One of the finest periods of the season for the Nashville Predators quickly turned into an average one when the Colorado Avalanche lit the lamp in the final minute of the first.
The goal, with 54 seconds remaining in the opening period, put doubt into the mind of a Predators team that had dominated for the majority of the game and gave the Avalanche the confidence they needed.
Unfortunately, the late-period goal given up by Nashville represented an all-too-often occurrence and a circumstance that has cost the team a chance at two points several times recently.
“We played an excellent period–maybe one of our best periods of the year–and instead of ending with a minimum of a two-goal lead, we give up a goal and now we’re going into the locker room and the other team has momentum,” Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said. “That’s where we have to manage the game and mature.”
The confidence lost when giving up a goal with just seconds remaining in a period is substantial, as is the boost to the psyche of an opponent. The problem for Nashville is that it’s been a re-occurring theme the past 10 games or so.
“When you have a lead you can’t risk that advantage by making a lot of ‘hope’ plays,” said Trotz. “Recently, we’ve just thrown the puck into the gut of the ice, when we didn’t need to be that risky. There’s been a whole lot of growth in a lot of areas in our team, but we need some more growth in this area.”
Last week, the Predators were victimized in a similar fashion to yesterday’s game when the Edmonton Oilers put a puck past goaltender Pekka Rinne with 35 ticks remaining in the opening period. A goal that broke open a relatively evenly played first frame and set the tone for the rest of the contest. The Oilers would trounce Nashville by a final score of 5-1.
Colorado, Chicago, Edmonton and Calgary have all scored against Nashville with under a minute left in a period, and that’s just looking at the last 12 days. The diagnosis of the problem may be simple enough, but that doesn’t mean the solution is too.
“It’s something that you can’t just practice unfortunately. It’s an aspect of game management that you have to understand,” explained Trotz. “It’s not like in practice I can say: ‘Hey, this is the last minute of the game.’ So we can talk about it, and show film, but it really comes down to when you’re on the ice and you know how to manage the game. It’s part of the learning process that I’ll say has to come with some maturity, poise and understanding the game in the particular situation. You can’t panic, and that’s something that you can’t really practice, it just comes with experience. You just know. You develop a feel for the game.”
As one of the youngest teams in the NHL (the average age of the defensive corps is 23.6), the lack of game experience is a bit of a given for Nashville. The Predators bench boss said there’s a different kind of confidence in a player in his 700th NHL game versus his 70th. Young players don’t need to just give up and lament their inexperience, however.
Being the best in the game’s toughest moments is what’s paramount for an athlete, and sooner or later, the good ones all realize that fact.
“The way you overcome it is by experience, talking about it and learning how to manage those moments,” the Predators coach of the last 15 seasons said. “You can either do it or you can’t. That’s telling on a player, and if he realizes he can’t do something then you have to either fade away or get better. That’s what our guys have to do about this.”
The Predators (31-31-11) take on the Buffalo Sabres (20-44-8) at Bridgestone Arena tonight at 7:00 p.m. (CST). Nashville will attempt to end a six-game losing streak at home with their second win over the NHL’s last-placed team.