Predators prospect piles up postseason honors, leads team into NCAA Tournament

This season is one Jimmy Vesey won’t soon forget.

Even if there comes a time that he does, the Nashville Predators prospect will have his trophy case to remind him.

Vesey was named the 2015 winner of the Walter Brown Award, which recognizes New England’s best American-born Division I college hockey player, on Tuesday. The 2012 third-round draft pick and star forward at Harvard previously was named Ivy League Player of the Year and ECAS Player of the Year.

Currently the nation’s leading goal scorer, with 31, he also is one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy.

"Jimmy is a great player who has had a tremendous season. He has been incredibly consistent offensively, leading the country in goals scored, and has been relied upon in all key situations," Harvard coach Ted Donato said in a statement.  "Jimmy has also established himself as a team leader both on and off the ice. He is very deserving of this prestigious award and we are very proud of him."

Vesey has helped Harvard reach the NCAA Tournament, which opens this week., for the first time since 2006. The Crimson have won seven of their last 10 and earned the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region.

A junior, Vesey has one remaining year of eligibility but the Predators believe he has shown this season that he is ready to turn professional, if he decides that is what he wants.

Mar 24, 2015 11:41 PM

Smith's latest goal positions him for a Predators' first

Craig Smith is in position to do something no Nashville Predators player ever has.

With his goal at 5:49 of the third period Saturday, the 25-year-old right wing became the Predators’ outright leader this season with 23. He broke a tie with James Neal, who has missed the last four games with an upper body injury, moved two up on Filip Forsberg and three ahead of Colin Wilson, who also did not play in the 3-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at Bridgestone Arena.

Smith was Nashville’s leading goal scorer last season with 24 (one better than Shea Weber) and no player ever has topped that list in consecutive seasons.

Four have led the Predators in goals more than once. In each case, though, there was at least one season in between the two.

A look at the players who have led the Nashville Predators in goals more than once:

Scott Walker – 25 in 2000-01; 25 in 2003-04
Jason Arnott – 27 in 2006-07; 33 in 2008-09
Patric Hornqvist – 30 in 2009-10; 27 in 2011-12
David Legwand – 27 in 2006-07; 12 in 2012-13

(Notes: Arnott and Legwand shared the team lead in 2006-07; 2012-13 was a 48-game season)

Smith scored in the season-opener against Ottawa and has not gone more than nine straight games without at least one. The second of two nine-game droughts ran from Jan. 29 through Feb. 12. Since then he has nine goals in 18 games.

Last season he had a stretch of 13 straight games without a goal before he scored four times in the final three contests.

He is one of only six Nashville players who has appeared in every game this season and leads the team with 225 shots, already a career-high.

Mar 23, 2015 5:15 AM

Predators no longer in comfort zone, now in battle for playoff positioning

If there is such a thing as standings equity the Nashville Predators were flush with it for most of this season.

Now it’s all been flushed down the toilet.

Through the first three-quarters of the schedule the Predators had more points and played fewer games than virtually every other team in the league. At a certain point it seemed their margin for error was limitless.

Now, though, they have lost nine of their last 11 (eight regulation defeats) and instead of talking about whether they can win the President’s Trophy for the league’s best regular-season record, there is a question about whether they will even have home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

“We’re right in the thick of it,” left wing Matt Cullen said. “We had a real nice cushion and for whatever reason we’ve kind of let it evaporate here. Ultimately it comes down to … we need to get our game in order.

“I think there’s a lot of good things. I’m not saying that it’s all in shambles here – we’re playing some pretty good hockey in stretches – but we absolutely have to close out games a lot better.”

Following Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Minnesota – the second defeat in three days after having led in the third period – Nashville trailed St. Louis by one point in the Central Division. However, the Blues (7-2-1 in their last 10) had played two fewer games, which means they will have an opportunity to put some distance between themselves and the Predators.

Four points behind, in third place, was Chicago but the Blackhawks had three fewer games played prior to Wednesday’s contest with the New York Rangers. That is six potential points they can gain with nothing for Nashville to say about it.

Plus, the Predators don’t face either St. Louis or Chicago in their remaining 10 games.

Of the two, the bigger concern, of course, is Chicago. The second and third-place finishers in each division meet in the first round of the postseason and the second place team has home-ice advantage.

