody in the NHL that comes close to the 29-year-old in the charisma category. The work he does in the community is also unmatched. There isn’t a better ambassador for the game of hockey.

The Predators time to win is now. Nashville’s chances of capturing the Stanley Cup is higher with Subban on their roster, serving as the catalyst to the four-headed monster on the back-end that also includes Josi, Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. Moving him helps the Preds with regards to the cap – something teams obviously have to be cognizant of nowadays – but it won’t do wonders for the on-ice product.

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CONFIRMED: Filip Forsberg is really good at hockey

Filip Forsberg is good. You already knew that. A blend of playmaking and finish, Forsberg is one of hockey’s most unique talents. He makes up one-third of one of the NHL’s best forward lines alongside Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson.

The winger has taken his game to another level this postseason. With the playoffs nearly half-over – the tournament will officially reach its halfway mark when Forsberg’s Predators play the decisive seventh game of their Second Round series with the Jets on Thursday, the 23-year-old paces the Western Conference with 15 points (7-8) in 12 games, tied with Alex Ovechkin for 6th overall in the playoffs.

With Nashville trailing 3-2 to Winnipeg last night and needing a win to keep the series alive, Forsberg took the game over, doing what he’s done for essentially the entire postseason – making things happen, and scoring highlight-reel goals – and finishing with two goals and an assist as the Preds forced Game 7 in what has been an epic series with their Central Division rivals.

Here’s the first goal – simple chip off the glass by Craig Smith, and Forsberg does the rest. Grabs a new stick from the bench, picks the pocket of Jets defenseman Ben Chiarot, and takes it right in. Bingo, bango. Tick, tock. Goal.

The second? All alone, picking dandelions on the doorstep waiting for Arvidsson to pass him the puck so he can bury one with a filthy, between-the-legs finish on Connor Hellebuyck.

Forsberg has been the Human Highlight reel this postseason. His 7 goals and 15 points haven’t been done quietly.

He opened the playoffs with a two-goal performance, the second of which was a complete undressing of Avalanche defenseman and former Predators teammate Samuel Girard, which followed a nice deflection of a Roman Josi shot that proved to be the game-winner that night.

And if that wasn’t enough, here’s his goal in Game 4 of the First Round series with Colorado. Duncan Siemens had no chance.

Here’s Forsberg’s other goal in this series, which came in Game 3, a 7-4 Jets win, an absolute track meet in which Nashville relinquished a 3-0 first period lead. Forsberg’s goal – a simple flick of the wrist – tied the game 4-4.

Forsberg has been a force in this series and is probably why the Jets are preparing for a Game 7 and not the Vegas Golden Knights.

Some highlights – nine points overall. Three multi-point performances. Three assists in 24:10 of ice-time in the Predators double-overtime win in Game 2. I’ve seen worse game logs.

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Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Western Conference

Avalanche vs Predators

Why the Avalanche win: Nathan MacKinnon takes over games. We’ll see if that continues in the playoffs, but he’s on an unbelievable run right now. Add in the fact he’s got two great players running alongside him in Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog, you’ve got your hands full.

Why the Predators win: Predators are the best team in the league, far more dangerous than when they made their run to the Stanley Cup Final last spring. There’s no real weakness on this team.

Player that proves to be the difference: Kyle Turris.. This is the true No. 2 center behind Ryan Johansen that Nashville missed last spring. When Turris was acquired from Ottawa early in the season, the Preds solidified themselves down the middle and really transformed the roster into one of the best in the league.

Something you might want to know: Predators leading scorer this season was Filip Forsberg with 64 points, which checked in at 52 on the NHL’s leaderboard. However, the Predators had six players record 50 points – Tampa Bay and Toronto were the only other teams to have that high a tally of 50-point guys.

What happens: Predators in 5. I think Nashville makes this a quick series. There’s just way too much on the Predators side.

Wild vs Jets

Why the Jets win: Can the Wild keep up? I don’t think they can. Minnesota is going to miss Ryan Suter in this series, though getting Jared Spurgeon back will help things.

