With no regulation defeats, Predators poised for showdown, pointed in right direction

They are the last two.

Two weeks into the regular season, the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks are the only two NHL teams that have earned at least one point in every game. Nashville has four wins and two overtime/shootout defeats. Chicago has four and one, respectively.

Chances are there will be just one by Friday morning.

The Predators and Blackhawks meet for the second time in less than a week when they play Thursday at Bridgestone Arena (7 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).

Chicago won 2-1 at home last Saturday on a shorthanded goal in overtime. That was just the third time in their last 16 matchups that the division rivals played beyond regulation and the 19th time overall.

NHL teams with the fewest regulation defeats this season (through Wednesday):

0 – Nashville (4-0-2)
0 – Chicago (4-0-1)

1 – Anaheim (6-1-0)
1 – Montreal (6-1-0)
1 – Los Angeles (4-1-1)
1 – Ottawa (4-1-0)
1 – Detroit (3-1-2)
1 – Dallas (3-1-2)
1 – Washington (3-1-2)

It is worth noting that of the seven teams with one regulation loss, two endured that defeat at Bridgestone Arena against the Predators. Ottawa has won four straight since it fell 3-2 in the opener and Dallas has gone 3-0-2 since a 4-1 loss to the Predators two nights later, Oct. 11.

Also, coincidentally, former Nashville coach Barry Trotz guided his new team, the Washington Capitals, through its first five games without a regulation defeat. That run ended with a 3-2 loss at Edmonton on Wednesday.

This is the third time in 10 seasons the Predators have earned at least one point in each of their first six games, and their 10 points are the second-highest over that stretch. The only time they did better was then they won their first eight in 2005-06.

A look at the Nashville Predators’ record through the first six games of the season (2005-06 through present):

2005-06: 6-0-0, 12 points
2006-07: 3-0-3, 9 points
2007-08: 2-4-0, 4 points
2008-09: 3-3-0, 6 points
2009-10: 2-4-0, 4 points
2010-11: 3-0-3, 9 points
2011-12: 2-3-1, 5 points
2012-13: 1-2-3, 5 points
2013-14: 3-3-0, 6 points
2014-15: 4-0-2, 10 points

Sure, it’s just six games but based on franchise history it is a positive sign that Nashville has earned at least a point in each. The previous three times the team finished with an average of 48 wins and 105 points. Each time it finished second in the division and twice had home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

“The guys have played hard,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “When things go well, they continue to push. And when things haven’t gone well, they do their best to get things going in the right direction.”

Oct 23, 2014 12:44 PM

Predators' power play puts up paltry numbers amid numerous other successes

There are many things the Nashville Predators have done well.

Then there’s the power play.

It has been true of this season’s first six games in general. It was particularly true of Tuesday’s shootout victory over the Phoenix Coyotes at Bridgestone Arena.

Nashville had a season-high five power plays and failed to convert on any of them yet managed to extend the contest to overtime and eventually won, 4-3, in a shootout.

“That could have been the game right there,” center Mike Ribeiro said. “… You cannot not score on the power play, especially when you have however many we had (Tuesday) night. It makes a difference [whether] you win or lose games.

“Obviously, we are not happy about it.”

The Predators have won four of their first six games and earned a point in the other two. That makes them one of just two Western Conference teams that have yet to endure a regulation defeat. They are fifth overall in goals-against and have won three times (most in the Western Conference) after they allowed the first goal.

With the man-advantage, though, they have one goal in their last 18 opportunities after having gone 1-for-3 in the season-opener.

There are three teams that have yet to score on the power play. Among the 27 that have converted at least once, only one (Detroit) has a worse success rate than Nashville.

The NHL’s worst power-play percentages (through Monday):

0.00 percent – Buffalo (0-for-22)
0.00 percent – Winnipeg (0-for-19)
0.00 percent – Minnesota (0-for-16)
8.33 percent – Detroit (2-for-24)
9.52 percent – Nashville (2-for-21)
10.0 percent – Los Angeles (2-for-20)
10.0 percent – N.Y. Rangers (2-for-20)

Nashville also is one of 11 teams that have allowed a shorthanded goal. That happened Saturday and was the decisive score in a 2-1 overtime loss to Chicago, which makes its first appearance at Bridgestone Arena on Thursday (7 p.m., Fox Sports-Tennessee).

Oct 22, 2014 12:52 PM

Tootoo opens up about personal struggles, professional life in new book

The general impression of Jordin Tootoo during his eight seasons with the Nashville Predators was that he was an open book.

