After a brutal and inexcusable loss to the Ottawa Senators on Monday night, it's safe to say the Nashville Predators' honeymoon period has worn off and real concerns are starting to be raised by first-year Head Coach Andrew Brunette.
It was easy to drink the kool-aid in November and December when the Predators won 13 of 16 with wins over top tier teams like the Avalanche, Jets, Hurricanes and Stars. However, that kool-aid has now become flat and past its expiration date.
The three-goal blown lead by the Predators on Monday to the Senators is indefensible. Brunette has called out his team time and time again about taking stretches within games off and letting the other team storm back.
"“We got away from our game a little bit, and credit to them, they wanted it a little bit more in the second period. Our legs weren't there and our brains shut off in a few situations." Head Coach Andrew Brunette on 4-3 Loss to Senators"- Zach Gilchriest, NashvillePredators.com
Now no one is saying you still can't have optimism and excitement about the future, but just know that it's going to probably take going through some dark times first.
Predators Waste Another Lead to One of the Worst Teams in the League
A common bad theme of this team is poor decision making in crucial situations. It showed its ugly face in overtime when Denis Gurianov made a questionable pass over deciding to shoot the puck.
In the third period the Predators pushed to retake the lead but only managed six shots on goal to the Senators' 14 shots on goal. Juuse Saros, who got called for a rare goalie tripping penalty, had to be clutch to at least get the Predators a point in the standings.
The irony of that play is Saros definitely saved the go-ahead goal on Tim Stützle by flashing the pad. To the Predators' credit, they did go 3-for-3 on the penalty kill at least.
We expected more flashy offense and speed that kills under Brunette, but we're learning that it takes time and isn't going to reach its full potential in the first 50 games.
The top line for the Predators also had another quiet night. Zero points from Ryan O'Reilly, Fillip Forsberg and Gustav Nyquist while going a combined -7 on the plus/minus rating. They were on the ice together as a line for two goals against.
The Predators aren't some anomaly in the notion that they have to have their top line show up to be successful on most nights, but they actually got enough depth scoring against the Senators to still make it out with a win.
So is the honeymoon already over for Brunette or should this all be expected with a head coach in his first year. Some fans are already upset with the usage, or lack or usage, for certain younger players like Philip Tomasino.
Tomasino had a goal and an assist against the Senators but only played for 9:43 of ice time, lowest among Nashville's forwards and second-lowest on the entire team, only more than Alexandre Carrier's 8:01 of ice time.
Brunette's reputation of fast offense and power play guru hasn't showed the sustained results you want to see, but again, we're only 50 games into his tenure.
The Predators are 18th in goals per game and 20th in power play percentage. The annoying problem, and one you hope eventually fixes itself in the last 32 games of the season, is the Predators keep getting chances and are 11th at Expected Goals For at 5v5 even strength.
Time to Prepare for Another Big Sell Off at Trade Deadline
This brings us back to the upcoming trade deadline and General Manager Barry Trotz's obligation to trade off as many pending free agents in 2024 that he can, with the exception of Tommy Novak unless it's something insane that you just can't walk away from.
The Juuse Saros trade buzz isn't going away, either, and the calls to trade him are going to get louder and louder the more the Predators fall back in the standings. You can't ignore those juicy offers, pun intended.
If Tomasino is going to continue to get bare bones ice time, then trade the guy and let him join a team where he can flourish. Same goes for Carrier and the other 2024 free agents. It's time to build more future assets and think past 2024.
It's probably past time to call up more young talent from the Milwaukee Admirals, but first you have to make some trades. I suspect that if the Predators continue down this downward trend, post-trade deadline will be similar to last season with young players being called up to finish out the season in larger roles.
You can't make any sweeping proclamations over Brunette's job performance only 50 games in. We can revisit this in the offseason after we see where the Predators finish in terms of key categories and what kind of fight they show down the stretch.
With that being said, fans who were getting excited about possibly challenging Dallas in the top-three of the division and making noise in the first round of the playoffs have come crashing back down the Earth over the past couple of weeks, and boiling over after this loss to the last place Senators.