For a second straight week, we’re seeing some rough results. The talent is there, and plays are made, but the desperation of the club is not where it needs to be. On the last West Coast trip of the year, the Predators have surrendered two 3rd period leads, and let the Kings impose their will the entire contest before finally losing their grip in the third and allowing three unanswered goals. The only saving grace has been getting three points out of a possible six against 3 very hungry teams battling for their playoff lives.
The bad news? It’s only getting tougher. The good news? Detroit is within reach, and the division can still be won if certain things happen.
vs Phoenix Coyotes
This one followed the script of a good Predators game, up 4-2 going into the last 15 minutes of the game. Contributions came from all parts of the lineup, and it was some downright entertaining hockey. Phoenix has guys that can shoot, and they did just that; they’re a crafty bunch. But after Craig Smith cashed in the “Hail Mary” pass from Paul Gaustad, Phoenix punched in a couple goals that could’ve been prevented. With less than 5 minutes to go, tie game. The overtime was a typical one with Nashville, playing it safe unless the other team can’t make a change. But in the shootout, Rinne was big against a team who has won more than their share of shootouts since getting white hot in February. As CJ said, it was ugly. But it’s two points, and you pay your tab and move on.
vs San Jose Sharks
Nashville has not performed well on days they’re playing on either 2 or more days of rest or the second half of a back-to-back. Playing versus a Sharks team that needed the two points more, they certainly played like they wanted the two points more. Pekka Rinne was the hero of the night, putting on an absolute clinic for most of the night. The vaunted Predators power play cashed in early, with Patric Hornqvist finding more space than he was used to, and that lead held up until the early moments of the third. Not even a Rinne who was very much in the zone could’ve stopped Joe Thornton’s marker off of a fortunate bounce to tie the game. After trading chances in the third and then into the overtime, another shootout loomed. While Rinne is an absolute beast in the shootouts, his forwards aren’t very terrifying; Nashville is third worst in the league in shootout scoring percentage at a putrid 18.3%. Thankfully, playoff games don’t come down to skills competitions. Niemi stopped three, Rinne stopped two. 1 point given for effort.
The loss is also coupled with the injury of Paul Gaustad, who was knocked to the ice by the net and landed awkwardly. Reports are saying it isn’t as bad as feared, but he’ll likely be out for a few tilts. Having Gaustad anchor a Colin Wilson and Craig Smith line would not be the worst prospective line ever.
vs Los Angeles Kings (again)
Getting tired of seeing these guys, especially since they’re writing the book on how to beat Nashville- grind them up on the boards, and good aggressive passing- which is what the Kings did very well last year. The first two periods were decent road game hockey, but the flood gates opened in the third due to a lack of focus, and dare it be mentioned… effort. These Pacific road trips aren’t fun, I get that, but outside of your usual suspects (Yip, Halischuk, Spaling), not a lot of energy on the ice in the third. Kings nailed it down with three straight in the third. 4-2 final, with another game tonight against those darn Ducks.
Also, it was good to see Kevin Klein back.
Rough week. Playing on the road in the West this year has been rough, but the rules say everybody has to do it. Given that Nashville is likely married to the Western Conference for the foreseeable future, these slides have to be muted. The good news is that the guys coming off the bench are hungry, but need to be acclimated with the lineup. Their inclusion may come at the expense of Jordin Tootoo, who many fans have been calling to take a seat for a game or two to get focused. Depending on why Wilson was scratched (groin pull or mental), a motivated Colin Wilson is definitely what the team needs to get hot again. Same to be said about Craig Smith, who showed signs of line after scoring against Phoenix.
If the Predators are going to eclipse Detroit and make a run at the division lead, this week will need to be the keystone. After tonight’s bout with the Ducks, it’s back home to Nashville versus the Oilers, then off of Pittsburgh in a rare nationally televised game. (Will Anders play? He did against the Caps, Rangers, Flyers, Bruins) The week closes with a visit from the Jets, and likely a visit from some of our Atlanta area friends. I’m expecting a loud, therapeutic building Saturday.
The Blues have a light week again- two games, and both in the Los Angeles area on consecutive nights. Detroit hosts the Caps, then a trip to Manhattan to battle the Rangers, then back home to face the Hurricanes. Hungry teams across the board for the teams we’re chasing. Chicago hosts the Caps tonight, then makes the arduous trek to Columbus before turning around to play the Canucks the next night
If the division is to be won, the Kings and Ducks will need to do us a solid next week, but our business needs to be about winning games, and not “avoiding the loss”. Desperation needs to be forced into this lineup, whether it comes at the expense of shuffling the lineup or not, the Predators cannot continue to get outworked.