The NHL’s first Inuit player often talked in open and entertaining fashion about his unique upbringing. He publicly honored his brother Terence, who at 22 years old, took his own life. Likewise, he never shied away from the fact that he missed part of the 2010-11 season because he spent time in rehab for alcohol addiction.

However, Tootoo reportedly delves deeper than ever into his personal and professional lives in the book, All The Way (subtitle: My Life on Ice), his life story as told to Stephen Brunt, which is scheduled for release Wednesday.

Promotional materials call the book “the story of someone who has traveled far from home to realize a dream, someone who has known glory and cheering crowds, but also the demons of despair. It is the searing, honest tale of a young man who has risen to every challenge and nearly fallen short in the toughest game of all, while finding a way to draw strength from his community and heritage, and giving back to it as well.”

Yahoo! Sports published a brief excerpt Tuesday in which Tootoo detailed the moment franchise officials gave him an ultimatum to enter rehab immediately or be released and then his initial thoughts upon entering rehab.

We were sitting in a circle and I was looking around and thinking, ‘Am I really like this? Do I look like these people?’

What the [expletive] is going on? These people are in here for hardcore crap: heroin, cocaine. But I had to understand that I was one of those people, too; I couldn’t separate myself from the other patients.

He said he has not had a drink since.

Tootoo is currently a member of the New Jersey Devils. He made the roster after having attended training camp on a tryout basis.

He holds Predators’ records for penalty minutes in a career (725).

Oct 21, 2014 11:25 AM

Atypically fast starts from Rinne, Weber a factor in Predators' early success

It’s a chicken-and-egg situation.

Are the Nashville Predators off to such a good start because their best players have played well from the outset? Or are the early statistics of their best players better than usual because the team is off to a good start?

Regardless, there is no doubt that the Predators can’t be a good team without significant contributions from defenseman Shea Weber and goalie Pekka Rinne. The fact that each is putting up atypically significant early numbers is an undeniably welcome development for a team that is one of three in the Western Conference that has earned at least one point in every game thus far.

Following a 2-0 victory Friday at Winnipeg and a 2-1 overtime loss at Chicago on Saturday, the Predators are atop the Central Division with eight points. Rinne made a season-high 31 saves at Winnipeg, and Weber had Nashville’s lone goal at Chicago, a game in which the Blackhawks had a decisive edge in shots (37-20).

As Weber’s role and importance to the team have increased, his starts (on the offensive end, that is) have become increasingly less productive. The three times he’s been a Norris Trophy finalist (2010-11, 2011-12 and 20-13-14), he has averaged just 5.7 points in an average of 11 October contests.

Already this season, he has four points. His three goals are as many as he had all of last October and tied for the most since 2009-10. At that pace, he will reach November with eight points, at least two more than in any of his Norris finalist seasons.

A season-by-season look at Shea Weber’s October statistics, goals-assists – points (games):

2014: 3-1 – 4 (5 games)
2013: 3-3 – 6 (12 games)
2011: 1-4 – 5 (11 games)
2010: 1-5 – 6 (10 games)
2009: 5-4 – 9 (13 games)
2008: 4-7 – 11 (10 games)
2006: 0-7 – 7 (11 games)

There were no October games in 2012 because owners delayed the start of the 2012-13 season when they locked out players until mid-January. Once things got going, though, Weber had just one point (an assist) in his first 13 outings.

He missed all but one October game in 2007 because of an injury.

Rinne’s career October win-loss record coming into this season was barely above .500 (16-13-5). He has won three of four starts thus far and helped Nashville earn a point in the fourth, a shootout loss last Tuesday against Calgary.

His shutout Friday at Winnipeg was the earliest, based on the calendar, of his career. It beat by five days his 2-0 victory at Calgary on Oct. 22, 2011, which was his seventh appearance of that season.

A season-by-season look at Pekka Rinne’s October statistics, W-L-OT shutouts (games):

2014: 3-0-1 1 shutout (4 games)
2013: 4-4-1 0 shutouts (9 games)
2011: 5-4-2 2 shutouts (11 games)
2010: 2-2-2 1 shutout (6 games)
2009: 4-3-0 1 shutout (8 games)
2008: 1-0-0 0 shutouts (2 games)

Similar to Weber, Rinne got off to a really rough start when the 2012-13 season finally began. He was winless (0-3-2) in his first five games, the worst start of his career.

Each tends to get better as the season progresses. As good as they have been through the first week-plus of this one, that has to be an enthralling prospect for the Predators.

