Nashville Predators

Rinne takes the loss, but teammates share blame in his slide

Pekka Rinne (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Pekka Rinne (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

By Jim Diamond

It didn’t end the way he intended, but Peter Laviolette’s decision to start Pekka Rinne in goal Tuesday night against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks was the right move to make.

Yes, Rinne has struggled for most of this season, and he’s been mediocre at best for the last month or so, but if this Predators team has any hope of going anywhere, like say the playoffs, they are going to need Rinne to be the one who gets them there.

At 33, Rinne still has some time left to regain his standing as one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders, but that window won’t be open forever. And if the Predators hope to contend for a Cup anytime soon, they will need the 6’5” Finn to get back to the form that has seen him be a three-time Vezina Trophy finalist.

With Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Blackhawks, the Predators have dropped six of their last seven, and Rinne was between the pipes for all but one of those losses, and he wasn’t the one who earned the lone victory either, that was a Carter Hutton shutout of the Minnesota Wild Saturday night.

In stopping just 23 of the 26 Chicago shots he faced Tuesday, Rinne’s save percentage for 2015-16 fell to .901, which would be the lowest of his eight NHL seasons.

“Obviously my play hasn’t been anywhere near where it should be or I want it to be,” Rinne said. “Obviously working trying to do everything I can, trying to work through it, trying to get back up there and gain some confidence going forward. It’s been hard.”

There is plenty of blame to be shared among the team though, as the team in front of Rinne was poor at times Tuesday, symbolic of many of the previous games in which the end result was a Nashville loss. And against a team as dangerous as the Blackhawks, who won their 12th in a row Tuesday, any mistakes usually end up in the back of your net.

On Chicago’s first goal, Filip Forsberg turned over a puck inside the Nashville zone moments before Artem Anisimov made a nice move around a sliding Rinne in the first period’s final seconds.

In the second, Richard Panik doubled the Blackhawks lead on a shot that Rinne probably should have stopped, but the play probably shouldn’t have been allowed to develop as it did. In the neutral zone, Anthony Bitetto tried to hit Paul Gaustad with a pass at the blue line. It missed and Chicago turned the play back toward the Nashville zone.

Chicago’s third goal came on a Patrick Kane breakaway after Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm lost track of the league’s leading scorer. That goal came just a minute after Ellis made it a 2-1 game early in the second, a momentum changing swing for sure.

Following the game, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette was not pleased with some of the errors his team made in the loss.

“Defensively we didn’t let up a lot,” he said. “There weren’t a lot quality chances. There weren’t a lot of shots, but the ones that we let up, there’s three or four (or) five of them that I’d like back because they were too big. The chances were too big.”

Nashville begins a pre-All-Star break four-game road swing through Western Canada Thursday in Winnipeg.

Fast start paces Predators past Blackhawks

By Jim Diamond

Goals, fights, a penalty kill, and saves, and that was just in the first period. From the opening faceoff, the Predators looked like a different team Thursday night, dominating the visiting Chicago Blackhawks for nearly the entirety of the first 20 minutes.

The game’s first 11 shots on goal all came off of Nashville sticks with the Blackhawks not testing Pekka Rinne until Jonathan Toews recorded Chicago’s first shot at 5:30.

All the talk of late has been about whether or not the Predators are a frustrated team. Despite not solving Darling during that early barrage, they kept shooting. It paid off at 6:54 when James Neal did, well, what James Neal does.

Neal accepted a long stretch pass from Shea Weber at the Chicago blue line. He got the puck to settle in the slot, danced around Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to get into open space on the left, and then slipped a quick wrist shot between Scott Darling’s pads.

Neal, who had just one goal in his last 11 games, pumped his fist before celebrating with his teammates on the left half boards.

“Yeah, I think it was one of our best periods of the year,” Neal said. “I think every guy wanted to respond from our game in Chicago. It was a tough one for us, so coming back home having Chicago again was great for our team. I think we did a great job, every line, and the first shift was big and got us rolling.”

Neal added another goal late in the third. It was his third two-goal game of the season, but first since Oct. 20.

Craig Smith and Filip Forsberg scored goals 37 seconds apart later in the first. Smith’s goal snapped a seven-game goalless stretch.

Viktor Arvidsson carried the puck into the Chicago zone on the left side and lifted a backhand pass over the stick of Trevor van Riemsdyk to Smith in the slot. Smith corralled the bouncing puck and got enough of it to get it by Darling for his sixth of the season.

“We were ready to play fast,” Smith said. “We just wanted to hit holes and just regardless of what happened, just to move our feet and play fast.”

Forsberg’s goal came just 19 seconds into the only power play the Predators would have on the night.

As efficient as their power play was, Nashville’s penalty kill was equally effective in the game. The highly talented Blackhawks had three opportunities on the power plays in the game. In the six minutes of time with the man advantage, they managed just three shots on Rinne, none of which beat him.

Nashville had allowed nine power-play goals against in their last seven games.

“It’s great to see,” Rinne said. “It’s a confidence booster too when you kill a few penalties against a good team like that. We did a really good job. Guys sacrificed and we made good clears, all the right things.”

Chicago pushed back over the course of the final two periods, putting 29 shots on Rinne in the second and third. Only one got by him, a controversial Patrick Kane goal that Rinne thought should have been blown dead since he thought he had the puck covered. Peter Laviolette used his challenge, but the call on the ice stood after the review.

Predicting the Central Division’s All-Star Team

By Jim Diamond

When the NHL and NHLPA announced the new format for the upcoming All-Star game to be held in Nashville in late January, it was announced that the rosters for the teams that represent each division would be made up of six forwards, three defensemen and two goalies for the 3-on-3 division vs. division tournament.

Another big wrinkle for the roster is that each team has to be represented at least once. For the Western Conference, that means the 11 roster spots are to be spread among the seven teams in each division. It is a little tougher in the Eastern Conference, where each division has eight teams.

The NHL will host a fan vote, which will select one player from each division to be named to the All-Star Game. The player who wins the fan vote in each division will be named that team’s captain. A conspiracy theorist might suggest that there is a great chance that Shea Weber may be the Central’s leading vote-getter.

Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Using the league’s rules, here is my guess at the Central Division’s lineup. With the division being as strong as it is, picking 11 players is a difficult task. Many things can change between now and January.


  1. Nathan MacKinnon (Colorado)
  2. Patrick Kane (Chicago)
  3. Tyler Seguin (Dallas)
  4. Vladimir Tarasenko (St. Louis)
  5. Jamie Benn (Dallas)
  6. Blake Wheeler (Winnipeg)

Current omissions: James Neal (Nashville), Jonathan Toews (Chicago), Miikko Koivu (Minnesota), Artemi Panarin (Chicago)

They are all good, even the ones currently listed on the outside looking in.


  1. Shea Weber (Nashville)
  2. Ryan Suter (Minnesota)
  3. Roman Josi (Nashville)

Current omissions: John Klingberg (Dallas), Colton Parayko (St. Louis), Tyson Barrie (Colorado), Alex Pietrangelo (St. Louis)

Let’s call those listed as on the team as the David Poile/Paul Fenton blue line. Klingberg really deserves a place on the team, but when you only have three spots, tough calls are made. There is no chance of Weber not being there, and with the game in Nashville, Josi will get the benefit of any doubt, but he deserves to be there too.


  1. Pekka Rinne (Nashville)
  2. Jake Allen (St. Louis)

Current omission: Devan Dubnyk (Minnesota)

Rinne is a virtual lock. Right now, it is basically a coin flip between Allen and Dubnyk for the other spot.

Again, a lot can happen before the rosters are announced. Who do you have?

One to remember, Viktor Arvidsson scores his first NHL goal

By Jim Diamond

By the time he has grandchildren and sits down to tell them how he scored his first NHL goal, it may evolve into being a one-timer from the top of the slot, but Thursday night, Viktor Arvidsson’s goal was an absolute beauty no matter how it went into the net.

With just under three minutes remaining in the first period, Seth Jones sent a wrist shot from above the right circle toward Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward. Arvidsson, standing in front of Ward along side linemate and fellow Swede Calle Jarnkrok, attempted to jump out of the way of the puck, which appeared to be headed by Ward on the glove side.

Just as Arvidsson jumped, Jarnkrok stuck the blade of his stick near the puck, tipping it ever so slightly off of its upward trajectory. After catching Jarnkrok’s blade, the puck hit the lower front part of Arvidsson’s jersey and leg and then by Ward. Playing his seventh NHL contest, the goal was Arvidsson’s first.

“They all count, so I take whatever I get,” Arvidsson said.

Arvidsson played his first season in North America in 2014-15, and it was not too tough of an adjustment to the skinnier rinks on this side of the Atlantic. In 70 games played with the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL last season, Arvidsson had 22 goals and 33 assists. His seven power-play goals were tops on the Admirals.

With an impressive training camp and preseason performance this year, Arvidsson earned a spot on the opening night roster.

“This is a kid that works really hard,” Predators coach Peter Laviolette said. “He worked hard last year, came over and learned the game and in his first opportunity tonight, he was able to score a big goal for us.”

But what about the puck?

It is hockey tradition for a teammate to retrieve a player’s first NHL goal puck, but at first, no one knew that it was Arvidsson’s goal. Like goaltenders usually do, Ward swept the puck out of the back of the net and it traveled toward the neutral zone as the five Predators on the ice celebrated the goal. Both the in arena and TV cameras focused on Jones, who had the initial shot on the play.

“I thought it was mine at first,” Jones said. “I didn’t really celly though because I kind of saw the whole bunch in there. I saw him come into the corner and go on one knee, so I kind of thought he thought it touched him.”

Arvidsson knew it was his.

“It hit my leg, so I knew straight away when it went in that I scored,” Arvidsson said. “It was a good shot and Jarny tipped it on my leg; a little bit lucky, but it’s a goal.”

Soon everyone else realized that the goal was Arvidsson’s. As he sat down on the bench, the 22-year-old allowed a little emotion to show when he gave a triple fist pump and a quick punch to the boards in front of him, all while wearing an ear-to-ear smile, because, that’s what you do when you score your first NHL goal. Linemate Cody Hodgson, sitting immediately to Arvidsson’s left, gave him a congratulatory pat on the head.

Friend o’ Rinkside and Goddess of the GIFs Stephanie caught the on-bench moment.

The puck was retrieved and was waiting for Arvidsson in the locker room following the game for the traditional first goal picture taken by team photographer John Russell.

At the time it was scored, Arvidsson’s goal made the game 2-0. Carolina’s Eric Staal scored at 18:20 of the third, and the game ended 2-1, which means that Arvidsson not only got credit for his first NHL goal, but also his first game-winning goal as well.

And that’s worthy of another fist pump.

Austin Watson making his case for a spot on the opening night roster

By Jim Diamond

In an otherwise gloomy performance in the Predators final home preseason game Tuesday night against the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, one bright spot for Nashville was an early shorthanded goal by Austin Watson.

The unassisted backhand marker from in close gave the Predators a 1-0 lead at 9:03 of the first, and it was pretty much downhill from there in a 5-2 defeat.

First round draft picks bring high expectations; from the fans, the teams who drafted them, and most importantly, the players themselves. Watson was Nashville’s first pick (18th overall) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. Entering his fourth professional season, Watson has not played an NHL game since making six appearances late in the 2012-13 season, a season in which the injury bug ran rampant through the Nashville system where it seemed another forward went down each game played.

Watson scored his lone NHL goal April 23, 2013 against the Calgary Flames.

Now 23, Watson is looking to stick with the Predators coming out of this season’s training camp. Tuesday was Nashville’s penultimate preseason game, with only Saturday’s game in Columbus on the slate in advance of next Thursday night’s regular season opener against the Carolina Hurricanes.

With 28 players still on the roster, five will have to go before the Predators set their opening night roster, which can be a maximum of 23. There’s less than a week remaining before the NHL-mandated October 6 at 3:00 p.m. CT deadline to establish that opening night roster, and Watson is focused on continuing to do what has kept him in camp this far.

“It’s just keeping with the process,” Watson said after Tuesday night’s game. “You’ve just got to come out here and compete and work hard every day. You’re trying to earn a job and that’s the mindset every time you come to the rink.”

He’s been here before and knows that the team’s coaching and management staffs see everything he does on the ice both in games and in practice.

“You know what’s going on,” Watson said. “They’ve got to get down to 23 guys and it’s going to happen here before the season. You’ve just got to keep doing what you’re doing, try not to read too much into it and just be the best you can be out there. Hopefully it works itself out.”

The two-year deal Watson signed this offseason is a two-way contract for this season and a one-way deal for 2016-17. That means that if Watson is sent to the minors this season, he will be paid the $100,000 portion of that contract. He will make $575,000 at the NHL level should he stick.

Having a player on a two-way contract makes it easier for a team to send him to the minors, especially if it comes down to a decision between him and someone on a one-way contract, who makes the same salary in the NHL or the minors.

Watson has at most a week left to try and prove to the Predators that he belongs on the NHL roster that they will submit to the league next Tuesday.

