Saturday night against the Carolina Hurricanes could have easily been considered a “must-win” game for the Nashville Predators. Both teams have been struggling at the bottom of the league standings, but one team, especially on paper, had been underperforming immensely. While the Predators did not get a win against Carolina, they did pick up points in their third straight game in the 3-2 shootout loss to the Hurricanes.
Nashville entered the second period with a 1-0 lead after, for the most part, controlling play in the first period. About midway through the second however, Carolina turned it up another notch and completely dominated play the Nashville offensive zone.
“I think we were pretty satisfied with our first period, but our second period was as bad as it gets,” said defenseman Matt Irwin. “That’s on us in this room. That’s been our problem. We haven’t been able to play too many 60-minute efforts in. We have lapses and give those other teams life.”
At one point, the fourth line consisting of Colton Sissons, Austin Watson and Cody Bass, along with Yannick Weber and Matt Irwin, was stuck on the ice for for three-plus minutes. The positive note for that shift is that the Predators didn’t allow a goal or take a penalty. Still, it showed the struggles of the second period to not be able to clear the zone. In fact, Austin Watson iced the puck at the first opportunity, which forced head coach Peter Laviolette to take a timeout.
“Certainly in the NHL, that’s probably the longest one,” said Colton Sissons about his 2:58 shift in the second. “We did do a pretty good job there at the end [of the shift] just staying tight and holding them off. They had a few looks, but nothing grade-A, so my lungs were burning a little bit after that. Luckily we had a timeout, won a faceoff and got a change.”
Even though Nashville has earned points in their win against Colorado and shootout losses to Arizona and Carolina, the latter are two teams the Predators should be defeating in regulation. They’ve had strong periods, but have failed to be consistent.
“We don’t play [well] from one period to the next,” said head coach Peter Laviolette. “The second period I don’t think we played a good period. We weren’t competitive enough, we weren’t fast enough. Why? I don’t know why. In the second period, we stopped being competitive. That’s why the second period didn’t look good. The third period I thought we got going. Five-on-five we had a ton of chances. We could have scored many goals, multiple goals and it didn’t happen. Same with overtime.”
If one is trying to reach for a positive, it’s there are some thing working for the team. Sissons thinks the team can build on getting points in three straight games, but as it’s been stated, consistency is what is most important right now.
“We’re finding a way to get some points now,” said Sissons. “We’re not satisfied, but we’re moving in the right direction. We have to find a way to just work more consistently and just play a better overall game. Just shift-by-shift, period-by-period, we have these highs and lows throughout games and we just need to work on our consistency.”
One big shining light through the past few games has been defenseman Matt Irwin, who is riding a three-game goal streak. Saturday night against Carolina, Irwin potted a goal and added an assist to the scoresheet giving him four points in three games. Sissons found Irwin at the point, who slapped it in for his goal.
“That’s a part of our game plan,” said Sissons on finding Irwin. “Usually when we’re in trouble we can just bank it out or pass it out to the point, and he was right in the spot where he’s supposed to be. He’s finding a way to get pucks to the net, and he’s being rewarded for it, so I’m happy for him.”
Laviolette continued with more praise for Matt Irwin who, prior to this season, hasn’t played consistently at the NHL level since the 2014-15 season with San Jose.
“He’s done a good job defensively on our end,” said Laviolette. “The face that he’s contributing offense is a bonus. He’s been able to get his shot through and towards the net and it’s been going in. He’s come in and provided good, strong minutes for us, I think, from that position.”
While there are some bright spots in what may seem dismal at the time, the season is long. Pekka Rinne has looked very strong for the majority of the season, but Filip Forsberg has yet to find the back of the net. Matt Irwin has stepped in during Anthony Bitetto’s absence and provided offense from the blue line. If the Predators can find consistency in stringing wins together, the doom and gloom currently surrounding the fanbase can quickly turn around.