February is finally over, and it was a gauntlet.
15 games in 28 days. 10 wins, including a six-game winning streak which is the most they've strung together this year. 5 losses, including the first two consecutive regulation losses at home. Through all of that, the Predators only had one break longer than a day. (Two days between games versus New Jersey and San Jose.) For all the doom and gloom chatter that has been bubbling recently, last month was still a success.
March doesn't really get any easier, but there are at least a few breaks in the schedule. All but three of the 15 games are against teams that are solidly positioned for a playoff berth or just on the cusp of making it in. Nashville embarks on another California road trip, as well as finishing the final three back-to-back sets.
The first one starts tonight against the "all in" New York Rangers.
The New York Rangers
The Blue Shirts were busy on Sunday. Really busy. Like, the entire team is going to have to wear name tags for the next few days to learn each other's names, probably. Let's tally:
Welcome to New York:
- Keith Yandle
- Chris Summers
- Carl Klingberg
- James Sheppard
- Mats Zuccarello (Okay, he's been there a while, but they just re-signed the Norwegian Hobbit Wizard for four more years after it was rumored he could be on the way out.)
- Whoever their 2015 4th-round pick is
Don't Let the Door Hit You on the Way Out:
- Lee Stempniak
- John Moore
- Anthony Duclair
- Whomever their 1st-round pick in 2016 was going to be
- Whomever their 2nd-round pick in 2015 was going to be
The Rangers better win the Cup in the next year or two, because they aren't going to be getting any reinforcements anytime soon. The 2015 draft will be New York's fourth-straight without a first round pick, and they also sent one of the better NHL prospects to the desert in exchange for Yandle. Although, from the New York perspective, all might not be too dire when it comes to the pipeline in the Ranger's system. Writes Brandon Cohen of Blueshirt Banter:
First of all, the future is not being mortgaged based off of one prospect and two picks being moved. The Rangers are in fine standing for their future, with prospects such as Pavel Buchnevich, Kevin Hayes, Brady Skjei, and even Jesper Fast being either close to or in the NHL. In addition to those, the Rangers have young stalwarts in the lineup like Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, Ryan McDonagh, and J.T. Miller. The future certainly looks less promising, but the Rangers are not hopeless for the future.
Yes, the Rangers current team is better than it was a few hours ago, and yes the Rangers did give up a vital piece for the future in Anthony Duclair and the draft picks, but the team is neither in terrible position for the future, nor amazing position for now.
Henrik Lundqvist isn't getting any younger, and they need to make a play to win now. Glen Sather throwing all his chips on the table isn't a bad move, but if it doesn't pay off the Rangers could have some dark times ahead.
Yet, they still have the rest of this season to play out. New York is nestled in second place of the tightly contested Metro division race. Two points behind the Islanders, one point ahead of the Penguins, and four points ahead of the Capitals. Though their season series with Pittsburgh is finished, they still have one more date with the Isles and three (!) games left against Washington. With the standings that close, they at least have some say in where they finish, even if it comes down to the last week of the season.
There is still no timetable on Lundqvist, though original hopes were he'd be back sometime in early March. Since
Peter Venkman Ray Stanz The Staypuft Marshmallow Man Cam Talbot took full control of the crease the last time these teams met, he has started 11 games since. The starter's workload seemed a little too much at first, as Talbot only posted a Sv% above .900 twice in his first eight starts. However, he gathered points in nine-straight games, and that's all the Rangers really need from him right now. Just like when Rinne went down, he just needs to keep them above water until the King returns.
The Nashville Predators
After the stinker on Thursday, Alex detailed how the Predators have been performing against some of the top teams in the NHL in his preview on Saturday. The Red Wings should be considered a top team, as they are one of the 10 best in the NHL, and sat third in the tough Atlantic division coming into play.
Detroit is one of the best possession teams in the NHL. Only Los Angeles and Tampa Bay are better. They've got a great mix of veteran players and young talent, along with one of the best coaches in the game. Nashville did anything but stink it up, they just couldn't capitalize on opportunities when the game came down to special teams. A bounce here or a bounce there, and the game would have turned out a little differently.
They didn't get the point or two, but it wasn't an implosion like in LA or Anaheim. It wasn't a dud like in Uniondale or agains the Ducks (again), and they certainly got more chances than they did against Minnesota. Of course, wrong bounces and missed opportunities don't count for much in April. Nashville has a month and change to focus on the game they've been playing all season, and
By the way, that second line has been pretty fantastic lately, especially Old No. 7 himself. Since Peter Laviolette's Infamous Line Blowup of 2015, Matt Cullen has amassed eight points (2G, 6A) in eight games, while maintaining a 55 CF% and 59 SCF%. He's also taking more shots per 60 minutes than anyone else on the team. However, as many points as they score, it's an obvious hot streak. They're shooting about 12% higher than the entire rest of the team. Small sample size, but enjoy it while it lasts and take solace in the fact that despite any reservations, the line combos are still doing their job for now.
UPDATE - Looks like Lavy wants to quash the inevitable crash before it happens.
Lines at #Predshttps://twitter.com/hashtag/Preds?src=hash">#Preds> morning skate: 33-63-18, 9-12-15, 7-10-41, 24-28-57/19 D Pairs: 6-59, 14-44, 3-64, 4-20— Willy Daunic (@WillyD1025) March">https://twitter.com/WillyD1025/status/572435574189125632">March 2, 2015
Obviously he reads OTF.
Sights and Sounds
Oh hai, Eastern Time Zone, I totally missed you messing up my schedule. Game is at 6 p.m. CST tonight on FS-TN and 102.5 The Game.