“We have to win,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “… We sit where we sit. We’ve let a couple points slip by the boards in the last couple games.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

Mar 18, 2015 9:37 PM

Josi's goals get him to offensive milestone, not enough for Predators to win

Roman Josi scored a pair of goals 45 seconds apart Tuesday that — for a time — put the Nashville Predators in front of the Minnesota Wild and — forever — put him in select company along with some of the most notable players ever.

All it took, actually, was the first goal, Josi’s 13th of the season. Combined with his 37 assists, it gave him 50 points on the season, something only three other defensemen in team history ever accomplished.

“That’s awesome,” left wing Matt Cullens said. “He’s been so good. I don’t know if there’s a player I’m more impressed with in my time here in Nashville. He is absolutely and exceptional defenseman and he makes so much happen for us.

“To get 50 points in this league as a D-man is something special.”

A look at the Nashville Predators defensemen who have registered at least 50 points in a season:

Shea Weber (2013-14) – 56
Kimmo Timonen (2006-07) – 55
Shea Weber (2008-09) – 53
Marek Zidlicky (2003-04) – 53
Roman Josi (2014-15) – 51
Kimmo Timonen (2005-06) – 50

Josi is the 21st different player in franchise history to register a 50-point season. He and the other 20 have combined to get there a total of 39 times.

Only seven of those 21, though, were Nashville draft picks.

A look at the Nashville Predators’ draft picks who have scored at least 50 points for the franchise:

Five times
Martin Erat, RW (2006-07, 2007-08, 2008-09, 2010-11, 2011-12)

Two times
Shea Weber, D (2008-09, 2013-14)
Patric Hornqvist, LW (2009-10, 2013-14)
David Legwand, C (2006-07, 2011-12)

One time
Roman Josi, D (2014-15)
Craig Smith, RW (2013-14)
Alexander Radulov (2007-08)

With his second goal, Josi got to 14 for the season, a number only two Nashville defensemen ever have topped, Shea Weber (seven times) and Andy Delmore (twice).

It was not enough to get the Predators a victory, though. Minnesota tied it with 6:41 to play in regulation and got the game-winner 22 seconds into overtime. The loss, 3-2, was Nashville's ninth in its last 11 games but was a mild improvement in that it was the only one of the nine that was not decided in regulation.

The performance did, however, improve Josi’s standing among this season’s most productive blue liners. With 51 points (11 more than his previous best) through 72 games, he currently is tied for fourth among all NHL defensemen, and his 14 goals are tied for seventh.

“He’s had a terrific year for us,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Offensively and defensively he’s been excellent but (Tuesday) night you see him up in the rush and head up and able to contribute offensively. But defensively he’s had a strong year as well.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

Mar 17, 2015 11:05 PM

Rinne finally reaches goaltending milestone, goes no farther next game

It seems reasonable to assume that it won’t take long for Pekka Rinne to get the 201st win of his NHL career. After all, he has been one of the NHL's leaders in wins all season -- and he needs only one to get that number.

Then again, given the amount of time it took for the Nashville Predators netminder to get No. 200 it could be a while.

Rinne reached the landmark Saturday in the Predators’ 2-1 victory at Los Angeles. He had lost five straight (all in regulation) prior to that contest, his worst stretch since late in the 2012-13 season, when he lost seven in a row, the first six in regulation.

“I haven't thought about it because the last five [wins] have been taking forever," Rinne said. "I've played on really good teams with really good teammates. Now it's out of the way and [I'll] go toward 300.”

The quest for 300 got off to a rough start Sunday when Rinne allowed four third-period goals and the Predators lost 4-2 at Anaheim in the final stop of a four-game road trip. The only other time this season he played on consecutive days was Dec. 29 and 30. He made 38 saves but lost the first in a shootout at Chicago and came back with 26 saves in a 3-2 victory over St. Louis at home the next day.

"That's a disappointing game on the road," Rinne said via "The third period, that's not how to handle your lead. We kept turning pucks over. Just this time, it bites us. It is disappointing."

Still, he is one of 77 goalies all-time – one nine active players – with at least 200 NHL wins.

Nashville’s all-time record is now 600-500-60-107 (the 60 are ties, which were possible from 1998-03 and the 107 are overtime/shootout losses). An eighth-round pick in 2004 who made his NHL debut in 2005-06, therefore, has accounted for exactly one-third of the franchise’s all-time triumphs.