Shea Weber impresses in return to game action

By Jim Diamond

Last week, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said that team captain Shea Weber “looked great” after the first two on-ice sessions of training camp, but they would proceed slowly with working him into the lineup for the preseason games. Wednesday marked Nashville’s fourth exhibition contest and also marked the first for Weber.

It was Weber’s first game action since sustaining a knee injury in Game 2 of the Predators’ Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Chicago Blackhawks on a hit by then Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad. The injury required surgery to correct. The Weber-less Predators fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks in six games.

Wednesday night, Weber got back to doing Weber-like things pretty quickly. At 8:40 of the opening period and with Nashville on the power play, Weber let fly a half slap shot from the high slot that beat Tampa Bay goaltender Adam Wilcox high to the far side. No, it wasn’t one of his familiar one-time bombs from the point, but those will come with time.

During a second period Nashville power play, Weber saw some extended time and did get a chance to air out his one-timer. In the span of 25 seconds, Weber was credited with one shot on goal and another two that missed the target, one of which caused James Neal to duck out of the way. During 5-on-5 play, Weber played a lot with Anthony Bitetto as his defensive partner, but on the power play, he saw some time with his more familiar partner Roman Josi.

After the game, Weber said that more time is needed to work on getting his timing back on his one-timers.

“Jos and I talked about it in between periods,” he said. “Practices have been pretty long where we haven’t had time to stay out there afterwards and work on that kind of stuff, so that will come.”

Weber and Josi finished fourth and fifth respectively in the voting for the Norris Trophy last season. While Weber has finished a close second for the award on multiple occasions, Josi has emerged as another elite blueliner to come through Nashville’s pipeline.

“For the whole team, it’s about getting that chemistry back and getting used to the players next to you again,” Josi said. “That’s what preseason is here for, to get back in game shape.”

Laviolette didn’t tax Weber too much in the game, playing him 19:23, with none coming on the penalty kill.

“He looked great,” Laviolette said. “We kept him off the penalty kill. We got him 5-on-5 time and power play time. We will increase that from here and work him in a little bit more, but I thought for his first game back since last spring, I thought he looked really good.”

Weber recorded three shots on goal in the game along with four that missed the target and another four that were blocked.

After four games played in the span of just four days, the Predators do not play another preseason game until next Tuesday, when former Central Division foe the Columbus Blue Jackets pay a visit to Bridgestone Arena.

Vladislav Kamenev impresses in preseason debut

By Jim Diamond

Seeing his first NHL preseason action, Nashville Predators prospect Vladislav Kamenev did not disappoint in the front end of Nashville’s doubleheader of exhibition tilts held Sunday at Bridgestone Arena.

At just 19-years-old, Kamenev is expected to play his first season in North America in 2015-16. If Sunday’s very small sample size is any indication, the 6’2” Russian looks like he will make the transition to the smaller rinks just fine.

Kamenev had a strong showing, scoring once in generating three shots on goal along with two others that missed the target. On his goal, Kamenev was the beneficiary of a strong individual effort by defenseman Ryan Ellis.

Ellis, sporting a summer’s worth of growth in what can be best characterized as a Yukon Cornelius-esque beard, drove down the right side and curled a pass to the left, where Kamenev was there to sneak a quick shot between Panthers goaltender Mike McKenna and the near post.

Ryan Ellis (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Ryan Ellis’ beard. It’s simply magic. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

“That’s usually where a guy is going to be,” Ellis said. “When you chip it by, he’s never going to be right on the back side. I just kind of threw it to an area and figured someone would be there and luckily it got right to him.”

Ellis said he got to know Kamenev a little prior to the start of training camp.

“I was a couple weeks early and so was he,” Ellis said. “He had a banged up shoulder, but he showed flashes of brilliance out there. He’s kind of your prototypical Russian; great hands, great vision, and skates well for a bigger guy. I thought he did great. It was a good shot off of the wing there. Overall though, I thought he was making plays as well. It’s good to see from a young kid.”

In 15:50 of ice time Sunday, Kamenev led all Predators skaters in shorthanded time on ice with 4:21.

Following Sunday night’s second game, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette liked what he saw from Kamenev and fellow Russian Yakov Trenin, who played in Game 2.

“I thought he did a good job,” Laviolette said. “Both he and Trenin, coming in for really playing their first set of games, I thought they both played well. Big centermen that can move, they seem to be pretty smart two-way players. Both had some nice 1-on-1 moves out there.”

