Not even officially at the midway point of the first season of the Andrew Brunette era, and we're already getting a fired up head coach who wants to see more out of his Nashville Predators team.
Say what you want about the team's lack of consistency and streaky play, but Brunette is showing he's a vocal and honest head coach when assessing his team's effort, or lack thereof.
Brunette was very candid in his postgame interviews to the media, including "protecting home base" and how it means so much, and the Predators didn't do that.
""We talked about it, we knew the importance of this game and [after the first period] we discussed how our home base means something, how we wanted to establish our game, how he wanted to dictate, how we wanted to win battles, how we wanted to out-compete [Calgary], and we did none of them.”- Zach Gilchriest, NashvillePredators.com
Brunette Didn't Mince Words After Preds Loss to Flames
An important trait for a head coach, especially one in their first year at the helm, is to establish command of the locker room and setting clear expectations. Brunette has wasted no time doing that for the team, and now it's on the players to deliver on that consistently if they're going to return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2024.
With the bad taste in their mouth right now, it's important to realize that going into this matchup with the Calgary Flames that the Predators had the most points in the entire NHL over the stretch dating back to November 18. That's not a tiny sample size by any means, and shows what this team is capable of when they're playing up to Brunette's standards.
On the flip side, when this team takes nights off, or even portions of one period off, they're capable of getting beat. Especially against the NHL's cream of the crop.
No one ever wants to single out one player when a team takes a loss like this one to the Flames, so I'll go ahead and fall on that sword; Juuse Saros still can't find that elite level of hockey to erase the defensive mistakes the Predators have made on defense.
With that out of the way, let's address why Saros was in those precarious situations to begin with. The Predators defense gave up an astounding 22 high danger chances to the Flames. Good luck finding any goaltender in this universe that's not going to get shredded for at least four goals.
The bad combination of shaky goaltending and horrendous defensive structure showed it's ugly face against Calgary, so no one should really be shocked by the final result.
The offense tried to make a couple comebacks, but Calgary kept throwing haymakers right back. Saros couldn't deliver the clutch time saves to keep the score close. This game got out of hand early in the first period, and the Predators were chasing the game right out of the gate basically.
This is why no one is convinced or ready to full entrust the Predators as a playoff team, much less a team that can end their drought of making it to the second round, which goes back to 2018.
The Way the Preds are Losing is a Cause for Concern
It's the way the Predators are taking losses that is concerning. Blown leads and lack of effort during stretches. Not having Saros there to overcome those mistakes really amplifies the defensive miscues. They go hand in hand.
Look, you're going to take plenty of losses in an 82-game season and you can't have knee jerk reactions when they occur. However, the way the Predators are losing is definitely alarming because these bad habits can snowball into a long losing streak and low morale in the locker room if it's not corrected fast.
Brunette sees this. He sees that the Predators are playing with fire right now and they have to nip it in the bud. A date with the Dallas Stars is next, a team that came storming back in the final 60 seconds to stun the Predators on December 23, is one of those examples of a glaringly awful loss.
Filip Forsberg, who did score his 19th goal of the season and was just announced as a 2024 NHL All-Star, pinpointed that Dallas will be an even "bigger test". Forsberg, even in a career year, isn't enough to overcome massive breakdowns by the defensive structure.
Fans are definitely tired of hearing the "wake up call" excuse. Patience was ran dry long ago with this fanbase, so I'm not entirely sure that this current squad is getting the benefit of the doubt even though they've had a really strong month and a half stretch if you widen the scope.