A look at the eight goalies who have won at least one game for the Nashville Predators and their career records for the team, based on the number of wins (W-L-T-OT):

Pekka Rinne (2005-15) – 200-113-0-40
Tomas Vokoun (1998-07) – 161-159-35-11
Mike Dunham (1998-03) – 81-104-24-0
Chris Mason (1998-02, 03-08, 12-13) – 59-50-1-12
Dan Ellis (2007-10) – 49-42-0-8
Carter Hutton (2013-15) – 26-16-0-8
Anders Lindback (2010-12) – 16-13-0-2
Marek Mazanec (2013-15) – 8-11-0-4

It’s also worth noting that Nashville is the first of the four most recent NHL franchises to have a goalie get to 200 wins. Minnesota’s Niklas Backstrom has 194 for Minnesota. Steve Mason is Columbus’ all-time leader with 96 wins and Kari Lehtonen leads Atlanta/Winnipeg with 94.

Rinne and Backstrom, of course, were teammates on Karpat Oulu in Finland’s top league when Rinne was drafted. At the time, he was Backstrom’s backup.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Mar 16, 2015 5:10 AM

Neal emerges as Predators' best overtime option

James Neal has emerged as the Nashville Predators’ go-to guy when games go to overtime.

The right wing ended Monday’s game at Arizona — and a six-game losing streak — when he scored a 2:45 of overtime and lifted the Predators to a 2-1 victory in the first of a four-game road trip.

It was Neal’s second overtime goal of the season (his team-leading sixth game-winner). That made him just the second player in franchise history with multiple overtime goals in a season since the league adopted the current five-minute, four-on-four format in 2005-06. He also ended the Feb. 10 game against Tampa Bay.

The only other Nashville player to do so was David Legwand, who did it twice, 2009-10 and 2011-12.

"It felt really good to see that puck go in," Predators goalie Pekka Rinne told The Tennessean. "It's been a long time. Obviously you never want to go through these things, but hopefully it makes us better and hopefully makes us appreciate what we have in the locker room and what we've done so far this year."

Overtime goals happened more often in the pre-lockout era from 1998-99 through 2003-04. Still, though, no Predators player ever has had more than two in a season.

A look at the Nashville Predators’ all-time leaders for overtime goals in a season:

2 – James Neal (2014-15)
2 – David Legwand (2011-12)
2 – David Legwand (2009-10)
2 – Scott Hartnell (2003-04)
2 – Andy Delmore (2002-03)
2 – Scott Walker (2002-03)
2 – Denis Arkhipov (2001-02)
2 – David Legwand (2000-01)

The overtime heroics are nothing new to Neal. He scored three of Pittsburgh’s four OT goals last season, which tied him with two others for the league lead.

At Arizona, Nashville scored the first goal for the first time in 12 games when Paul Gaustad converted at 3:26 of the second period. The Predators remained in front until 7:27 of the third when Arizona converted 2:37 into a double-minor against Neal for high-sticking.

"That was a tough one," Neal said, according to The Tennessean. "I obviously have to control my stick, but I didn't know I clipped him there. They came back and scored on that, so to be able to get one back felt good."

For him, it was a familiar feeling.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Mar 10, 2015 6:33 AM

Predators' frustration grows as losses continue to mount

Even with a six-game losing streak all is not lost.

Following the latest defeat, 3-1 to Winnipeg on Saturday, Nashville has lost the top spot in the league standings and is on the verge of falling from first place in the Central Division standings.

The Predators, two points behind Anaheim and one behind Montreal, are just two points ahead of St. Louis in the Central. The Blues have played two fewer games.

Similarly, goalie Pekka Rinne no longer leads the league in wins. He trails Montreal’s Carey Price by two.

Following Sunday’s games, no other NHL team has lost more than two straight -- and players are starting to lose patience.

“Obviously, it’s very frustrating,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “It took us a while just to lose two in a row and now we are six in a row. It’s frustrating, but we need to focus on the positives. We are playing hard. It’s not like we aren’t trying. We are playing hard and making a difference for the close games, it’s just not coming out on our side.”

There is a theory that the Predators had it too easy for too long and that it is better to endure a stretch such as this now rather than have it occur during the playoffs.

It sounds nice. It does not feel as good.