With very few roster spots up for grabs in training camp, Kamenev is likely slated to start the season with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League.

Kamenev played for Magnitogorsk Metallurg of the KHL last season, posting six goals and adding three assists in 41 games played.

Poile’s gamble on Franson just didn’t pay off

By Jim Diamond

At a Tuesday morning press conference wrapping the team’s recently completed 2014-15 season, Predators general manager David Poile was asked about the Feb. 15 trade that brought defenseman Cody Franson and forward Mike Santorelli to Nashville from Toronto, in exchange for Nashville’s first round pick in June’s Entry Draft and Brendan Leipsic, a prospect with a penchant for drinking out of his opponent’s goaltender’s water bottle, which is awesome.

Sitting next to head coach Peter Laviolette Tuesday, Poile addressed the trade. Neither player gained much traction with the Predators and both were largely ineffective in what was the second stint for both players in the organization.

“I think we had very thorough discussions with our staff as to what we needed and our goal was to add one more forward and one more defenseman,” Poile said Tuesday. “There wasn’t a huge crop of defensemen. We’ve also talked about some of our past dealings at the trading deadline in terms of fits and specifically chemistry. Arguably in the past, I think I basically said this publicly, that I think we did some things that maybe weren’t a perfect fit if you will.”

At the time of the trade, the Predators were 38-12-6 and looked like they had a shot at winning the Presidents’ Trophy. Poile has shown a penchant for making trades prior to the deadline, as was the case with Franson and Santorelli.

The trade for Franson and Santorelli almost seemed doomed from the start. The President’s Day holiday and a freak ice storm that grounded the city of Nashville pretty much to a halt combined to prevent the players’ immigration paperwork being completed for six days, keeping them off the ice for almost a week following the deal.

In speaking about Franson specifically, Poile brought up the fact that he was a right-handed shot, something the Predators were particularly deep in with the likes of Shea Weber, Seth Jones, and Ryan Ellis already in the fold. In fairness, Ellis was still on the shelf at the time with a lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup from early January until early March.

Very effective on the power play in Toronto, Franson couldn’t get much of a look with the man advantage in Nashville. Weber and Roman Josi made up the team’s top pairing, while Jones and Ellis ran the points on the second unit. In several games, Franson was stapled to the bench for long stretches of time due to ineffective play.

“I think, to be very honest, the fact that Franson was a right-handed shot, and we probably had the lefty/righty thing all year was working really good for us,” Poile said Tuesday. “The righty/righty thing was, I’m not making an excuse, but it wasn’t the perfect situation for Franson or for us.”

It was a curious statement indeed, as Poile was asked specifically about having four right-handed defensemen in the lineup with Franson’s addition.

“Four right-handed D, and we’re really happy with that,” Poile said at the time of the trade. “We’ve liked the lefty/righty thing. There’s no question that we spent a lot of time talking to our coaches about that before we made the trade. Again it’s up to Peter to solve that.”

The righty/lefty thing was the reason Poile gave for making the January 2014 trade that sent right-handed shooting Kevin Klein and his fairly magnificent contract to the New York Rangers for Michael Del Zotto, a left shot. That trade proved to be an unmitigated disaster for Nashville as Del Zotto played his way out of Barry Trotz’s lineup while Klein helped the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals.

With six blueliners (Weber, Josi, Ellis, Jones, Mattias Ekholm, and Victor Bartley) under contract for next season, the Predators have three right-handed and three left-handed shots coming back.

Franson looked decent in the opportunities he had in the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the Chicago Blackhawks, but there’s virtually no chance that he returns to play for Nashville next season.

Trick-Fil-A: Forsberg’s three goals keep Predators alive

By Jim Diamond

Late in the second period and with the puck near the Chicago blue line, Mike Ribeiro stepped up and planted a body check on Blackhawks star Patrick Kane.

Goddess of the GIFs and friend o’ Rinkside Steph has all of the action here:


More known for his passing ability than his prowess for delivering open-ice hits, Ribeiro made a play that was uncommon for him in a night of firsts for the Predators. After missing considerable time down the stretch of the season with a broken collarbone, Kane had largely gone untouched for most of the series. The score was tied 1-1 at the time, and the middle frame would end that way, but in the third, the Predators came out flying.

“Everyone is doing everything in this playoff series,” Filip Forsberg said. “It feels like Ribby is hitting, guys are blocking shots like never before, so it’s awesome. That’s the type of effort you need to beat the Chicago Blackhawks and I’m really happy that everyone put this in the basket today. There’s a new game coming up in two days, and that’s the next focus here.”

Oh, and about Forsberg – just a couple of hours after the NHL announced that he was not among the top three vote getters in the Calder Trophy race for the league’s top rookie, Forsberg went out and registered the franchise’s first-ever playoff hat trick.

In a frenetic first period that featured a nearly 10-minute stretch that went without a whistle, Forsberg potted his first just 1:15 after Brad Richards opened the scoring.

The Swede struck again at 3:14 of the third. The goal came just 12 seconds after Colin Wilson’s power play goal, and the Bridgestone faithful had not even had time to sit back in their seats.

Forsberg punctuated the evening with the rare empty-net power-play goal in the game’s waning seconds. And the hats hit the ice.

Paul Gaustad's Helmet (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Paul Gaustad’s Helmet (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Well these kinds of hats did too.

Hats and other stuff on the ice in Filip Forsberg's honor. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Hats and other stuff on the ice in Filip Forsberg’s honor. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

And curiously enough, even a pair of glasses.

Glasses Trick (Jim Diamond./Rinkside Report)

Glasses Trick (Jim Diamond./Rinkside Report)

Related, this tweet from Christine deserves some love:

The 5-2 victory was also an important franchise milestone in that it was the first time a Predators team facing elimination won the game. Still with a tough task of having to beat Chicago twice more in order to advance, Nashville’s players were taking the one game at a time approach following Thursday night’s game.

“We’re not going to get too high on one victory,” Seth Jones said. “It takes four to win a series and we have two now. We know how important every game is. We break it down shift by shift how important every shift is, puck management is huge too against this team. It’s just another win. We’re still down 3-2, so we have a lot more work to do.”

Wise well beyond his age of 20, Jones had remarked at the morning skate that the series didn’t have the level of physicality and nastiness that most playoff series morph into at some time or another. Game 5 turned the corner in that respect.

“Guys are maybe getting a little frustrated here or there,” Jones said. “That’s just hockey. It’s going to get chippy at times.”

That chippiness was evidenced by a minor fracas in the corner of the Nashville zone late in the third involving Paul Gaustad and Andrew Shaw among others.

Tensions boiling over. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Tensions boiling over. (Jim Diamond/Rinkside Report)

Facing another elimination Saturday, the Predators will have to win in a building that they have lost each game they have played so far this season to force a decisive Game 7 back at Bridgestone.

Shea Weber’s injury creates an opportunity for Cody Franson

By Jim Diamond

When the Predators acquired Cody Franson in a mid-February trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs, expectations for the 6-foot-5 defenseman were high. After all, he had a strong start to his NHL career in a Nashville sweater and was excelling in Toronto after the Predators shipped him there in 2011.

But ever since the trade back to Nashville, Franson has looked out of place. He struggled to put up points and often found himself stapled to the end of the bench for long stretches of time. A late-season upper-body injury didn’t help things, keeping him out of the lineup for the last regular season game and Game 1 of Nashville’s Western Conference Quarterfinal series with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Franson drew into the lineup in Friday night’s Game 2 and played well. He was visible for the right reasons and picked up the primary assist on Craig Smith’s goal at 14:54 of the second. That goal proved to be the game winner.

“I do think he played a good game last night,” Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said Saturday prior to the team’s departure for Chicago later Saturday afternoon. “He was moving the puck well. He got his shot off. He defended well. He jumps into the lineup and gives us a good game.”

When the Predators lost team captain Shea Weber in the second period Friday to a lower-body injury, it created some opportunities for others to pick up some of the voluminous amount of ice time that Franson’s fellow Sicamous, B.C. native logs night in and night out.

“Everybody will probably chip in and handle some of the minutes and some of the responsibility,” Laviolette said.

Franson played 16:31 in Game 2, including 1:12 of power play time.

In 55 games with Toronto this season, Franson had four goals and 11 assists on the power play. He averaged 3:05 per game on the man advantage. With Weber, Seth Jones, and Ryan Ells on the Nashville roster, Franson was fourth in line among right-handed defensemen, not a good recipe for a lot of power play time.

With Weber not making the trip to Chicago, he won’t play in Games 3 or 4. That creates a vacancy on one of the points of the power play, one that Franson will likely step into, probably on the second unit.

Not the fastest of skaters, Franson’s minutes at even strength will probably be limited against the speedy Blackhawks.