Oct 20, 2014 5:15 AM

Persistence in pursuit of NHL All-Star weekend finally pays off for Predators

Gary Bettman admitted that he did not so much reward the Nashville Predators as he satisfied an “obsessive, compulsive element” of the organization when he picked them to host the 2016 NHL All-Star weekend.

Bettman made the formal announcement at Bridgestone Arena on Friday morning at an event that included remarks from Mayor Karl Dean, franchise officials and local business leaders.

“They have been relentless for as long as I can remember,” Bettman said of the Predators’ desire to host the event. “We knew we wanted to bring an All-Star Game here. There was never really a question about that. It was really more a question of timing and logistics, making sure that everything we needed was in place whether it was hotel availability or the convention center.

“It was really just a question of getting it all lined up.”

Everyone who spoke made bold predictions for the success of the event. Predators governor Tom Cigarran, for example, promised “the most memorable All-Star weekend in the history of the event.” Dean said, “We will put on the best All-Star Game experience for the players and attendees.” Predators CEO Jeff Cogen twice guaranteed “the best All-Star weekend in the 100-year history of the NHL.”

The primary reasons for Nashville’s selection are obvious: the presence of the Music City Center, an expansion of the number of downtown hotel rooms and other amenities allow the NHL to bring an event the size of All-Star weekend to the city.

Not to be discounted, though, is the desire of franchise and city officials to get it done. Bettman said Predators and Metro government personnel had made it perfectly clear for a period “measured in years” that they wanted an NHL All-Star weekend in Nashville.

“I’ve known the commissioner for 18 to 20 years,” Cogen said. “The commissioner is witty. He’s thoughtful, and I believe (with) the commissioner, there’s always significance to what he says. The significance in that was, ‘I did what I was supposed to do, now you all make me proud.’”

According to Bettman, teams alert the league that they have interest in hosting an All-Star weekend or comparable events. League officials then work with those cities to satisfy that desire in a timely manner.

Nashville’s bid was delayed by the lockout imposed by NHL owners that shortened the 2012-13 season to 48 games and eliminated All-Star weekend from that schedule and well as the league’s participation in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, which also eliminated All-Star games in those years. Columbus, which was scheduled to host in 2013, is now this season’s host.

Cogen said he was informed by email “either Tuesday or Wednesday” that the decision was made for Nashville in 2016. He said he immediately forwarded to a select few that email, only he added an exclamation points for emphasis.

The Predators, after all, were not the only team working to secure an All-Star weekend.

“Most teams want league events, whether it’s the draft, whether it’s All-Star [weekend], whether or not it’s an outdoor game,” Bettman said. “The demand for events is huge.”

Nashville hosted the NHL draft in 2003. The All-Star Game now is slated for Jan. 30-31, 2016.

Now, Bettman figures, it’s just a matter of time before questions start about when the Predators can host one of the outdoor games that have become so popular in recent years. The cornerstone event of the outdoor series, the Bridgestone Winter Classic on New Year’s Day, makes a great deal sense given that Bridgestone Americas’ headquarters are in Middle Tennessee and that the company is a naming rights partner with the Predators.

“Let’s do things one at a time,” Bettman cautioned in his remarks. “Let’s get through an All-Star Game first. Then we can have that discussion.”

Oct 17, 2014 12:59 PM

Hosting All-Star game won't necessarily boost Predators' on-ice performance

Friday’s press conference to formally announce Nashville as the site of the 2016 NHL All-Star Game undoubtedly is big news for the city, the fan base and the local franchise.

It is not necessarily, however, good news for the Nashville Predators, the hockey team.

While one of the league’s showcase events undoubtedly will provide massive exposure to the city that has competed in the NHL since the 1998-99 season, there is no indication that it will make the team any better.

Only six of the last 10 teams that hosted the All-Star Game made the playoffs in the year they hosted. The last to win a division title was Colorado in 2001. That also was the only time among the last 10 that the host team also won the Stanley Cup.

This season’s host, Columbus, is off to a good start. It has won two of its first three games.

A look at how the last 10 teams that hosted the NHL All-Star Game fared in the seasons they hosted:

2012: Ottawa (41-31-10, eighth Eastern Conference)
2011: Carolina (40-31-11, ninth Eastern Conference)
2009: Montreal (41-30-11, eighth Eastern Conference)
2008: Atlanta (34-40-8, 14th Eastern Conference)
2007: Dallas (50-25-7, sixth Western Conference)
2004: Minnesota (30-29-20-3, 10th Western Conference)
2003: Florida (24-36-13-9, 13th Eastern Conference)
2002: Los Angeles (40-27-11-4, seventh Western Conference)
2001: Colorado (52-16-10-4, first Western Conference)
2000: Toronto (45-277-3, third Eastern Conference)

The formal announcement of Nashville as host of the 2016 NHL All-Star Game will be made at an 11 a.m. Friday press conference. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, representatives of Predators ownership and management, and others will take part.

