In the last three games, the Nashville Predators played the Philadelphia Flyers, the Boston Bruins, and the Dallas Stars. They lost all three in sloppy and underwhelming fashion.
Nashville at Philadelphia
The Flyers took the early lead thanks to some crafty puck management and a breakdown in coverage down in the low slot. Jakub Voracek slam dunked Philadelphia’s first goal at 5:10 on the Flyers’ second shot on goal. Nashville could not sustain any offensive zone pressure against the Philadelphia defense, and cycled the puck around the boards for most of the period. Ryan Ellis held Voracek at 19:42, and the Flyers banged two shots at Rinne before the buzzer sounded.
The Predators killed off the Ellis penalty, but went right back to the PK after Hartman lifted the puck over the glass at 1:53. As Hartman came out of the box, he found Ellis at the blueline. Ellis slapped one at Carter Hart, and Nick Bonino buried the rebound to tie the game at 4:04. Rinne came up large on numerous occasions, but Philadelphia grabbed the lead back at 8:33 thanks to a Kyle Turris neutral zone turnover and a Claude Giroux snipe. The Flyers were called for three penalties with less than four minutes of play, but Nashville couldn’t convert on two five on three chances.
Nashville couldn’t control the puck for the majority of the first forty minutes, but intensified their pressure in the third period. In the waning seconds of the game, Ryan Johansen rang one off the pipe, but ultimately came up empty. The Flyers were able to sneak away with another win behind Carter Hart, and Nashville came up empty for a third straight game.
Nashville at Boston
Pekka Rinne was absolutely phenomenal. He somehow thwarted multiple high danger chances on the first period, but Patrice Bergeron solved him at 15:10. Ryan Ellis, Ryan Hartman, and Ryan Johansen chased Brad Marchand and Bergeron along the boards, leaving Kevin Fiala to cover the loose man on the far end. Roman Josi occupied David Backes in the low slot, and Pekka Rinne was left out to dry. Charlie McAvoy threw the puck towards the net, Bergeron retrieved it, and beat Rinne top shelf to give Boston the 1-0 lead.
The Predators came out playing a defensive game, and nearly paid for it. They went down 2-0 due to a sloppy and scrambling defense in front of Rinne, but the goal was overturned because of goalie interference. Nashville then turned the heat up, and started pressing the attack. Shortly thereafter, Johansen banged a rebound off the boards past Jaroslav Halak at 13:01. Austin Watson drew the first penalty of the game at 17:55, but Johansen was called for interference at 19:04, and Ekholm took a roughing call as the period expired. Boston started the third period at five on three.
Bergeron struck on the power play, nearly the same way he did the first time. He nudged the puck over a sprawled out Rinne at 1:44. Nashville didn’t back down quite yet- Turris sniped one from the top of the circle at 9:17, tying the game once again. However, once Brad Marchand one-timed a cross ice feed past Rinne at 11:23, Nashville was chasing the Bruins till the buzzer sounded. David Pasternak took all the wind out of the Predators’ sails at 14:09 with his 23rd goal of the year, and an empty netter from Sean Kuraly at 18:01 nailed the coffin shut. The final from TD Garden was 5-2.
Dallas at Nashville
The lines were funky, but seeing P.K. Subban and Viktor Arvidsson in the lineup brought waves of relief to Nashville. Their play relatively reflected that relief, as Arvidsson kickstarted the offense; the first line spent 45 seconds of their first shift in the offensive zone. The rest of the game was lackluster to abysmal for the Boys in Gold.
Dallas drew first blood. After a few missteps in the neutral and defensive zone, Tyler Pitlick zipped the puck through Pekka Rinne at 7:20. Craig Smith stumbled at the blue line, and Matt Irwin did nothing to help his goaltender out. The rest of the period was merely exchanging possession and chances, but nothing came of it beyond Pitlick’s snipe.
Janmark took matters into his own hands at 11:09 in the second period. After blocking a Subban slapper, he swiped the puck from Ekholm, and drove into the Stars zone. He blasted one at Rinne, and the puck trickled over the line to give Dallas the 2-0 lead. It was all they needed to close the game out.
A late push from the Predators amounted to nothing, as Khudobin turned away 18 shots in the third period. Nashville extended their losing streak to fivemas the final buzzer sounded.
What Stood Out?
During the Philadelphia game, Roman Josi was the most productive player. He spent 29:50 on the ice (including 7:30 on the power play) and registered three shots on goal. Another key contributor was Miikka Salomaki who recorded four shots and four hits.
Josi picked up two more assists and clocked in 25:30 on the ice against Boston. Rocco Grimaldi, who started on the second line, shot the puck on net three times and registered three hits. The score was not reflective of how Nashville played- only two Predators failed to shoot the puck on net; overall, it was a more complete effort.
Mattias Ekholm and Viktor Arvidsson combined for 14 shots on goal against Dallas, which means two players combined for 40% of the team’s total shots. That being said, only Frederick Gaudreau was the only Predator without a shot on goal. Nashville’s second power play unit barely saw the ice, restricting all five skaters to less than 40 seconds each.
Once Arvidsson was activated from the IR, Hartman was bumped into the bottom six, Smith was on the second line, and Jarnkrok was on the first line for some apparent reason; in addition to these oddities, Subban was paired with Matt Irwin. There are many reasons Nashville isn’t playing to their full potential right now- chemistry on the lines is one of those reasons. Smith has skated with Johansen and Arvidsson before and caught some success; little bit of a head scratcher why Jarnkrok was awarded the first line spot.
In any event, it’s easy to criticize a good team that isn’t playing well. It’s easy to criticize good players who aren’t playing well. It’s easy to throw harsh words and devastating opinions at a team that lost fundamental components to their identity for over a fourth of the season. One can blame the power play, the coaching, the lines, even the mental funk every player experiences at some point in their career; there were always be room for improvement.
It’s certainly easy for Nashville fans to nitpick the team’s success, and boast their claims when the Predators lose. It’s easy to lose sight of the road many teams take to success. What’s not easy to do is to take the good with the bad. Yes, of course the Predators can play better. Of course the power play stinks, and of course there are guys on the roster who are underperforming night in and night out. That doesn’t mean it’s time to press the panic button.
Nashville started the first 19 games with a 13-5-1 record. Since then, they’ve gone 9-9-1. If a team loses enough, a losing mentality is developed. They’ve been without their big guns for what seems like an eternity, and they’re just now getting back to full strength (pun intended). That being said, moral victories do not win Stanley Cups. Once the Predators get bodies to the net, the shooting lanes will open up, and the resurgence will breathe life back into Nashville.