The VICTORIOUS HOCKEY COMPANY’s Weekly Newsletter: MORE THAN JUST A PLAYOFF SPOT
THAT’S A WRAP!
The US Youth and High School Championships have concluded. And our Champions are:
14U Shattuck-St. Mary's
16U NJ Avalanche
18U Rochester Youth Hockey
HS / Prep:
D1 Springfield Cardinals
D2 Omaha Junior Lancers
Congratulations on a hard fought victory!
For 16U, 18U and Prep players, now is the time to get serious about Juniors. With the rare exception of a gifted few, NCAA coaches (all divisions) necessitate at least two years of Junior-level play at the Tier 1, Tier 2 or Canadian Junior A level. As I have stated in previous newsletters, if you are ready for Juniors, you will want to speak with your advisor ASAP. This year will be extremely difficult to navigate and you will want to make certain you have all the consultation and support necessary to avoid missing out. With the extra year of collegiate eligibility many players will miss out on the coming season if they do not fully understand what is at stake. Make sure to get in touch with your advisor, if you don’t have an advisor- call us. We will help get you sorted out.
Here’s another article from Coach Littler about playing at the highest level in the NHL and working to reach the playoffs:
PREDATORS-STARS SHOWDOWN IS ABOUT MORE THAN JUST A PLAYOFF SPOT — FOR BOTH TEAMS
By Adam Vingan and Saad Yousuf, Apr 30, 2021
Three of the four spots in the Central Division have been clinched. The outcome of Saturday’s game between the fourth-place Nashville Predators and fifth-place Dallas Stars will most likely determine the final participant.
In mid-March, the Predators were among the worst teams in the NHL, but 16 wins in their past 23 games have put them in position to make the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year. One year removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance, the Stars have stayed in the race despite dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, a weather emergency and several significant injuries.
Predators reporter Adam Vingan and Stars reporter Saad Yousuf discuss the significance of Saturday’s game for both teams.
The significance of Saturday’s game to the Predators
The Predators’ glow-up over the past several weeks has captured the imagination of their fan base.
For the past few years, the Predators have lacked an identity, but that is no longer the case. They have embraced a hard-nosed style of play, wearing down opponents with a strong forecheck. (It also helps to have a scorching-hot goaltender, Juuse Saros, who has a 1.93 goals-against average and .942 save percentage in his past 19 starts even after he allowed six goals in his most recent appearance.)
Asked recently to explain the Predators’ turnaround, coach John Hynes pointed to the players’
“Commitment to play the game the way it needs to (be) played to win in the National Hockey League — competitive, fast, structured, no passengers, check the right way when we don’t have possession of the puck.
“We didn’t work and compete the way we are now. We haven’t changed any systems. We haven’t changed any tactics. What’s changed is the commitment level that the players have put into what it takes to win. …
We have an identity that we wanted to have to start the year, which is a hard team to play against, and that’s been more consistent. There’s been more buy-in and belief to that.”
It calls to mind the scrappy, tight-knit 2016-17 Predators who came together and defied expectations by reaching the Stanley Cup Final. That run represents the high-water mark for the franchise, but since then, the Predators have been trending downward in the postseason, having been eliminated in the second round in 2018, first round (by the Stars) in 2019 and qualifying round last year inside the Edmonton bubble.
A failure to qualify for the playoffs this season would cap the Predators’ fall from grace. It would also lead to intense criticism of general manager David Poile, who doled out expensive long-term contracts to underperforming players and took a risk at the trade deadline by not shipping out valuable assets.
“It just (made) more sense to me to keep the team together versus what I could have gotten — a couple of draft choices or what have you,” Poile said earlier this month.
For Poile’s decision to be justified, the Predators probably need to pull off a first-round upset against the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers or Tampa Bay Lightning. Of course, that requires making the playoffs.
Hyperbole is rampant in sports, but the Predators will host their biggest regular-game season in recent memory Saturday.