Oct 17, 2014 5:15 AM

Laviolette's emphasis on offense does nothing to improve Predators' shootouts

Peter Laviolette said his choices were based on production.

That explains why the first-year coach chose three Nashville Predators’ newcomers to be his shooters in the team’s first shootout of the season, Tuesday against Calgary.

“We do a lot of research into the background on it — guys that have had success, what type of goaltender is in net,” Laviolette said. “We’ve got five or six guys that we [will] use, and all those guys have had success throughout their career and we try to do the research on it.”

Trying to find someone who has been with the franchise for a while and has had any sort of meaningful success in a shootout would take more than just research. It would require a vivid imagination.

Nashville won just two of 11 shootouts last season. Only New Jersey, with none, had fewer victories in the tiebreaking procedure. Predators’ skaters converted on 20.4 percent of their 44 attempts, which was better than the marks of only three teams.

Laviolette was hired to inject life into the team’s offense, but his system is useless when it’s a skater against a goalie one-on-one. That much was obvious when Derek Roy, James Neal and Olli Jokinen all failed to convert. Calgary won the shootout 1-0 and the game 3-2.

A look at the 2013-14 shootout records and career shootout records, prior to this season, of the three Nashville players who took part in Tuesday’s shootout against Calgary:

Olli Jokinen: 3-8 (37.5 percent); 21-59 (35.6 percent) overall
Derek Roy: 1-2 (50 percent); 11-33 (33.3 percent) overall
James Neal: 0-4 (0 percent); 14-38 (36.8 percent) overall

And a look at the 2013-14 shootout records and career shootout records, prior to this season, of the current Nashville players who returned from last season’s roster:

Roman Josi: 3-6 (50 percent); 3-7 (42.9 percent) overall
Matt Cullen: 1-6 (16.7 percent); 23-56 (41.1 percent) overall
Calle Jarnkrok: 1-3 (33 percent); 1-3 (33.3 percent) overall
Ryan Ellis: 2-4 (50 percent); 2-6 (33.3 percent) overall
Craig Smith: 1-8 (12.5 percent); 6-19 (31.6 percent) overall
Gabriel Bourque: 0-3 (0 percent); 1-6 (16.7 percent) overall
Colin Wilson: 0-1 (0 percent); 1-7 (14.3 percent) overall

With Tuesday’s defeat, Nashville has now lost 16 of its last 20 shootouts.

“I think our goal this year has to be to have a winning record in shootouts,” goalie Pekka Rinne said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit in that area. It’s the first shootout of this year and we’re going to keep working on it.”

Oct 16, 2014 5:10 AM

Predators' play slips a bit but Rinne's never been better through three games

The Nashville Predators were not as good Tuesday night as they had been in their first two games.

That meant goalie Pekka Rinne had to be better.

In victories over Ottawa and Dallas, he kept his team in it until the goals finally came, which they eventually did. This time he managed to get the Predators all the way to a shootout, where they ultimately fell 3-2 to the Calgary Flames, a team that had not won at Bridgestone Arena in more than three seasons.

“I felt like (Tuesday) was a sloppy game – both sides,” Rinne said. “I feel like the first couple periods wasn’t very good hockey and I thought the game maybe got a little bit better in the third.

“… It felt like there was no flow and a lot of breaks – the puck was all the time going out of the rink or whatever. It was all the time something and there really was nothing going on.”

The Predators outshot their opponents in all six periods of the first two games and held both to 20 or fewer total. Calgary became the first visiting team to get 10 or more in a period when it got 11 to Nashville’s six. The Flames also had the edge in the third period (9-7) and overtime (2-1). The final count was 28-21 in the Flames’ favor.

That’s where Rinne came in.

He made a season-high 26 saves, which were enough to help the Predators earn a point in the standings. He has started and played every minute thus far in the Nashville nets.

Tuesday’s point made this the first season he has earned five points in his first three appearances. Three times in the previous six seasons he had four points through his first three games.

