The Nashville Predators went deeper into the playoffs this post-season than the franchise had ever been before, but that doesn’t mean GM David Poile is going to stand pat and be happy just to contend. Changes are coming for the Predators, and Poile made clear that two veteran players won’t be around for the 2016-17 campaign.
During his end of season meeting with the media, Poile said the Predators will be parting ways with Eric Nystrom and Paul Gaustad this off-season. That means next year’s Nashville squad will look younger than it did this past season and could resemble a team closer to what was seen during the latter stages of the playoffs than the one that was together for the bulk of the regular season.
Gaustad, 34, was a big part of the group in the post-season and was especially relied upon to win important faceoffs, but Poile said the Predators are prepared to let Gaustad walk in free agency. Poile said that while he loves Gaustad as both a person and player, citing his faceoff ability and ability to step up his game in the playoffs, the team is “going a different direction.” Read more
The Dallas Stars, Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals are the latest to join the list of playoff casualties. Their early exits from the postseason makes them fodder for offseason trade and free-agent speculation.
Shaky goaltending was the prime culprit in the Stars’ departure. The tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi entered the playoffs with the worst combined regular-season goals-against average (2.78). They finished with a bloated combined GAA of 3.23.
ESPN.com’s Craig Custance recommends the Stars upgrade between the pipes, but that won’t be easy. The Stars have over $10 million invested in Lehtonen and Niemi through 2017-18. Niemi carries a full no-trade for 2016-17 while Lehtonen holds a partial NTC.
Should GM Jim Nill trade or buy out Lehtonen or Niemi, the Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika lists Cam Ward of the Carolina Hurricanes, James Reimer of the San Jose Sharks and Carter Hutton of the Nashville Predators as free-agent options. He also suggests Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Ben Bishop of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Frederik Andersen of the Anaheim Ducks as trade targets. Read more
The Predators entered the third period of Thursday’s Game 7 against the Sharks in an unenviable hole. Nashville was trailing 3-0 and were starting the final regulation frame — and potentially their final period of the season — shorthanded against what has been the post-season’s most productive power play unit.
It took all of 26 seconds for things to go even further south.
With the Predators seeking anything to get the offense started, Mike Fisher broke up the ice shorthanded against a slew of Sharks defenders and crossed into the San Jose zone with defenseman Shea Weber approaching through the neutral zone. Fisher faked as if to drive to the outside before dropping a pass that was intended for Weber, but instead was poked away by Sharks center Logan Couture, Weber fell to the ice and San Jose skated away on a serious odd-man break.
And as if facing the playoffs’ best power play wasn’t enough, Predators defenseman Roman Josi was stranded alone trying to ward off a Sharks 4-on-1. The result was predictable: Read more
Remember the stumbling, struggling, choking Sharks of old? As evidenced by Game 7’s 5-0 victory, those Sharks don’t reside in San Jose anymore.
Any new fan tuning into Thursday’s game would have seen a Sharks team with a killer instinct, one facing a seventh and deciding game and playing in such a way that the Nashville Predators weren’t battling to move on to the Western Conference final so much as they were fighting to avoid embarrassment. As harsh as that may sound, it’s the reality of a Game 7 that was owned by the Sharks.
And for fans of old, watching the Sharks dismantle the Predators may have been a revelation, because throughout the post-season it’s been hard to shake the feeling that at some point San Jose was going to revert to their shortcomings of years past. That was not to be the case, just as it wasn’t throughout the first-round series in which the Sharks stunned the perennial favorite Los Angeles Kings.
The reason for that is that Thursday night, the Sharks were dominant and in a way that few teams have been this post-season. And it’s not as if the dominance was gradual. From the outset of the contest, San Jose bullied Nashville. It was the kind of ice-tilt, opposition-on-roller skates dominance one would expect from a regular season contest from a top-tier team and one who just hadn’t quite figured it out yet. If the Sharks would have capitalized on all the chances they had in the first period alone, they still could have walked away with a 5-0 victory, which is to say San Jose’s 17-3 shot advantage after the first period wasn’t misleading in the least. Read more
Robby Fabbri almost didn’t make the St. Louis Blues this season. And he was almost a healthy scratch in the first round of the playoffs. Seems crazy right about now, doesn’t it?
