Capitals

Quick Links

2016-17 NHL Season Preview: Nashville Predators

2016-17 NHL Season Preview: Nashville Predators

It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.

Team: Nashville Predators

How they did last season: 41-27-17 (96 points), 4th in the Central, 7th in the Western Conference. Made the playoffs as the first wild card team, lost in the second round to the San Jose Sharks in seven games.

Notable acquisitions: D P.K. Subban, D Yannick Weber

Notable departures: D Shea Weber, G Carter Hutton

When they will play the Caps: Feb. 25 in Nashville; March 16 in Washington

RELATED: JUSTIN WILLIAMS SHARES OFFSEASON VACATION PHOTOS

Analysis: First, let’s all take a moment and give general manager David Poile a round of applause for pulling off the heist of the century. Getting P.K. Subban for Shea Weber was a brilliant move.

But wait, isn’t Weber one of the top defensemen in the league? Yes he is, but Weber is 30 and under contract for ten (!!!) more years. Somehow Poile convinced Montreal to trade away their best skater for a player who is older and has a longer contract.

There are some of you who are not fans of Subban and feel that Weber is the better player, but tell me which is the better deal: eight years of Subban in his prime or 10 years of Weber who is already 30? There’s no debate.

Plus, when you can bring in a contract with a $9 million cap hit to a playoff team and still have over $5 million left in cap space, you’ve done something right.

Subban will join a strong stable of defensemen in Nashville including Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm. If there’s one thing the Predators do well, it’s stockpile defensemen.

The main pieces of the offense are relatively young. Filip Forsberg was the team’s leading scorer last season and continues to get better at only 21 years old. He has a bright career in front of him. The Ryan Johansen trade quickly proved beneficial and at 24, he continues to improve as well.

The real question for the Predators this season is at the one position they have found the most stability over the past several years: goaltending. Pekka Rinne did not have a good 2015-16 season with only a .908 save percentage and did not look good in the postseason. And please, don’t tell me he was an All-Star. If the All-Star game was played in anywhere but Nashville, Rinne would not have been close to making the team.

Carter Hutton played well as backup, but he has moved on to St. Louis. That means the Predators will turn to the 25-year-old Marek Mazanec who has appeared in only 27 NHL games in his career. This isn’t a case of the Predators wanting the goalie of the future to learn from the seasoned vet either. By all accounts, Juuse Saros is the more highly regarded prospect. Mazanec seems to just be a placeholder at the backup position.

A year ago this would not have been a cause for concern as Rinne has been a very consistent netminder, but considering the season Rinne just had it seems curious that the Predators would not look for more insurance in net.

Season prediction: The Subban trade made this team better. Despite losing Weber, the defense will not take any steps back and Subban's puck-moving abilities will help facilitate more offense. With another year for Forsberg to develop and a full season with Johansen at center this team should be better offensively, but I’m wary over how Rinne will perform. Was last season a blip on the radar or has the 33-year-old netminder regressed?

Rinne’s performance for the upcoming season is a major question mark, but even with his bad season last year, the Predators still came within one win of reaching the conference finals. I think this team is a year or two (and perhaps a goalie) away from becoming Cup contenders, but I could see them taking a spot in the top three of the Central and competing for the conference in the playoffs.

MORE HOCKEY: JUSTIN WILLIAMS SHARES OFFSEASON VACATION PHOTOS

2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS

Pacific Division
— Anaheim Ducks
— Arizona Coyotes
— Calgary Flames
— Edmonton Oilers
— Los Angeles Kings
— San Jose Sharks
— Vancouver Canucks

Central Division
— Chicago Blackhawks
— Colorado Avalanche
— Dallas Stars
Minnesota Wild
— St. Louis Blues (coming Aug. 13)
— Winnipeg Jets (coming Aug. 14)

Atlantic Division
— Boston Bruins (coming Aug. 15)
— Buffalo Sabres (coming Aug. 16)
— Detroit Red Wings (coming Aug. 17)
— Florida Panthers (coming Aug. 18)
— Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
— Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
— Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
— Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)

Metropolitan Division
— Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
— Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
— New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
— New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
— New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
— Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
— Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
— Washington Capitals (coming Aug. 30)

Quick Links

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

usatsi_10635504.jpg
USA TODAY Sports

Braden Holtby puts loss to Tampa solely on his own shoulders

The mood in the Capitals locker room following a 4-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday was one of frustration. Forty minutes of strong play from Washington amounted to nothing because of a disastrous opening first period in which the Lightning jumped out to a 3-0 lead.