“I think you try to tell yourself that, obviously,” Rinne said. “There’s some positive and negatives, you have to stay even and know that’s how we play and we’ve had a really good year and have trust in yourself and confidence. At the same time, if you ask me, I’m pretty sick and tired of this losing thing.

“The whole team is facing adversity and it can be a really good thing, but I think this is enough.”

The good news is that Nashville kicks off a four-game road trip Monday at Arizona (9 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee). The Coyotes have lost 11 of their last 12.

(Photo: Getty Images)

Mar 9, 2015 11:30 AM

'Hard to believe,' Predators' losing streak now longest in nearly two years

Of all the things this season’s Nashville Predators have done — or might do — that last season’s team did not, this seemed unthinkable.

Five straight regulation losses.

That is the current state of affairs following Thursday’s 4-3 loss to the New York Islanders at Bridgestone Arena. And it’s worse than any stretch that the 2013-14 Predators, who were nowhere near the top of the league standings and ultimately missed the playoffs, did.

“Hard to believe,” center Mike Ribeiro said. “I think it’s a good test now that we are in it and in this situation to battle out of this. No one said that it was going to be an easy season, and now it’s time to grind it out.

“A lot of times you just need that first win to get back on track.”

Last season’s team, which finished 38-32-12, had two five-game losing streaks but each included one overtime loss. There also were two stretches of four straight regulation defeats.

Nashville has had the lead just once in the last five games (for 7:48 last Saturday against Detroit) and has been outscored 19-10 during the current slide.

“I think you are always disappointed by a loss, but I really think we are fine,” right wing Craig Smith said. “We will continue to work to make the right plays and simplify. You can get in trouble when you start searching for answers and you kind of tie yourself up in a knot.

“As long as we stay patient and stay the course and work hard and be simple, it will work itself out.”

The last time the franchise went so long without earning at least a point was April 2013, when it dropped seven straight in regulation near the end of a truly forgettable, lockout-shortened campaign.

“I really think we have to look at the team, and we will get out of this together,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Our guys have done an excellent job of staying tight as a group. And there are a lot of things that could have been better (Thursday) night too. … But I think it is important to stay together right now.”

(Photo: Getty Images)

Mar 5, 2015 11:06 PM

Predators' 2012 draft pick named Ivy League Player of the Year

Nashville Predators prospect Jimmy Vesey was named the Ivy League Player of the Year and given a spot on the All-Ivy first team, the conference office announced Thursday.

Vesey, a 2012 third-round selection and one of the organization’s top prospects, led the Ivy League in scoring with 44 points and finished third in the country with an average of 1.52 points per game. He had 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in Harvard’s 10 Ivy League contests.

He is the first Harvard player in 15 years named Player of the Year in the Ivy League and the first in three years to earn first-team all-league honors.

League honors are nothing new for him, though. He was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2013 and a second-team all-league selection in 2014.

Harvard (15-11-3), currently ranked 21st in the NCAA, opens its best-of-three, first-round ECAC  Championship series with Brown on Friday.

(Photo: Harvard athletics)

Mar 5, 2015 9:22 PM

Predators will play as scheduled; offer two-for-one ticket exchange

The Nashville Predators’ game against the New York Islanders will go on as scheduled Thursday at Bridgestone Arena.

Franchise officials understand, though, that not all ticket holders will want to attend the game because of winter weather that hit Middle Tennessee beginning Wednesday night.

Those who choose not to attend will not miss out, though. Those who do will enjoy a couple perks.

The team announced Thursday morning that a ticket for Thursday’s game could be exchanged for two seats to a 2015-16 game (Monday through Thursday only). With only eight remaining home games – and a limited number of available tickets to those contests – the team is unable to offer an exchange for any other 2014-15 contests.

Those who attend tonight’s contest will get free popcorn at Bridgestone Arena concession stands. Also, drink specials will be available through the end of the first period.

Nashville (41-17-7) has lost a season-high four straight games and dropped from the top spot in the Western Conference standings. The Predators trail Anaheim by two points but are still four ahead of St. Louis for first place in the Central Division.

The Islanders (41-21-3) are one of two teams with more than 200 goals scored this season. They are tied for first place in the Metropolitan Division and two behind Montreal for first place overall in the Eastern Conference.

Faceoff is 7 p.m. Fox Sports-Tennessee will televise the contest.

Mar 5, 2015 10:54 AM