Regardless of which team wins tomorrow night’s Game 7 between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators, Fabbri will be the youngest player in the conference finals. He might also be the most unlikely, the most fun to watch, the most determined and the most involved. And if he keeps this up, he might just be a Stanley Cup champion, the top scorer in the playoffs and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner when it’s all said and done.
The San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues’ fates have felt linked throughout the 2016 playoffs. They each were said to have exorcised demons in Round 1, with San Jose defeating the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis toppling the Chicago Blackhawks. The Sharks and Blues had the chance to finish off their respective series Monday night and book a date with each other in the Western Conference final…but it wasn’t to be. The Blues fell short at home to Dallas, and San Jose dropped a thriller in Nashville.
The Sharks and Preds started the third period at Bridgestone Arena tied 2-2. A Logan Couture power play goal had San Jose tasting victory, but red-hot Colin Wilson answered less than two minutes later. It was off to overtime, where Viktor Arvidsson took the stage, roofing this remarkable backhander past Martin Jones:
It doesn’t get any more top-corner than that. At first glance, it looks like a shot Jones should’ve had, but the backhander is the hardest shot for a netminder to track off the stick, even if it’s a clean look, and Arvidsson’s couldn’t have been placed any better. It also looks like it changed directions a bit off the blade of Sharks D-man Marc-Edouard Vlasic’s stick. It was his first career post-season goal and, because of it, the Predators are now deeper into the calendar than they’ve ever been in their history. They’d never won seven playoff games in one year until now. A road victory in San Jose in Game 7 would punch Nashville’s first Western Conference final ticket ever, though no road team has won a game in this series yet.
The Sharks still have to be viewed as favorites in Game 7, as they’ll play in their own barn and their power play continues to absolutely sizzle. But they have plenty of reason to quake in their skates a bit. The Preds really put the pressure on them in the third period and overtime of Game 6, and they’ve had the possession stat edge in 5-on-5 Corsi four times in the past five games this series. The Sharks will have to limit their shot attempts allowed in Game 7 – and find away to contain the dynamite line of Colin Wilson, Mike Fisher and James Neal.
Matt Larkin is a writer and editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin
The San Jose Sharks were a win away from eliminating the Nashville Predators entering Game 6 of their second-round series Monday night, and the Sharks started out strong on the road with two goals. But Preds defenseman Roman Josi scored to get his team back within a goal before the end of the first period. And, in the second, center Ryan Johansen pulled out a dandy of a goal…sort of.
The move itself: a thing of beauty. But, wow, this has to be one of the slowest dekes ever, a silky skate lift to fake out Sharks defenseman Justin Braun, a power move into the slot and a low back-hander past goaltender Martin Jones. Check it out:
If anyone needed further proof that San Jose captain Joe Pavelski is a bonafide star, they could simply re-watch Game 5 of the second-round series between the Sharks and Nashville Predators. The Sharks had a chance to push the Predators to the brink of elimination, and it was Pavelski who scored twice to help lift San Jose to a 5-1 victory in Game 5.
When Pavelski was named San Jose’s captain in October, he said was excited about the opportunity to wear the ‘C’ for the franchise that took a shot on him with the 205th-overall pick in 2005. However, he added that he couldn’t let it alter what he did on the ice. “It means a lot,” Pavelski said at the time. “But it really can’t change a lot about the player I am or what my game is going to be like. I have to keep putting the work in and keep getting better every day.”
Through 10 games this post-season, not a soul would dare accuse Pavelski of changing anything about his game, unless to say those changes have been for the better. The 31-year-old, who hasn’t missed a single game for the Sharks in the past three campaigns, had the second best offensive season of his career in 2015-16 and he’s in the midst of what could be a star-making performance this post-season. Sunday night, Pavelski scored twice, both on blistering shots that flew past Predators netminder Pekka Rinne in the blink of an eye. Read more