The Nashville Predators’ last game, a 3-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, was 11 days ago.
In that time, the Preds have had four games postponed by the league due to COVID-19 protocol. This was made necessary by the team having 13 team members (players and coaches, plus other members of the traveling staff) on the COVID-19 protocol list, including:
- Players: Ryan Johansen, Mikael Granlund, Matt Luff, Michael McCarron, Ben Harpur, Philip Tomasino, Mark Borowiecki, Nick Cousins
- Coaches: John Hynes, Dan Lambert, Todd Richards, Ben Vanderklok, Dan Hinote
Despite the lack of a coaching staff, the Preds managed to win two games against the Avalanche and Blackhawks using many players from Milwaukee to fill the lineup. Admirals head coach Karl Taylor (and two of his assistants) stepped in seamlessly to the Nashville bench, guiding the team to two big wins over division rivals.
Preds coaches, and some players, return from protocol
The good news is that John Hynes and the rest of his staff are through with protocol and ready to return to action:
#Preds Head Coach John Hynes says he and the rest of Nashville’s coaching staff are out of protocol. The Predators had five coaches on the COVID list prior to what turned into an extended holiday break as Karl Taylor, Scott Ford and Scott Nichol filled in on the bench.
— Brooks Bratten (@brooksbratten) December 27, 2021
On the players side, there’s a “good news bad news” situation. Many players have returned, but some players have been added:
-> Cousins, Granlund, Tomasino, Johansen, Borowiecki, Harpur to active roster
-> Luff, McCarron to taxi squad (with Olivier)
-> Josi, Sissons, Novak to COVID-19 protocol
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) December 27, 2021
Getting Ryan Johansen and Mikael Granlund back in the lineup is great news. Losing Roman Josi and Colton Sissons is not. But that’s life in the COVID-19 world.
As it stands right now, the Preds have plenty of players to fill a roster, which is good because they are scheduled to play the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night. As of this publication, that game is still on. It seems likely that the league, which has been doing everything it can to ensure games are still played, will proceed with the game as scheduled.
Speaking of the league, to the benefit of the Nashville Predators, the league reinstated a taxi squad at least through the All-Star break. The taxi squad consists of up to six players that are technically not on the NHL roster, but can stay in the NHL club’s facilities to practice and such. This makes it easy to replace players on the NHL team with players who are A) ready to play, B) already in town, and C) not in close proximity with any potentially COVID positive players.
Right now, the Preds have Mathieu Olivier, Matt Luff, and Michael McCarron on the taxi squad.
Red hot Preds hope to continue streak
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this COVID-19 pause for the Nashville Predators is that they were arguably the hottest team in the NHL when it happened.
The Preds have won seven straight games and 10 of their last 13. They find themselves in 2nd place in the Central Division, only one point behind the Minnesota Wild.
And they’ve been winning games on the backs of a solid, all-around team effort recently. A tough defensive unit that has been denying easy scoring chances, a scoring attack that has multiple weapons firing at once, and a Vezina caliber goalie in Juuse Saros.
Even the much maligned power play unit has been scoring goals. And if they keep guys like Tanner Jeannot on the unit, that will continue:
Just revisiting this perfectly executed bumper play by Forsberg, Sissons, and Jeannot.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) December 17, 2021
The Preds’ power play ranks 7th in the NHL with a 25.6% success rate, and they’ve scored six power play goals in their last six games.
Facing a former head coach
Fresh out of COVID-19 protocol, the Nashville Predators will face their old head coach in Washington.
Peter Laviolette, who coached 451 games in Nashville (the most of any team in his coaching career), has been in Washington coaching the Capitals since 2020. But since last year’s 56-game “hub” schedule did not include the Predators and Capitals in the same division, this is the first game the two will meet.
Laviolette’s Capitals are very good: they sit in 2nd place in the Metro Division and 3rd place in the Eastern Conference. Alex Ovechkin is 2nd in the NHL in goals (22), John Carlson is 7th in points among defensemen (26), and their goalie tandem of Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek has been solid.
It seems likely that Laviolette, who was fired in the middle of the Preds’ 2019-20 season, will be motivated to beat his former team, even if he has fond memories of coaching in Nashville.
It also seems likely that many of the current Preds who played under Laviolette will want to show how much they’ve improved since he left. Guys like Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene, Mikael Granlund, and Filip Forsberg are having a resurgence of their offensive production. Those four have never looked as dangerous as they do right now under John Hynes.
While Peter Laviolette brought this Nashville Predators team to new heights during his 6 years at the helm, it did seem that his message became stale towards the end. It seemed like the right decision to move on from Laviolette at the time, despite any success Laviolette sees in Washington.
The Preds and Capitals are scheduled to play in Washington at 7 p.m. on Wednesday night.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —