Nashville Predators have had a good past couple of weeks. Saturday definitely didn’t go as planned. Check out what went wrong in this week’s Tale of the Tape.
Since we last went over the tape, the Predators have gone 3-1-1 including the loss on Saturday against the New York Rangers. In that time, the Predators have looked very strong. They have looked like the team fans and experts thought they would be. They have dominated possession time in those games and have had a couple of solid scoring outbursts. However, they still are making careless mistakes throughout the lineup. Sometimes, it looks like they are really missing ex-defensive coach, Phil Housley.
I’m not only talking about the defensemen either. A lot of the goals allowed this season could have been prevented by a forward doing his job. Instead, all of the forwards stand around with their sticks off of the ice, waiting to squirt out onto a breakaway. Here’s a thought, don’t leave the zone without the puck! If the Nashville Predators are ever going to be a consistently dominating team this year, they need to go back to their roots-defense.
Let’s break down the footage.
Emelin is back to his old ways
Just when I was beginning to think I have maybe been a little too harsh on Alexei Emelin, he had the game he had Saturday. I do have a bone to pick with people who thought his two assists in the Colorado game meant something.
First of all, he didn’t actually do anything to contribute to those goals. He did a standard breakout pass to Filip Forsberg from deep in his own end without pressure on him. From there, Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson handled the rush and had a quality finish. Emelin gets an assist as being just the warm body that happened to start the breakout. His second assist was purely luck. He took a wide open slapshot that missed the net completely. The puck just happened to bounce fortuitously straight to Austin Watson who buried it into the wide open net. Emelin couldn’t even hit the net. It was just a lucky bounce.
But, I won’t fret, the true Emelin showed up to play on Saturday. Take a look at the goal I break down below.
First of all, Emelin cannot be playing so far into the Offensive zone with his skating ability. I know Hal Gill loves the quickness Emelin possesses. Gill has said so on the radio broadcast during almost every game Emelin has played. Emelin may be quick laterally when it comes to finishing a check, but come on. He’s no P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm, Samuel Girard, or even Yannick Weber when it comes to skating. I will concede Emelin is a better skater than Matt Irwin. Fine. But, still.
What ensues after he takes his wide turn to try to track down the puck is inexcusable. One thing, completely contradicting to Mr. Gill, Emelin chooses to not use his feet to get between the puck and the Rangers attacker. Instead, he tries to beat the Ranger in a foot race. Good luck.
Once he realizes he has lost that foot race, Emelin sells out his body in an attempt to dive toward the puck and wack it away. Smart idea. However, wrong execution. I understand he was trying to swat the puck over to his D-partner, Subban. But, the problem with doing that is he is smacking the puck back toward the middle of the ice instead of toward the boards. What is worse, the Ranger forward is on the inside of Emelin. The risk of trying to force that play to Subban is too great. If it misses at all, the Ranger skater could take it all the way.
Surprise, surprise. That is exactly what happened. Juuse Saros makes a great save on the breakaway chance. But, as I mentioned before, the Predators have been making just dumb mistakes. Emelin forced Saros to stop the breakaway attempt, but then the rest of the guys on the ice decide not to cover any other Ranger. Sure enough, Jesper Fast pokes in the rebound through the five-hole before Saros could close the wickets.
The penalty kill lets us down
Going into the season, the biggest news was from the rules department. The NHL decided they were going to crack down on slashing penalties. In actuality, they just want to produce more offense through power plays. Nonetheless, the officials are following suit and calling an insane amount of penalties. The Nashville Predators have been around the middle of the pack when it comes to penalty killing the past few seasons. For the Predators to succeed this season, they would need to be better than average.
So far, they have proven to be rather tough on special teams. Not only do they have one of the best power play units in the league, they are also 8th in the NHL on the penalty kill with an 84.2 PK%. They have been aggressive on the kill all season long. Often times, they produce scoring chances for themselves shorthanded.
Unfortunately, sometimes they get a little too aggressive. Take a look at the power play goal they gave up to Chris Kreider in the last minute of the first period.
The biggest rule on the penalty kill is to not over-commit. You never want to have more men below the red line than there are in front of the net. You are asking for a goal to be scored. Sure enough, the Predators had three guys below the goal line guarding just two Rangers.
Good ole Emelin strikes again. Honestly, it was more of the attacker getting his stick on the puck rather than Emelin making a mistake. But still, he had a chance to clear. But, he didn’t. The puck bounced right to Jimmy Vesey‘s stick. Vesey then hits Kreider with an easy pass right across the front of the net. Unfortunately for Saros, Kreider was wide open. He was wide open because Ryan Johansen was guarding NO ONE. Johansen got caught using tunnel vision to follow the puck. Just another example of the Nashville Predators making a lazy mistake.
Irwin gets caught flat-footed
After falling down 2-0, the Predators scored their first goal at 1:44 into the second period. Mattias Ekholm was able to slam home a bomb through traffic. The Predators were on their way back. Then, Matt Irwin makes a terrible play. Follow the tape.
Kevin Hayes was carrying the puck up the ice, without numbers. The Rangers were in the middle of changing lines. The Predators had three guys back waiting in the defensive zone. It was one versus three. The Nashville Predators were in perfect shape.
Unfortunately, Matt Irwin was straight beat. Hayes picked up the speed and blew right past Irwin. I don’t know how Irwin didn’t even take a step toward the boards to seal off Hayes. After Hayes surpassed Irwin, he had a clear lane to the net. The remaining Predators did not even attempt to cut him off. Hayes was able to score on a nice roofer over Saros’s shoulder. Saros was playing way too small and gave up the entire top half of the net.
The Nashville Predators have built their franchise up as a defensive powerhouse. They have arguably the best defensive unit in the league, especially their top four. However, they have been making poor mistakes all season long. If they continue making those mistakes, they will look an awful lot like the inconsistent team they were last season.
An easy way to fix the problems made on defense is to play Samuel Girard. Girard has played phenomenally well for a rookie in the games he has played. Unfortunately, Peter Laviolette refuses to play him. Instead, we get to experience the trash pit that is Emelin, Irwin, Weber, and Anthony Bitetto to fill the last three spots on the blue line.
Outside of the obvious fix of playing the best players, which would mean NOT playing Cody McLeod as well, the Nashville Predators need to just focus more on defense. The majority of the time, the forwards are too focused on trying to sneak out of the zone to catch a breakaway. They are letting the opposition crash the net and put in the rebounds. The defense can only cover so many skaters. The forwards need to do a better job at helping out in the defensive zone.
Stay tuned for the next “Tale of the Tape.”