Preds Pass: Nashville continues to struggle

The Predators are now 5-3-2 in their last 10 games after losing two of their three home games last week. Nashville (77 points) sits at second in the Central Division behind the Winnipeg Jets and third in the Western Conference. Here is a recap of what went on in the Predators realm last week.

Nashville makes an improbable comeback.

The Predators started out last week on a high note, as they came away with a win over their Central Division foes from St. Louis on Tuesday. Nashville outlasted the Blues in the Music City with a game-winning penalty shot goal from winger Filip Forsberg in overtime. The overtime goal capped one of the most impressive comeback wins for the Predators in the Peter Laviolette era.

Forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Austin Watson each scored a goal within a minute of one another to force overtime, and Forsberg took care of it from there.

“Obviously frustrated by the effort that we put out for the first two periods, but this group never backs off and never gives up,” Watson said. “We kept pushing, and we were able to get a couple to go for us and tie it up.”

The win over St. Louis gave Nashville its seventh straight point and the fifth straight game in overtime.

Predators drop back-to-back games

Nashville only lost eight games at home prior to Thursday night’s matchup with the Calgary Flames. However, the Flames ended the Predators seven game point streak, handing them a 4-3 loss. Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne logged his first loss since Jan. 2, despite recording 27 saves on the night.

Nashville looked to get back on track Saturday with a matchup against its former Central Division rival, the Detroit Red Wings. However, Red Wings goalie Petr Mzarek had other ideas, recording 31 saves as Detroit shutdown the Predators 3-1. Mzarek remained undefeated against the Predators in his career (6-0) as Craig Smith scored the only goal for Nashville.

“We’re not working hard enough,” said Laviolette following the game. “The stretches that aren’t going our way or the stretches that we’re getting outplayed, it’s because we’re missing some bite in our game.”

Previewing matchup with Senators

The Predators are trying to get back on track tonight after losing back-to-back games for the first time in nearly two months. In their last matchup with the Senators, Nashville fell 3-1 in Ottawa two weeks ago. The Senators are fresh off two straight wins over the Buffalo Sabres and a 6-3 win over the New York Rangers.

Forward Mark Stone leads Ottawa in goals scored with 19, while all-star Erik Karlsson leads the squad with 40 points on the season. Craig Anderson leads the Senators in the net with a 17-17-5 record and a .904 save percentage. The Predators have a 6-4-1 record against Ottawa in Bridgestone Arena.

Here is the projected lineup for Monday’s game that starts at 8 p.m. ET.

Edited by Ben McKee

Featured image courtesy of NHL.com

Tony Vitello picks up first win as Tennessee baseball salvages opening weekend

Despite a rough start to the weekend, Tennessee salvaged the opening series with a 13-6 thumping of Maryland (2-1) on Sunday afternoon.

Tennessee (1-2) kicked off the Tony Vitello era with a 4-0 loss on Friday night to the Terrapins following a three-hour rain delay.

The poor weather continued on Saturday, pushing game two of the three-game series back to Sunday.

Frustration surrounding opening weekend continued into Sunday, as the Vols bullpen surrendered a two-run lead in the eighth inning to allow Maryland to pick up a 10-4 win and clinch the series.

Tennessee didn’t hang its head though, exploding for 13 runs in game two of Sunday’s double-header to salvage the series and pick up a 13-6 win – Tony Vitello’s first as head coach.

“I think they just kind of came out of their shells,” Vitello said on what changed offensively going into the last game. “I’ll take the effort we had in game three.”

Adversity, the theme of the weekend for the Vols, did continue in the series finale. Maryland jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first inning thanks to a solo home run from Marty Costes and a two-run shot from preseason All-American Nick Dunn.

“I think they showed some resiliency there,” Vitello said of his team’s ability to face adversity. “I don’t think there was any quit to them.”

The Terrapins lead wouldn’t hold for long, as Tennessee bounced back with five runs of its own in the bottom of the first. In the inning, Tennessee batted through the lineup with six of its top seven batters picking up a hit. Benito Santiago capped the inning with a two-run double to give the Vols a 5-2 lead.

Vols second baseman Jay Charleston and right fielder Justin Ammons were both hit by pitches to start the second inning. Pete Derkay was then walked to load the bases, setting up Andre Lipcius to hit his first career grand slam and extend Tennessee’s lead to 9-3. Following Nico Mascia’s first career hit and RBI, Tennessee led 10-2 at the end of two innings.