A season-by-season look at Pekka Rinne’s record through his first three appearances:

2008-09: 2-0-0
2009-10: 0-2-0
2010-11: 1-0-2
2011-12: 2-1-0
2012-13: 0-1-2
2013-14: 1-2-0
2014-15: 2-0-1

“He’s been great this year,” captain Shea Weber said. “It’s good to have him back and he’s going to be solid for us all year long.”

Of course, that’s not true.

This game was proof positive that no one is at their best every time out. The good news was that Rinne, at least was good enough that the Predators earned a point.

“Obviously, these games matter,” Rinne said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of game it is. You have to be able to take care of business. At the same time you have to respect the point that we got. It’s a desperate team we played against and they showed it.

“You have to take the positive out of it, but after starting the season well with two good games you expect every game to match that effort. I thought (Tuesday) night we just didn’t match that.”

Oct 14, 2014 11:52 PM

Bigger, stronger Forsberg emerges as early offensive force for Predators

Filip Forsberg finally has shown he can stand up to NHL players.

Now he just has to show he can hold up throughout an entire NHL season.

Ever since the Nashville Predators acquired Forsberg in a trade with Washington late in the 2012-13 season size has been a concern. Undeniably skillful, the 11th overall pick in 2012 was not big or strong enough to battle with NHL players. Thus he spent the bulk of his first season-plus with the franchise in the American Hockey League.

He’s now listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, which is six pounds heavier than he was at this time last season – and his numbers are on the rise as well.

Two games into this NHL season, he is one of four rookies with three points (one goal, two assists in his case), but one of only two – Washington’s Andre Burakovsky is the other – to get that number in two games. His plus-3 rating is second best among the four.

Last season he had five points (one goal, four assists) in 13 NHL appearances.

He is second to Paul Gaustad and Eric Nystrom (four points each) on the team. And he has created some of his own offensive chances by winning one-on-one battles.

“He’s been really consistent since rookie camp started,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “I thought he was a top player every game in rookie camp. He was a real positive offensive player for us in the exhibition season and, really, I think that has just continued.

“He appears to be strong in those battles. He’s got a tremendous awareness about him and an ability to find time and space and make plays. … He’s been consistent with his offense and his two-way play and his offense since he got here at rookie camp.”

He’ll look to keep things going when the Predators host the Calgary Flames on Tuesday (7 p.m., Bridgestone Arena).

Oct 14, 2014 2:45 PM

Predators playing well start to finish, scoring closer to finish

The difference in the third period is that the Nashville Predators do nothing differently than in the first two.

“Consistently, these (first) couple games we’ve just been doing the same thing over and over again,” left wing Eric Nystrom said. “We have had waves of attack and (we’re) putting pucks at the net. It might not happen in the first period but you stick to it.

“It’s happened in the third. Maybe next game it will happen in the first and we’ll score a few. You just have to stick to the gameplan.”

Maybe next time they actually will score in the first period.

Two games into this season, though, all but one of the Predators’ seven goals have come in the third period. And the one that didn’t might as well have, given that it came with 41 seconds to play in the second period of Saturday’s 4-1 victory over Dallas at Bridgestone Arena.

The Predators and Stars were tied 1-1 when Nystrom and Paul Gaustad scored 1:21 apart in the third. Roman Josi capped things with an empty-net goal. It was the second time in as many games that Nashville scored three times in the third period.

Similarly, the Predators have outshot the opponent in all three periods of both games.

“I like the game that we played – I liked it from start to finish,” coach Peter Laviolette said following the victory over Dallas. “We’re still working at it. … There’s things that we can do better out there and we’ll continue to work at it.”

Last season Nashville did not score its first third-period goal until the fifth game. It took 12 contests to score six and there were only five times overall it scored three or more in the third period.

The Predators tied for 22nd in the league with 69 third-period goals and won just four times (fewer than all but five teams) when trailing after two periods.

Already this season they have won once when trailing after two periods and once when tied after two periods. At their current pace they’ll score 69 third-period goals in 23 games.

“I think it’s staying consistent,” center Paul Gaustad said. “That stuff pays off, and it pays dividends to stay with it – building over that and wearing them down. I don’t think it’s the third period or we’re a third-period team. I think it’s staying consistent.”

One of the most consistent aspects of this season, however, is when the goals have come.

Through Saturday night’s games Nashville’s six third-period goals were tied for most in the league with Montreal, which had played three games, and were tied for most by any team in any period. Pittsburgh had six first-period goals through its first two contests.

“You become a good third period team by doing what we’ve done,” Nystrom said. “We’ve come from behind and we won a game in the third (Saturday) night. You get confidence in yourself when you know you can do it.”

Oct 13, 2014 5:15 AM