Making the special teams special again
An important aspects of hockey is undoubtedly a team's ability to have a successful power play and penalty kill unit night in and night out. It's not only the secret to having a better chance of winning the games you play, however it's one of the handful of reasons why the more successful franchises in the league win Stanley Cup championships.
Nashville's had its fair share of ups and downs with special teams play over the past handful of seasons, usually ending in the middle of the pack on average -- nothing really to be especially proud or upset about, for the most part.
This season has been like riding an old wooden roller coaster --big drops, massive climbs and lots of painful high-speed turns. October turned out to be a nice month for the Predators, seeing their power play units convert at 22.5 percent (seven goals in 31 attempts) while the penalty kill was equally successful stopping 86.2 percent of opposing man-advantages (25 kills on 29 penalties).
November? Not so much.
Prior to Saturday night's game against Buffalo, Nashville had only converted 13.3 percent on the power play (six goals on 45 attempts) and stopped 74.3 percent of the penalties they saw (29 kills on 39 penalties). This included a streak of zero goals on the Predators last 15 chances with the man-advantage and having allowed at least one power play goal in three of their previous four games.
Fisher noted to the media prior to Nashville's game on Saturday that he felt the special teams were going to get better. Lo and behold it did, albeit a small sample size in just one game.
The Predators converted one of three power plays, however only stopped two of four penalties and allowed two goals during a major power play for the Sabres thanks to a Viktor Arvidsson cross-check during the second period.
While it's wonderful to see another power play goal, it's not really fantastic seeing the penalty kill struggling as it is. That's one thing that needs to be corrected sooner rather than later.
Did the Arvidsson cross-check warrant a major power play and game misconduct?
Minutes after a waved-off goal due to Cody Hodgson making contact with Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson, Arvdisson was whistled down in the offensive zone after being caught issuing an illegal cross-check to the throat/chin of defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo.
A five-minute major and game misconduct penalty were both levied on Arvidsson and Buffalo proceeded to tie the game and take the lead during the ensuing attack.
Going back and re-watching multiple replays of the penalized hit that Arvidsson took, I'm not entirely sure that it was a deliberate strike to the throat of Colaiacovo -- or any part of his body above his shoulders, for that matter. Even if it was a simple check on the part of Arvidsson that inadvertently saw his stick sail too high, the important thing to consider is that Arvidsson clearly didn't have control of his stick when it lofted towards the head of Colaiacovo.
(NOTE: Per Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma, Colaiacovo was taken to the hospital and diagnosed with a dented trachea. Yes, dented trachea.)
As a result, yes the major penalty for cross-checking was indeed necessary. Normally, a two-minute minor penalty would suffice, however it was a dangerous check.
Based on NHL rule 20, the following penalties that are issued as a major penalty will automatically result in a game misconduct: Butt-ending, checking from behind, clipping, cross-checking, fighting (after the original altercation, being the aggressor, incurring a second instigator penalty, incurring an instigator penalty in the final five minutes or a third instigator penalty of the season), head-butting, hooking, kneeing, slashing and spearing.
Thus, Arvidsson's major for cross-checking was doubled-up with a game misconduct.
Saros falls in debut, but still impressed
Juuse Saros has been touted as the true heir-apparent to Pekka Rinne in the same fashion that Tom Riddle was the heir of Slytherin. With Carter Hutton battling soreness after taking a flip-and-tumble thanks to a collision with Sabres forward Marcus Foligno earlier in the week and Rinne just needing an overall break, Saros found himself called up to the Predators and getting the start against Buffalo just three nights after Nashville last played them.
While the Predators ended up dropping the game by a final of 4-1, Saros showed mountains of promise for a young, 20-year old Finnish goaltender playing in his first NHL game.
Of the three goals allowed by Saros on the night, only one of them you could really fault him for: Buffalo's third goal coming at the start of the third period, a shot that Saros had stopped but then unfortunately he put into his own net by just inches.
Two of the Sabres goals came during the aforementioned major power play, one off a mad scramble in the blue ice and the other on a laser wrist shot by Sam Reinhart past a screened Saros.
The biggest takeaway that I had on Saros and his play is, of course, his size. Saros is only 5'11". It's not to say that his size will make him a poor goaltender at the NHL level, however it hampers his abilities for sure.
Another thing I noticed is that Saros has great movement -- including post-to-post -- and did a great job of both rebound and general puck control, until the major penalty. The latter half of the second period and throughout the third were a little troublesome.
Regardless, the promise that Saros showed in his first NHL start leads me to believe that he's going to find plenty of playing time at the NHL level.
Sam Reinhart, Buffalo Sabres -- Two goal night for the former second-overall selection. Reinhart's first goal was a laser of a wrister and his second seemed like more of an accident than anything else. Either way, he was instrumental to Buffalo's 4-1 dismantling of Nashville.
Chad Johnson, Buffalo Sabres -- 28 saves on 29 shots for the goaltender with the same namesake as the former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver. Johnson made some stellar stops throughout the third to keep it a two-goal lead for Buffalo prior to an empty-net goal sealing it.
Mike Fisher, Nashville Predators -- Three straight games with a goal for Fisher and he's had half of Nashville's offense over the past six games. That's not promising, but having him on a bit of a scoring streak is a good thing for the Predators.