Need to know: Beware of Predators
February, 15, 2013
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
• Quietly, the Nashville Predators are on a roll. After beginning the season with just one win in their opening six games (1-2-3), the Preds have turned it around with six wins in their past eight games, including a 3-0 shutout of the Phoenix Coyotes on Thursday night. The Predators are winning games despite not scoring goals, dead last in the NHL at 1.86 per game. Ah, but the Preds are first overall in goals against at 1.64. The guy in net is all-world, right? Pekka Rinne got the shutout Thursday to improve his overall numbers to a 1.62 GAA (third in NHL) and .938 save percentage (fourth). The Preds scored more than two goals for just the third time since Jan. 28. They're going to need to find more offense this season, hard to expect to win low-scoring games all season. One way to improve your offensive production is to capitalize on the power play. The Preds had the NHL's No. 1-rated power play last season at 21.6 percent but are 21st now at 16.3 percent.
• I just love watching John Tavares play. If he were playing in his native Toronto, they'd already be naming buildings after him. He doesn't get the kind of national attention he deserves on Long Island but Thursday night on the big stage at MSG he reminded many why he's Sochi-bound next February for Team Canada. He tied the game 2-2 with a sharp wrist shot and then won it in the shootout, the Islanders ending the bleeding of a five-game losing streak. On the Rangers' side, the story was the third-period benching of star Brad Richards, who played only one shift in that period. Richards has 10 points (2-8) in 13 games, so the production is OK, but he hasn't been the same the last few games. "It's on me," Richards told the New York Post after the game, "and I'm predicting a better Brad Richards next time the puck drops." The dude oozes pride. This won't sit well with him.
• And just like that, the Washington Capitals are four points out of a playoff spot. Funny what three wins in a row can do for you. In this case, it may have saved Washington's season. The Caps almost blew a 4-1 lead in Tampa on Thursday night but held on for a one-goal victory and you begin to wonder, perhaps, if first-year head coach Adam Oates is getting through to the players in what he's trying to get them to do. I should also point out the Caps are 3-0 since GM GM -- aka George McPhee -- addressed the media last Friday and expressed his disappointment.
• Makes it 6-1-1 in February for the Carolina Hurricanes, my surprise preseason pick to win the Southeast Division. And this time it was backup goalie Dan Ellis in net for a 3-1 win over the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs. If there's a player that jumped out at me Thursday night watching from afar, it was Alexander Semin. He didn't register a point although he led players on both teams with six shots on goal. He seems re-energized in Carolina this season after leaving Washington. He's got lots of jump and is really noticeable on every shift. Of course, it doesn't hurt to play with Eric Staal, either.
• The Montreal Canadiens beat the Florida Panthers 1-0 in overtime on Rene Bourque's tally and make it a two-game sweep in the state of Florida. It wasn't a game to write home about, the puck was bouncing all over the place on bad ice in South Florida, making it hard for both teams to produce clean chances. But the Habs pulled it out and if people were wondering how Michel Therrien's men would respond to a brutal 6-0 home loss to rival Toronto last Saturday, you've got your answer with two straight wins. One player I really noticed Thursday night was Erik Cole. He seems to have his legs back after a slow start. He drove the net Thursday and looked like the old Erik Cole that had a terrific year last season with Montreal.