Another matchup with the Vancouver Canucks where the Nashville Predators had their chances to keep it close, but let things get away from them in the second period of their 5-2 loss.
With the win, the Canucks complete the season series sweep of the Predators, outscoring them 13-6 in those games. It's a humbling game for the Predators, who were 13-3-0 over their last 16 games heading into the matchup.
Things appeared to be shifting back into the favor of the Predators when Jeremy Lauzon made it just a 2-1 deficit off a textbook rush thanks to a primary assist from Luke Evangelista. Unfortunately, the tide turned very quickly against the Predators after that.
Just one minute later, the Canucks would strike for two response goals to widen the lead back to 4-1. There was really no coming back from that gut punch. The Predators lost their gameplan and their emotions.
1. Preds Got Away from Their Gameplan in 2nd Period
Predators couldn't recover from the Canucks quick strike back after the Lauzon goal. They looked rattled and were pressing the rest of the way.
2. Saros Cools Off, Leaves Game in Frustration
Entering the game Saros had won six-straight starts and had given up one goal in four of those victories. This one got away from him, giving up 5 goals on 24 shots and leaving the game early and showing clear frustration down the tunnel.
3. Questionable Officiating, Borderline Calls
Michael McCarron got tossed from the game in the final seconds of the 1st period after trying to step up for Jeremy Lauzon. None of the Canucks players wanted to engage, leaving the Preds with 7 forwards the rest of the night.
This game just went off the rails after the Canucks stunned the Predators shortly after the Lauzon goal. It was a nasty tip-in goal from Nils Hoglander through a lot of traffic preventing Saros from locating the puck.
When McCarron received the misconduct, the Predators had just a 16 percent chance of winning according to MoneyPuck.
On this particular goal from Hoglander, the first issue is losing the faceoff in your defensive zone by Colton Sissons. Then it's just net front traffic and great timing from Hoglander. The puck fluttered past Saros, who is clearly deceived by the entire play.
Although there was still plenty of time left to overcome a two-goal lead, the Predators really fell apart after this. I didn't see the same team that looked poised and confident in their gameplan. instead I saw a team that was rattled, and it didn't take long for the Canucks to score again to make it 4-1.
The second period once again proves to be the undoing for the Predators, and they couldn't recover. The Canucks also did a superb job protecting backup goalie Casey DeSmith, blocking 17 shots and having 16 takeaways. Nashville only generated three blocked shots.
Saros Picks a Bad Night to Cool Off, Preds Couldn't Overcome
It was an awful combination of Saros not being at the top of his game, and the Predators offense not generating much to keep up on the scoreboard.
When the Predators did have some scoring chances, they couldn't deliver. Most notably a breakaway opportunity for Philip Tomasino that DeSmith denied, quickly followed by the unraveling situation with McCarron getting a game misconduct and subsequent ejection.
When things aren't going right, Saros has proven in the past that he can hold things together until something breaks your way. It didn't happen in this one. He got replaced by Kevin Lankinen after the Canucks made it 5-1 just over a minute into the third period, which pretty much squashed any miracle comeback hopes.
The numbers don't lie, and for Saros, this is a major setback performance. The frustration from Saros was the illustration of a player knowing they didn't play up to their own standards. Sure, the Predators defense had some breakdowns and there was virtually no offense generated, but Saros was also to blame in the score getting out of hand so fast.
Saros finishes with a -.2.92 GSA, meaning he should've saved close to an extra three goals from being scored.
These Refs aren't Getting Holiday Greeting Cards from Smashville
Finally, the officiating was definitely suspect in this one. A lot of borderline, bang bang calls that didn't go the direction of the Predators. The penalty minutes were 26 for the Predators and four for the Canucks. One was very late in garbage time when the Canucks had too many men on the ice.
You can't get too caught up in the disparity in penalty minutes because a majority of that came from McCarron's game misconduct. However, that whole sequence of events was questionable from the start on how the officials handled everything.
McCarron finishes with 22 PIM for the game, while only having 17 PIM coming into the game. He's now 2nd on the team in PIM behind Lauzon's 41 minutes in the box.
You could see the frustration from the Predators, and they lost their focus over this. You have to control what you can control. Coaches preach that all of the time, but the Predators were visibly upset over how this game was called.
Was the officiating bad enough to make an ultimate difference in the final outcome? I won't go that far because that would be disrespectful to a Canucks team that is clearly one of the top teams in the NHL right now, and have now beaten the Predators three times in less than two months.
Good news is the Predators don't have to see the Canucks again in the regular season. A first round playoff meeting isn't out of the realm of possibility, but we'll worry about that if it actually comes to fruition.
Predators have to turn the page quickly and not let this spiral out of control and undo all of the good you did over the past month. The Philadelphia Flyers are up next on Thursday. The Predators have a road record of 7-7-0 in 2023-24.