“It felt good to finally get the bats alive,” A. Lipcius said following the game. “The whole fall and all spring we’ve been hitting the ball really well, and the first two games didn’t show it at all. It felt good to finally get them started.”

The Vols would tack just three more runs on, hitting their way to the first win of the season. Tennessee’s lead was too much to overcome, as Maryland only tacked on three more runs after its big first inning.

Will Neely received the start for the Vols in game two. On his way to picking up his first win of the season, Neely allowed four runs on six hits. After Andrew Schultz pitched the sixth inning, Donovan Benoit entered in relief and pitch three scoreless innings to pick up the save.

In game one of Sunday’s doubleheader, things looked good for Tennessee early on.

Jay Charleston led off with a home run and sophomore Garrett Stallings pitched five scoreless innings. The right-hander was rolling until he had to exit the game in the top of the sixth inning after taking a line drive to a finger on his throwing arm.

“He’s a high-character guy and he brings that character to the mound,” Vitello said of Stallings. “He throws every pitch with conviction.

“Now as far as Garrett’s finger goes, it’s quite swollen. He would have loved to have stayed out there, but it wasn’t going to work today. But I expect him to pitch next weekend according to what our trainer has to say.”

After Stallings’ early exit, things went downhill for the Vols.

Tennessee led 4-2 entering the eighth, but the Vols bullpen fell apart, giving up nine of the ten Maryland runs. Six different relievers saw action, but only two didn’t allow a run.

“There’s a lot of guys who can pitch for us,” Vitello said of his bullpen. “We’re separating and subtracting, and guys are moving up and down.”

Tennessee will now turn its attention to Lipscomb for its first midweek game of the year. First pitch is set for 3:30 p.m. ET on Tuesday afternoon.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Maryland spoils Tony Vitello’s coaching debut

Maryland (1-0) spoiled the start to the Tony Vitello era Friday night in Knoxville, defeating Tennessee 2-0.

A gloomy afternoon in Knoxville dampened the opening day mood, pushing first-pitch back from 3:30 p.m. to 6:05 p.m. Tennessee’s (0-1) bats also proved gloomy, collecting only six hits in the season-opener.

“You’re not going to get anything done when you’re timid,” Vitello said following the game. “We had guys who were flat out nervous.”

While the bats never got going, right-hander Zach Linginfelter took the mound for the Vols and managed to keep the game within reach.

Linginfelter put together scoreless innings in the first, second and third, but ran into trouble in the fourth.

“What we saw out of him that we didn’t see last year was the ability to mix speeds, pitch himself out of jams, and be a good defender on the mound,” Vitello said of Linginfelter. “He showed an arsenal that can give you an SEC Friday night win.”

Maryland second baseman Nick Dunn, a preseason All-American, smacked a solo shot to right to put the Terrapins on the scoreboard. Taylor Wright then hit a single to center before stealing second. With Wright on second, Will Watson lined an RBI single through the left side of the infield to extend the lead to 2-0.

Linginfelter got out of the jam and concluded his first outing of the season. The Sevier County native finished having allowed six hits, two earned runs and three walks while striking out six.

Freshman Chase Wallace entered in relief to make his impressive Big Orange debut. Wallace worked two scoreless innings to keep the Maryland lead at 2-0.

Fellow freshman Garrett Crochet also made his debut. The Mississippi native impressed in three innings of work but allowed Dunn to hit his second home run of the game to extend the Terrapins lead to 3-0 in the top of the eighth.

In the ninth, Maryland extended its lead to 4-0 on an RBI double from Marty Costes.

Tennessee could never string together a run of hits, hitting just 2-for-13 with runners on base.

The Vols threatened in the eighth after Jay Charleston reached based to start the inning on a hit by pitch. Andre Lipcius also reached on a walk, but with runners on first and third, Benito Santiago struck out to end the inning.

Wyatt Stapp shone as the lone bright spot on offense, as the Texas native continued the theme of freshmen contributing in their college debut. Stapp, the Vols new starting third baseman, was 2-for-4 on the evening.

“What I’ve always done is just try to see the ball, hit the ball,” Stapp said after the game. “That’s just kind of my mentality, so I just go with that every game.”

Tennessee and Maryland will square off in game two of the three-game series tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. ET. Sophomore right-hander Garrett Stallings will be on the bump for the Vols.

