The Nashville Predators lines are in a state of constant flux most seasons, whether due to injuries or transactions. It looks like the early part of this shortened NHL season is going to see that trend amplified.
Coach Barry Trotz spent most of the third period of last night’s 3-0 loss juggling his lines, trying to find any kind of spark, but the Blues proved unbreakable and the inconsistency in the lines may have had something to do with the last Blues goal. Here’s how the Preds were lined up at even strength in the first period:
And on the power play:
Wilson – Smith – Hornqvist, Kostitsyn – Ellis
With shots 20-7 for St. Louis after two periods, those lines weren’t clicking. So Trotzy put on his juggler’s outfit and made the third period experiment time.
On the power play, he put Erat – Fisher – Hornqvist together with Weber – Ellis, but they couldn’t get set up in the Blues’ zone. After that one expired Nashville drew another call, so this time Trotz sent out Legwand – Wilson – Smith with Weber – Josi. That unit managed to gain the zone and actually get a few shots off; in fact, they probably looked better than any other Preds unit all night. But still, no goal.
At even strength, the only one of the Nashville Predators lines from the first period that seemed to persist was Wilson – Legwand – Hornqvist. The other new combos (Kostitsyn – Spaling – Smith, for instance, or Bourque – Fisher – Erat) had the same problems with sloppy breakouts that plagued the “regular” lines (if we can even call them that this early in the season). Even when they managed to gain the St. Louis zone, they couldn’t stay there – in fact, it was an offensive-zone turnover on that Bourque – Fisher – Erat line that led to the Preds getting pinned in their own end halfway through the third. And while they were stuck there, the Blues were able to change out their forwards and send Vladimir Tarasenko streaking down the left side:
Now desperate, Trotzy put Wilson – Legwand – Smith on a power play unit with Kostitsyn – Ellis. Smith did get a good chance, but Jaroslav Halak made the save, and soon enough there were no more comeback opportunities left for Nashville.
Since all the juggling in-game couldn’t help the Preds score, much less put up the needed shots on goal, Barry Trotz continued the experiments at practice today. And he did so with a little bit of extra motivation for the team:
At #preds practice. Another line switcheroo. Also they still have last nights shots on goal on the scoreboard
— JoshuaCooper (@JoshuaCooper) January 25, 2013
One of the things that this team missed out on by not having a training camp was the chance to have players actually competing for roster spots. Because of the lockout, this year’s one-week “training camp” it was just a race to get ready for the season as quickly as possible. The Nashville Predators lines and roster were essentially carried over from last season. But these guys haven’t played together for the better part of year. It’s not surprising they haven’t all clicked right away.
They’re going to have to figure out a way to tighten up their game, and soon. With five more road game remaining before they return home – and several of them against teams with a porous defense – it’s important to pick up as many points as possible so as not to fall too far behind the leaders in the Central Division. Not keeping close to Chicago and St. Louis means fighting for a bottom playoff seed, and there are too many other bubble teams in the Western Conference for that to be comfortable. If Barry Trotz can find the right combination of Nashville Predators lines, Preds fans will sleep a little better at night.