Yesterday the Arizona Coyotes proved to be too much for the Nashville Predators, ending their tumultuous season and sending them to the offseason.
This early exit from the Stanley Cup Qualifiers will be the first time that the Nashville Predators have not made an appearance in the traditional 16-team playoff field since the 2013-2014 season.
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Head Coach John Hynes opted to stay with the same personnel, but tweaked the second and third lines a bit.
On the surface the move made sense as the desire was to ignite an unproductive second line, and get Turris back to his more natural position of center.
In a move to get some production out of a quiet Matt Duchene, Hynes moved him to the right-wing on the second line.
While Saros put up a decent performance in the playoffs, starting him all four games will be something that will be discussed and argued at length during the entire offseason.
Turning Points of the Game
The first period looked eerily similar to the first period of Game 3. The Predators got tons of shots on goal, but once again, Darcy Kuemper weathered the onslaught, which was a common theme for the entire series.
It’s always tough to play very well in almost every facet of the game only to not be rewarded for it on the scoreboard. That’s the nature of the beast and why the Stanley Cup is such a hard trophy to attain.
The always opportunistic Coyotes intercepted a weak pass from Saros as he was trying to get the puck to Roman Josi and scored first once again. The Predators dug in and continued fighting, which was a welcoming sight as this team has been known to fold at times throughout the regular season.
The Coyotes struck again early in the second off of another defensive mistake by the Predators. Facing a 2-0 deficit usually rattles this Predators team, but they battled back.
On a Josi shot to the net, a fired-up Duchene redirected the puck under Kuemper and scored. This power play was due to Duchene drawing the penalty with his elite skating and puck handling abilities. Two skills that we just didn’t see on display nearly enough of from him.
Duchene had been the hot topic the past two days due to his offside call in the previous game that erased a Kyle Turris go-ahead goal. It was a costly mistake to go along with a lack of production from a player that’s been under the spotlight since coming here over the offseason in a massive offseason acquisition.
Arvidsson would get hit in the ribs by a Predators’ shot on goal late in the second and would not return to the game. This was a huge loss for the Predators lineup as Arvidsson had been one of the more consistent offensive players of the series.
The Arvidsson injury caused some line shifting by Hynes and left the Predators without one of their biggest offensive weapons. Including his goal in game 4, Arvidsson scored in three-straight games.
A shot by Jordan Oesterle near the blue line with four minutes to go would put the Coyotes up by one. The Predators dug in once again and kept fighting.
Hynes pulled Saros for the extra attacker. One last desperate push was on from the Predators to try to extend their season.
As the puck was getting ready to exit the Coyotes’ defensive zone, Ellis stretched to keep the puck in play, which is something he’s always been great at doing. He passed it to Filip Forsberg.
Forsberg drilled it home to score his third playoff goal of the series and tie the game with 32 seconds left on the clock. The game went to overtime and there was new life yet again from the Predators.
Other Factors in the Loss
Like other games in this series, the Predators had a considerable amount of shots on goal but couldn’t finish. Kuemper was the best player for the Coyotes. However, he was not infallible.
Often times in playoff hockey the team with the hottest goaltender wins. Saros wasn’t horrendous by any means in his first career playoff series to be the starter, but Kuemper certainly made the more critical saves throughout the series.
The Predators’ lack of high-quality wingers who can score is evidenced by the lopsided number of shots on goal. The Predators had 52 shots on goal compared to 34 by the Coyotes.
The Predators did a good job with their intensity throughout the game, but sloppy passing bit them yet again. When you are facing a defensive-minded team like the Coyotes who are just waiting to pounce on any opportunity you give them, sloppy passing is a mental mistake that you can’t afford to make.
Defensive mistakes that have plagued the Predators throughout this series crept into this game as well. The game-winning goal by the Coyotes was made possible by a defensive lapse by Dante Fabbro.
Fabbro was so focused on the puck he lost track of a cutting Richardson who had a clear line to Saros. Growing pains for the young defender who still has a bright future and made strides in his first full season with Nashville.
Even though the Predators were able to tie the game, losing Arvidsson hurt them in overtime. Taking him out of the picture severely altered their ability to score. The line shifts also matched some guys together who had spent little or no time on a line during the season.
Several Predators that struggled throughout the year began to show some really good signs that their troubles were behind them. Had the JoFA line not played with the intensity and grit that they did, this series would have been over in three games.
The End of Very Tough Season
So what happens now? That’s the million-dollar question. Is this team going to continue to revert backwards, or will an influx of young talent keep this a playoff team?
The Predators have several issues that need to be addressed in the shortened offseason. The issue with scoring wingers would be a great place to start.
Inadequacies in the third defensive pairing is another area that will require some attention.
Some changes will happen in the offseason due to free agency and a possible retirement or two. We also may finally see some of the Predators’ AHL prospects make the roster next season. But will that be enough to address some of the glaring deficiencies that exist?
Large, long-term contracts and a flat salary cap may make it difficult to make any significant changes. The limited production of some of these players with long-term contracts may also make it difficult to make any trades.
A bright spot for next season will be a full training camp for Hynes. If he can find the bright spots in this series and build on those successes, he may be able to get this team into shape.
The bottom line is the Predators can’t continue on the trajectory that they are on. If they don’t make the hard decisions and the necessary changes they may find themselves in this same situation next year.