Edited by Seth Raborn

Feature image courtesy of Tennessee Athletics

Preds Pass: Forsberg receives questionable suspension

After dropping a 2-1 game to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Nashville Predators dominated the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers with a healthy roster. However, the momentum didn’t last too long as Filip Forsberg was suspended on Sunday. Regardless, Nashville (69 points) is just two points behind the Winnipeg Jets in the Central Division and five points behind Las Vegas for the top spot in the Western Conference.

Forsberg suspended for three games by the NHL

After his recent return from an upper-body injury in Thursday’s game over the Kings, Forsberg is out once again with a three-game suspension from this hit on Rangers forward Jimmy Vesey. The hit did not look malicious, but Forsberg certainly got the best of Vesey when he wasn’t looking.

“Well after the puck is gone, outside the allowable window to finish a check, Forsberg delivers a high, forceful hit to Vesey that makes substantial head contact,” said the NHL.

While some penalty is reasonable, three games may be on the high end for such a hit. This is Forsberg’s first disciplinary run-in with the NHL in his six seasons.

Predators dominated top-notch goalies

With coming Forsberg back against Los Angeles, Nashville showed just how dangerous it could be with a healthy roster. Forsberg got back into the action early, scoring a goal in the first period against Kings goalie Jonathan Quick who just returned from injury. Nashville blanked Los Angeles 5-0 as Quick had just an .861 save percentage with 31 saves. Predators goalie Pekka Rinne also tallied his second consecutive shutout with 19 saves on the night.

Saturday night’s game against the Rangers featured plenty of action for Nashville. The Predators went up against recently-waived winger Cody McLeod who had a tribute video dedicated to him in Bridgestone Arena. However, the Predators spoiled McLeod’s return with an impressive 5-2 win over New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist who made just 23 saves on 27 shots faced.

“Every time they had a look, they were able to get a real good look, and they scored,” Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault said. “We tried battling back but we weren’t able to do it.”

Goals by defenseman P.K. Subban and winger Kevin Fiala put Nashville up early, but the Rangers stormed back to make it 3-2 after a goal by Mika Zibanejad. However, the Predators duo of Viktor Arvidsson and Fiala finished it off with a pair of goals to put the nail in the coffin. Rinne notched his seventh straight win with 20 saves on the night.

Previewing matchup with the Islanders

The New York Islanders (26-22-5) host Nashville in the Empire State on Monday night in hopes to halt its two-game win streak. The Islanders are fresh off an impressive 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, as they snapped a two-game losing streak. With the win over the Blue Jackets, the Islanders secured the tie for the final wild-card slot in the Eastern Conference. With a win, New York can slide into the first wild-card spot over the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Predators come into this matchup with an 8-1-1 record in their last two games, but without a premier goal-scorer in Forsberg. Meanwhile, the Islanders will not be at full strength as defenseman Johnny Boychuk has been out for the past 16 games and forward Tanner Fritz is questionable for Monday night.

New York has given up over 39 shots in its last three games, which will not bid well for them considering Nashville’s success over Quick and Lundqvist last week. The Islanders also have the second-worst penalty kill in the NHL, while Nashville boasts the third best power play in the league. New York crushed the Predators in its last meeting as John Tavares notched a hat-trick in the 6-2 win over Nashville. Here is the projected lineup for Monday’s matchup.

Edited by Ben McKee 

Featured image courtesy of NHL.com 

What the Patriots need to do to win the Super Bowl

Is anyone surprised that the New England Patriots are in the Super Bowl? That’s like asking if anyone is surprised the sky is blue or that water is wet. The Patriots have become the kings of the NFL and have been for quite some time. They always have a bullseye on their back, but very few are lucky enough to rattle them.

Even though they are favored to win the Super Bowl, again, there is still a chance that the boys from Foxborough can be sent home empty-handed. Their opponent in Super Bowl LII is known for their suffocating defense that does not wear out as the game goes on. The men from Philadelphia look to be the next underdogs to try and knock Tom Brady and the Patriots off of the NFL throne.

For the Patriots to win, they must do a few different things. It will not be the typical ‘show up and win’ type of game that we are all use to seeing when the Pats play. If the Eagles have anything to say about it, and the Philly boys will have a lot to say on Sunday, the Patriots will have to work for everything they want.

ESTABLISH LEWIS, RUN GAME EARLY

Tom Brady has been the staple of the Patriots for nearly 20 years. Even with his greatness at quarterback, he has always been helped by a strong running game. Brady and the offense will need to get their starter, Dion Lewis, into a rhythm early and keep it there.