The significance of Saturday’s game to the Stars
In the big picture, Nashville has more riding on this game than Dallas. With the twice compounded compressed schedule, and especially the injuries the Stars have had this season, they’ve never really seen their full potential in action on the ice. Whether or not this team makes the postseason, it doesn’t alter much for what the immediate future has in store. The entire core of coaches and players will return next season, expectedly in better health, and make another run at the Stanley Cup. Recent history shows that unless your team has Sidney Crosby, you don’t win the Cup the year after losing in the Stanley Cup Final.
The Stars don’t care about any of that.
Dallas still believes it has the potential to make another deep run in the postseason, but in order to do that, they have to get there first. That’s where the gargantuan importance of this game checks in. Whereas the Predators have two games against the Blue Jackets next week, Dallas goes through a gauntlet of a game against the Panthers and two games against the Lightning. Even if Dallas wins in Nashville on Saturday, the job will be far from finished, but a loss makes the postseason a daunting uphill climb.
Even though the Stars have had adversity this season, missing the playoffs would not be easy to shrug off, for a few reasons. While it can sometimes be lip service, the Stars truly do believe they have a chance to make a run if they make the playoffs and there is reason to believe them. Regardless of the opposition, Dallas has been playing better in recent weeks as the injuries have subsided a bit and the lineup has been able to be fairly consistent. Top centerman Tyler Seguin should be in the mix soon and would also be a huge boost against top competition. Rookie Jake Oettinger’s surprisingly quick rise in net and a Calder-worthy campaign for Jason Robertson has helped ease the blow of Ben Bishop and Alexander Radulov’s absences and given this team a makeup similar to the 2020 roster that made the Stanley Cup Final run.
Aside from their prospects of a 2021 championship, simply making the postseason with this roster would be significant for the future of the organization. While the Stars have a veteran core, there is a group of young core players who haven’t tasted a standard NHL postseason. Denis Gurianov starred during last season’s Stanley Cup Final run, but obviously that all came in the unconventional Edmonton bubble. Rookies Jason Robertson and Oettinger are both part of the team’s young core, so getting them postseason experience bodes well for next season and beyond.
The Stars have been through a lot this season but some players more than others. Top forward Roope Hintz has played all season with a nagging lower-body injury, waiting until the offseason to address it because it will require him to be shelved for some time. It’s all in an effort to punch a ticket to the postseason, something a regulation win in Nashville on Saturday would go a long way toward.
What to watch for from the Predators
All four of the Predators’ wins against the Stars this season have come in overtime. A regulation win Saturday would be preferable.
Filip Forsberg, who has missed the past 17 games with an upper-body injury, could return Saturday. He would provide a significant boost, especially on the power play, where he and sharpshooting rookie Eeli Tolvanen are constant threats from the circles.
Viktor Arvidsson did not complete the Predators’ loss to the Panthers on Tuesday, missing the second half of the game. The team will practice Friday.
What to watch for from the Stars
For much of this season, “games in hand” has softened the blow for the Stars and given hope for the future. At this point in the season, that has all but gone away as the Stars now have only one game in hand on the Predators. There’s no more clinging to hope for the future for Dallas, it’s now squarely about the present.
The Stars likely won’t have Seguin back yet. Head coach Rick Bowness said Thursday morning things are leaning toward the Stars forward making his season debut next week. Seguin has been skating with the team for a while now and the Stars are just awaiting his green light, so even though it’s unlikely, it can’t be ruled out that he plays on Saturday. But aside from Seguin, this is a Stars team finally hitting its stride in recent weeks. The lineup looks more consistent than it has at any point this season, and they just got one bit of reinforcements to their forwards group when they welcomed back Joel Kiviranta on Thursday. With Oettinger starting for Dallas on Thursday, Anton Khudobin may get the nod on Saturday in Nashville, an arena where he’s had some of the most success of his career. Either goalie will give the Stars a good chance to win.
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