Why the Wild win: Suter might be done, but Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin, and Matt Dumba will make up for the loss. Minnesota trots out a great shutdown forward line in Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund while Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Nino Niederreiter will keep Winnipeg’s hands full. Jordan Greenway adds an element the Wild didn’t have before he signed his pro contract after his junior season at BU ended last month.

Player that proves to be the difference: Connor Hellebuyck.. Hellebuyck’s numbers (44-11-9, 2.36 GAA, .924 save percentage, six shutouts) would be enough to run away with the Vezina Trophy most years. He’s the rock that backstops the Jets and allows Winnipeg to play their quick-pace, run-and-gun style.

Something you might want to know: The city of Winnipeg hasn’t experienced a playoff series win since the 1987 Smythe Division semifinals, when the first iteration of the Jets (who are now, of course, the Coyotes) took down the Flames in six games. Winnipeg is 0-for in the last six seasons they’ve made the playoffs (1988, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1996, 2015).

What happens: Jets in 6. Hellebuyck shuts the door on the back end and the Jets keep up their offensive pace on the other end.

Kings vs Golden Knights

Why the Golden Knights win: Because we said Vegas wouldn’t hold onto the Pacific, would fall off in the second half, wouldn’t be a playoff team, wouldn’t be a good team, wouldn’t land an NHL team. We know nothing. Oh and they’re deep, fast, skilled, and have really good goaltending. That helps too.

Why the Kings win: They look similar to the teams that won it all in 2012 and ’14. Anze Kopitar has been a force all year up front and Jeff Carter has been sensational since he returned. Dustin Brown has reignited his career. Drew Doughty holds down a strong defense and Jonathan Quick has been strong in net of late.

Player that proves to be the difference: Jeff Carter.. In 21 games since returning from an ankle injury that sidelined him for four months, Carter has 13 goals and 19 points.

Something you should know: Four of the top eight players in terms of plus-minus are playing in this series: William Karlsson (1st, plus-49), Jonathan Marchessault (2nd, plus-36), Reilly Smith/Dustin Brown (t-7th, plus-31).

What happens: Kings in 5. It’s not so much clock strikes midnight on Vegas, more that Los Angeles just isn’t a good matchup for this team.

Sharks vs Ducks

Why the Ducks win: Plagued by injuries early on, the narrative was watch out if they get healthy and get in the playoffs. Well, they’ve done both those things. With everyone back – with the exception of Cam Fowler, who was injured last week – the Ducks enter the playoffs 10-1-1 in their final 12 games. This looks like the team we expected to see come April when the roster was ravaged by injuries in October.

Why the Sharks win: San Jose is solid from the top to bottom. The Evander Kane acquisition at the deadline added offense up front. This team is built very well from the net-out.

Player that proves to be the difference: Ryan Kesler.. Most important player on this team. It’s no coincidence that this team reached the Western Conference Final twice in Kesler’s first three seasons in Anaheim. He’s your best defensive forward and your agitator, the daily double of not just shutting down the opposing top line but getting under their skin, knocking them off their game. On top of that, he can be your top offensive producer. He didn’t had a great regular season after returning from hip surgery just after Christmas, but has shown flashes of finding his game of late.

Something you should know: With 118 points in 121 career playoff games, Ryan Getzlaf has the 4th-most playoff points since the 2004-05 lockout, trailing only Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Patrick Kane. Getzlaf has played six fewer playoff games than Kane, 28 fewer than Malkin, and 27 fewer than Crosby.

What will happen: Ducks in 7. Take it a step further and say Anaheim wins Game 7 in overtime. This series is almost too close to call. It’ll be worth staying up for.

Alex Radulov feature displays his maturity since last NHL stint

A big storyline coming into the 2016-17 NHL season was the return of Alexander Radulov to North America after spending four years playing in the KHL in his native Russia, signing a one-year, $5.75 million deal with the Montreal Canadiens.