No one in the locker room was more frustrated than Braden Holtby.

"Obviously you don't want to go down three," he told reporters after the game. "That's on no one else but me. The third goal, especially the third, fourth goal, that's the difference in the game. I thought we played a really strong game against a really good team. We should have got a better result and that's on me why we didn't."

Tampa scored three goals in the first off of only eight shots. For the game, the Lightning managed to pierce Holtby four times off of only 19 shots.

RELATED: WHY THE CAPS LOST TO THE LIGHTNING

Frustration seemed to boil over on the fourth goal when a normally stoic Holtby was visibly upset after allowing Nikita Kucherov to beat him on a breakaway in a play similar to what we saw in the All-Star Game.

See for yourself:

"The key to getting better is learning from your mistakes and obviously I didn't do that," Holtby said. "I was just trying to play it patient. I wasn't trying to cheat towards that move and he came at it a different way. That's on me for not recognizing it. That's not a goal I can give up in that situation after our team battled the way they did, especially in the third."

The frustration Holtby feels likely is not the result of one goal, but the culmination of a recent slump that continues to plague the Vezina winner.

Holtby has lost four straight starts and has given up at least four goals in each of those games.

While Holtby was quick to take the blame for Tuesday's loss, head coach Barry Trotz was quick to defend his netminder.

"No one takes the loss," he said. "We all take a loss. I take a loss, the group takes a loss and Braden's part of the group. ... He's had a little tough stretch. It's no different than, we've got guys that haven't scored in 15, 20 games. It's no different than a player."

The challenge now is overcoming that slump.

For a slumping skater, Trotz could try different line combinations or play someone in different situations over the course of the game. Getting a starting goalie out of a slump, however, is more difficult. Most of the work has to be done in practice with the hope that it will carry over into the next game.

"You analyze how the goals are going in, what you're doing differently," Holtby said. "There's always some stuff that you can't control and stuff that you can and it's focusing on those contrallables that you can make a difference at. Like the first goal in Chicago, the last two goals here, those are goals that I could and should stop. You get to practice the next day and you focus on that and work hard until you figure it out so you don't do it again."

MORE CAPITALS: CHECK OUT THE 3 STARS OF THE GAME FROM CAPS-LIGHTNING

Part of the problem in Washington is that team defense is the Caps' biggest weakness. For most of the season, and even in years past, Holtby has made up for much of the team's mistakes on the backend. Now that he is slumping those mistakes become much more glaring and costly.

"The goaltenders in this league are erasers," Trotz said.

Lately, Holtby has not been able to erase those mistakes.

But the team has already moved to address the defense. Brian MacLellan added a puck-moving defenseman in Michal Kempny to help the team get the puck out of the defensive zone more quickly. Waiving Taylor Chorney could also signify another move may be coming before Monday's trade deadline.

As for Trotz, even during the slump, he made clear his confidence in Holtby has not wavered.

"He has been a rock since the day I've been here the last four years and he's been an elite goaltender and I look at him that way."

Quick Links

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

usa-chez-usat.png
USA Today Sports

2018 Olympic Hockey Results: Czech Republic eliminate U.S. men in shootout winner

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Pavel Francouz stopped all five shooters and Petr Kouka scored the shootout winner as the Czech Republic eliminated the United States with a 3-2 victory in the quarterfinals Wednesday.

Jan Kovar and Tomas Kundratek scored in regulation for the Czech Republic, which was fresher after winning its group and getting a bye into the quarterfinals. The U.S. looked fatigued after facing Slovakia in the qualification round and was outshot 29-20.

Ryan Donato and Jim Slater scored for the U.S, which again was led by its youngest players, including speedster Troy Terry. U.S. goaltender Ryan Zapolski allowed three goals on 29 shots and one in the shotoout, while Francouz stopped 18 in regulation and overtime.

Koukal was the only player to score in overtime. Chris Bourque, Ryan Donato, Marc Arcobello, Terry and Bobby Butler couldn't beat Francouz.

RELATED: OVECHKIN HAS LITTLE DESIRE TO WATCH 2018 WINTER OLYMPICS