The Predators are on a roll, following up Pekka Rinne’s first career NHL goal with Juuse Saros’s first shutout of the 2019-20 season. There’s been a lot of lively discussion around these parts about John Hynes’s role in the team’s recent successes—were they underperforming and bound to improve, has coaching made a significant impact, or was it some of both?
For what it’s worth, my first skepticism of Peter Laviolette came when he mismanaged his players in the 2016 playoffs, overworking Shea Weber to the point that his last game in gold looked as if he were playing through a bad injury and giving Weber’s partner Roman Josi, who had two broken bones by the end of the second round, no more quarter. Weber admitted after elimination that it was exhaustion, not injury, impacting his own play.
The seeds of doubt were sown in my mind then, though the 2017 run made me question those doubts. Any coach who could get (goaltending that heroic, Colton Sissons scoring hat tricks in the conference finals against a perennial Vezina snub) that kind of results had probably just gotten unlucky the previous year.
But the teams that won the Central Division the next two years were offensively lackluster despite every attempt to beef up their roster through trade or free agency signing. They got good goaltending and they had a certain amount of raw creative talent—most notably from Josi and Filip Forsberg—as well as the odd run of ridiculous luck—like Viktor Arvidsson’s 17.4 sh% last year. They got by, but a team that on paper should have been an absolute powerhouse couldn’t score on the power play to save its season and rarely had even two lines that looked like a threat to score in the same game.
Also, they had a head coach who’d eventually bench a gifted offensive player in Kyle Turris for seven games, during a losing streak, over what seems to have been a disagreement about play styles.
All this is to say: I’m pretty excited about the John Hynes era, y’all. It’s a small sample size so far, but early indicators are promising. Defensively the Preds did all right under Laviolette; offensively they did not. If Hynes can keep up the early suggestions of improved play at both ends, that will be an enormous help for Rinne and Saros as they look to rebound, and will create more challenges for opposing teams.
Also, Connor Hellebuyck is looking like a good choice for Vezina right now. I’m not too mad at the Preds for only scoring on him once on Sunday afternoon. Saros not scoring on the Jets, now, that’s more of a concern—where are the Preds going to get their offense, if the goalies aren’t contributing?
The Edmonton Oilers
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Oilers have Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, and, uh, [checks lint trap in dryer] hey, James Neal has 19 goals this season.
I was definitely wrong about Neal, and Rachel and Hayley were right when they projected him for a bounceback 2019-20. Playing with McDavid and Draisaitl at least some of the time won’t hurt anyone, but that’s still an impressive show for Neal after a catastrophic 2018-19 with the Calgary Flames, and it’s much better than Milan Lucic ever managed in the same place.
What’s even more impressive is that Zack Kassian is fourth on the team in points, just ahead of Neal and defender Oskar Klefbom’s 27 with 28 of his own. This is one short of his career high, and he, too, has benefited way more from McDavid and Draisaitl than I would ever have dared to predict. I am, no joke, impressed. However, Kassian will not be playing in tonight’s game, as he is currently serving a suspension for an altercation with Matthew Tkachuk in Saturday’s game.
On to the players I haven’t recently been wrong about. Top-line staples McDavid and Draisaitl are leading the team and pacing the league with 71 and 70 points respectively, and have 25 goals each. The dropoff from them to second-line center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is brutal; Nugent-Hopkins is third on the team in points production, with 30. That’s not a typo. McDavid and Draisaitl have combined for more points than the next-five most productive players, and the Oilers’ play on ice with and without them reflects that.
The offense, at both ends, happens with McDavid and Draisaitl on the ice. How much of this is their own defensive play, and how much is teams giving up on trying to defend against them and just throwing everything they have into offense, I can’t say for sure. There pretty much is no second power-play unit, which is good because what the team has without that top unit is awful.
The saying remains that if you can contain McDavid and Draisaitl you’ll probably win, and if you can’t you’ll lose. There have been occasional exceptions, but not many. The Oilers have neither been helped nor hurt extraordinarily by goaltending, as Mikko Koskinen has stabilized for the season at a .910 sv% and Mike Smith is holding down the backup spot with a .900—not fantastic, but not poor enough, this season, to destroy a team with a lot of offensive firepower.
The Edmonton Oilers are currently in a playoff position, holding on to the second wild card spot. At the moment, the Predators need to pass the Jets and Oilers to make it back in.
Reasons to Watch:
- Yakov Trenin has been playing very well of late. The Trenin-Turris-Colin Blackwell line has been a joy of a fourth line to watch.
- The Predators having multiple good lines is pretty cool too.
- Goalie shenanigans?
- I hear that McDavid kid sells a lot of tickets.
How to Watch:
The game starts at 8:00 Central and will air on FS-TN and ESPN+. You can also listen to the radio call on 102.5 The Game.
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