The Eagles pride themselves on a smothering, high powered defense that swallows up running backs. Lewis needs to have the game of his life Sunday evening in order to lift the Patriots to victory. Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett look to stop the running attack of Lewis and the stable of New England backs.

With Brady and the passing game being the staple of New England, the running game can open up the passing game and help Brady pick through the Eagle’s secondary. Lewis can be a deciding factor on whether or not the Patriots clinch another Super Bowl championship or not.

GET GRONK HEALTHY

Rob Gronkowski is a critical part of the Patriots offense. He blocks like a lineman but can catch the ball like a pro bowl receiver. Other than Brady, Gronk is the best offensive player on New England’s roster. He can change the momentum of a game with just a spike of the ball.

When Gronk went down in the AFC Championship game against the Jaguars with a concussion, many people wrote off the Patriots from not just winning the Super Bowl, but also making it to the Super Bowl. Now, that was a bit dramatic seeing how they still have Brady, but that just goes to show the importance of Gronk and what he means to New England.

Luckily for the Patriots, Gronk suffered his concussion on a two week break instead of just one-week break. If the Super Bowl would have been played a week earlier, Gronk wouldn’t have played. The NFL’s concussion protocol usually takes two weeks to complete, and it seems like Gronk will be ready to go for Super Bowl LII.

Gronkowski is expected to play on Sunday, but his health will be a key factor in the game. If he gets injured again and leaves the game, that can be a death sentence for the Patriots. Luckily for New England, it still has Brady on its side even if Gronk goes down again. Nevertheless, having Gronk on the field can only help New England repeat as Super Bowl Champions.

FORMER VOLS IN SUPER BOWL LII

There is only one school that has sent more players to the Super Bowl than Tennessee (61), and that is the University of Miami (62). The Vols have prided themselves on developing players and sending them off to the next level. This year, Super Bowl LII will only feature one former Vol, and he is only in his rookie season. His name is Derek Barnett.

The Nashville native looks to bring Philadelphia its first Super Bowl victory in his rookie season. Coming out of Tennessee, Barnett passed Tennessee and Eagle’s great Reggie White as the school’s all-time leader in sacks. Barnett looks to reach another milestone in his young career on Sunday in making the Eagles Super Bowl Champions.

Edited by Ben McKee

Feature image courtesy of the New England Patriots

Fisher returns to handle unfinished business

This afternoon, Predators general manager David Poile said that former center Mike Fisher would return for the remainder of the season. Poile noted they hope to reach a deal prior to the Feb. 26 trade deadline, and Fisher’s return would only be for the rest of the season.

“It always kinda bugged me when guys came out of retirement,” Fisher said. “I thought I was done and it was the right decision at the time. The more I thought about it, I just thought about the opportunity and how good this team is.”

Poile said Fisher, 37, would not take back his captaincy. Defenseman Roman Josi will keep the patch.

“Mike wants to come back to win a Cup, not to take his position as captain,” Poile said.

Fisher said that his wife, Carrie Underwood, constantly pushed him to come back, and he felt like this season “could be the year.” Fisher took to the ice at Bridgestone Arena Wednesday morning. The Nashville Predators officially re-introduced Fisher to the organization at 12:30 p.m. ET.

The former captain registered 16 goals and 24 assists in the 2016-17 season. Fisher also tallied four points in the Predators’ historic Stanley Cup Playoff run.

“There’s not a guy down there right now who doesn’t have a smile on his face because Mike’s going to come back,” Predators head coach Peter Laviolette said.

What this means for the Predators

Poile dodged questions about the trade deadline and how adding Fisher would possibly impact his chances of making a deal. NHL insider Pierre LeBrun of The Athletic tweeted earlier this month that the Predators will prioritize a top-six winger addition at the trade deadline.

Adding Fisher to the mix gives Nashville the ability to deal a young forward for a winger. The Montreal Canadiens have allegedly been shopping its 29-year-old winger Max Pacioretty, who would be a significant addition to the Predators. Trade buzz swirls around the 26-year-old Buffalo Sabres winger Evander Kane as well.

The asking price initially proved too high for the Predators to acquire those players, but with the addition of Fisher, acquisitions become much easier for Poile. Although he regretted his past acquisitions at the trade deadline due to team balance issues, Poile may look to make another big splash.

Regardless of how Polie handles the situation, Nashville added significant depth to its centers and to the rest of the team. It’s safe to say the Predators are accepting nothing less than another Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 2018.

Edited by Ben McKee 

Featured image courtesy of NHL.com