Once upon a time, Radulov was a high draft pick by Nashville (15th overall, 2004) but essentially ran himself out of the league following two stints in North America that didn’t work out. The second time, in particular, was especially ugly, benched during the second round of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs after violating his curfew. The Predators lost that series in five games to the Phoenix Coyotes as Radulov missed games three and four of that series after being spotted at a bar in Arizona with teammate Andrei Kostitsyn the night prior to the second game of the series, which prompted the discipline. Radulov was told to take a hike after the season, to the surprise of nobody.

While many felt Radulov had played his final NHL game following a second ugly exit from Nashville – he bolted in 2008 to join the KHL with a year remaining on his entry-level deal – Marc Bergevin was a man who believes in second chances. The Canadiens general manager brought Radulov in over the summer, signing the forward to a low-risk, high-reward that so far has reaped the awards and then some. Radulov is second on the Canadiens with 35 points in 39 games as Montreal holds a commanding eight-point lead in the Atlantic Division standings with 63 points, slotting the Habs fourth in the playoff standings with 34 games to play.

Radulov’s comeback and newfound maturity was highlighted in a Sportsnet piece over the weekend written by Ryan Dixon, documenting the 30-year-old’s time in the KHL to the mark he’s made on the Canadiens dressing room.

Of course, being 30 and a veteran playing for what potentially could be a big contract likely plays a big role in the evolution of Radulov as a player, on and off the ice. Your world view tends to change for the better as you get older (usually). But nonetheless a great story of a unbelievably gifted player who finally appears to be getting it.

You can put it in the box score score as another win for Bergevin, who seems to be having one of those ‘everything he touches turns to gold’ type of years.

Stat of the Day: Filip Forsberg has 11 goals in last 17 games

It’s been a rough past month for the Nashville Predators.

Banged up and still failing to meet lofty preseason expectations, the Preds lost P.K. Subban for over a month with a lower-body injury while James Neal and Colin Wilson have also missed time to injury. Ace defenseman Roman Josi is now out with a concussion, with no timetable for his recovery.

One of the bright spots, however, has been the production of star forward Filip Forsberg, something that was a major trouble spot early in the season. In 17 games going back to December 19th, Forsberg has 11 goals to bump his total up to 14. The total of 14 still isn’t the pace he’s expected to be on over a 82-game season, but it’s a much better pace than he had previously been on.

Flanking No. 1 pivot Ryan Johansen for a full season for the first time, Forsberg was expected to take off this season, his third in the NHL. Scoring 33 goals last season after burying 26 the season prior, the expectation for the 22-year-old was to rise to the level of counterparts Patrick Kane, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jamie Benn among elite goal scorers in the Central Division. Instead, he was held scoreless to the first 13 games of the season and scored just three goals through the first 30 games of the season.

His run of late suggests that he’s back on track. Which is good for Nashville, which sits at third in the Central amidst a three-game winning streak. For good times to keep rolling in Nashville, Forsberg needs to sustain the run he’s currently on.

Subban present for Predators morning skate

P.K. Subban hasn’t played a game for the Nashville Predators since December 15 due to an upper-body injury. One January 1st, he was placed on the IR, with the team saying he’d be re-evaluated in two-to-three weeks.

Well, the two-week mark is approaching and while its still unknown as to when exactly the Predators defenseman will return to the ice, there was glimmer of hope on Thursday morning when the 27-year-old was present for the optional morning skate Nashville held ahead of its home game against Boston on Thursday night.

Subban won’t play Thursday and the timetable for his return still is unknown, but him being on the ice for the morning skate is at the very least a reason for optimism.

The Predators have gone 5-4-3 in the 12 games Subban has missed. Nashville is one point out of the second Wildcard spot in the Western Conference with 43 points, good for 10th place in the conference standings.

With Subban in the lineup, however, it wasn’t like the Preds were world-beaters, with a 13-12-4 record in the 29 games prior to Subban being sidelined, all of which Subban was in the lineup for. A team expected to be a contender in the West in the aftermath of trades for Ryan Johansen (last January) and Subban in addition to pushing eventual Stanley Cup finalist San Jose to a seventh game in the 2016 Western Conference semifinals, Nashville has been one of the bigger disappointments in the league this season. While he’s averaged more than 25 minutes of ice-time per night and had 17 points in the 29 games he’s played, Subban was a team-low minus-11.

Subban has never played fewer than 68 games in a season since breaking into the league on 2010.

Rise of Ryan Ellis Helps Predators Get Back on Track

Trading Shea Weber is easy when a player like P.K. Subban – a No. 1 defenseman as dynamic a player as any in the NHL – is one the other side of the transaction wire. Replacing Weber – a rugged, take-no-prisoners, do-everything, play-in-every-situation, no-nonsense big voice in the room, and oh by the way one of the best blue liners in the game – is another story.

The Nashville Predators learned just that early in the season as they stumbled off the starting blocks to a 2-4 start to the season. The once-airtight defense patrolled by Weber in Nashville allowed five-plus goals in three of those games.

Since a 6-1 loss in Anaheim on October 26 that rendered Nashville its fourth loss in six games, its been a return to normalcy for the Predators. The Preds have picked up points in nine of 12 games (6-3-3), allowing 27 goals in 12 games (2.25 per game) after giving up 21 through six (3.5). They’ve allowed just one powerplay goal on 33 chances over the last 10 games, in which the Predators have gone 6-2-2.

The 12-game stretch in which Nashville has climbed back on the map – now one point behind Minnesota in the Western Conference wildcard picture with two days to go before the world famous Thanksgiving Checkpoint – has come hand-in-hand with the expansion of the role of defenseman Ryan Ellis in Peter Laviolette’s gameplan.

Ellis has heavily factored into the Nashville’s lineup all season. He’s part of a heavily-relied upon top-four that also includes Subban, Roman Josi, and Mattias Ekholm, in which at least one has been on the ice for 84.5 percent of the Predators 1,082 faceoffs this season, according to PuckBase. Two have been on the ice for 82.5 percent.

 

In the last 12 games, there’s been a slight uptick in the ice-time of the defenseman who plays much bigger than his 5-10, 180-pound dimensions suggest.

While his usage over that span remains third among Predators defensemen behind Josi and Subban, Ellis has averaged 24:02, up from 23:11 over the first six games. In Monday’s 3-1 win over Tampa Bay, he averaged a game-high 25:30 while assisting one all three goals. It was the second time Ellis has led the Predators in time-on-ice this season, an honor that has largely gone to either Josi or Subban, as expected prior to the season.

In addition to the 23:44 overall average of ice-time for Ellis this season, he’s playing a team-high 2:48 shorthanded, on the ice for 62 of the 102 shorthanded faceoffs, according to PuckBase. That’s a similar rate as Weber’s dependency in the situation last season, on the ice for 292 of the Predators 442 man-down draws.

When Ellis and Josi are paired together on the ice, the Predators have outscored opponents 9-7 in five-on-five situations in 223 minutes together, according to corsica. Subban and Ekholm, the other pairing that has seen a bulk of five-on-five time (228:42), have been outscored, 9-6.

Ellis is a much different player than Weber. Weber is a 6-4, 232-pound behemoth who uses his size to set a physical tone among a bevy of other good things he does inside the glass. Ellis comes up short size-wise by six inches and 52 pounds. Any physical shortcomings he makes up for with good positioning, speed, and a good stick. Ellis doesn’t have the responsibilities Weber was pegged with for much of his time in Nashville.

When it comes to replacing Shea Weber, the Predators haven’t done so with adding more meat to the plate of Josi, or making Subban play outside his strengths of risk-taking and aggressive play. It’s been a quartet of strong blue liners starting with the two heavy-lifters followed by Ellis and Ekholm. It’s a new-age corps that predicates itself on speed, puck movement, and being a part of the rush.

The transition started with the trading of Weber for a player in Subban whose play suited that new style, having faith in Josi being an elite No. 1 defenseman.

The rise of Ellis is the latest step in making it complete.