He wouldn’t admit it, to the surprise of no one who has spoken with the former New Jersey Devils head coach, but it sure had to feel good for John Hynes and his Nashville Predators leave New Jersey with a 6-5 shootout win on Jan. 30. The Devils fired Hynes less than two months ago and he was hired by the Predators nine games ago (Jan.7).
“I’m sure it’s pretty special for him,” said Predators center Matt Duchene said of getting the win for his new bench boss. “We feel great about it, and we’ll enjoy it tonight. But we have to get right back to work and get ready for Vegas (on Saturday night).”
But just like all of us, Hynes is human. If it was you, think about how satisfying it would be for you to beat your old employer – in their house – less than two months after they made you the fall guy because your players couldn’t complete two passes in a row, or continued to make the same third-period mistakes like a record skipping?
Taking the Hynes Road
“I have a really good feel of our team now,” said Hynes, who is only the third head coach in franchise history. “It’s been long enough and we’ve been through different situations – wins. Losses, good games, bad games. I think that will continue to get stronger.”
Maybe if the game wasn’t a free-for-all that saw the team’s trade goals five separate times throughout the night Hynes would have let his guard down a smidge. But the Predators are trying to claw their way back into the Western Conference playoff picture and now sit three points away from a wild card spot.
“It was a great battle. It was good to come back here and see, and compete against a lot of guys that you’ve coached and the coaching staff,” Hynes humbly said after the game. “It feels good to be able to find a way to win the game.”
Often times during the last two years of Hynes tenure in New Jersey his teams found ways to lose games rather than win them. Nashville was able to come from behind to beat the Capitals and Devils at home on consecutive nights. “What I really liked about tonight was that we came in on the second night of a back-to-back and still had the fortitude, and the toughness, to find a way to win this game.”
Predators on the Hunt
The Predators find themselves in an unfamiliar situation in that they are clawing and scratching for a playoff spot this season rather than focusing on playoff positioning and home-ice. That’s what cost Peter Laviolette his job and why Hynes was brought in. Part of that equation is that their top forwards haven’t been producing to their expectations, but with Hynes, there has been a clean slate for everyone and their elite players are starting to take their games back to where they need to be for Nashville to be successful.
“When I came in (to the job), some of our guys haven’t been having the year or type of year that we need to be a team that can get into the playoffs,” said Hynes of his top forwards. “Give those guys credit. They do care, they are very coachable, and they want to do well. Last night and tonight, those guys were productive players for us. We have to get them to continue to elevate their games.”
In the win over New Jersey, both Duchene (11 goals/34 points/47 games) and Filip Forsberg (18 goals/37points/44 games) had multiple points and Duchene netted the shootout-winning tally. Both have been producing below their own expectations this season, but both seem to be finding a groove at an important juncture of the season. “We’re a team that is fighting for everything right now,” said Duchene, who signed with the Preds this summer as a free agent.
Nashville is Rockin
“We kind of hit rock bottom and now we are on our way up, we know our best is yet to come,” added Duchene. “We’ve been snakebitten at times this year, we haven’t scored when we needed to, haven’t provided the offense that we are capable of.”
“We have more than six, top-six players on this team,” Duchene said. “Every guy has to show up from top to bottom. We’re a deep team and everyone has to show up and pull their own weight every night. The last two games we were able to do that.”
One difference that Hynes has noticed in his new gig is that the travel is much different being with a team that is in the Western Conference, rather than one in the East where a large percentage of trips can be made on a bus. “It is a lot different,” Hynes told The Hockey Writers. “You are changing time zones a lot, the travel is longer, even the inner-division travel is longer than it was with New Jersey. It has definitely been an adjustment (for me).”
At least for now, it appears that behind Hynes’ guidance the Predators are traveling up, as in up the standings, and they could be a force to be reckoned with if they qualify for the playoffs.
Dan Rice is in his 9th year of reporting for THW & has covered NJ Devils home games for 15+ years at various websites. He began his journey working for legendary broadcaster/writer Stan Fischler from 2002-04 & completed an internship at the ECHL; he also has been writing features for the NWHL (nwhl.zone) website since 2016.