Regular season losses don't get any more brutal than what the Nashville Predators suffered to division rival Dallas Stars on Saturday, giving up two goals in the final 15 seconds of regulation to lose in regulation.
In fact, this was the first time in NHL history that this ever happened. That a team trailing by a goal going into the final 15 seconds came back to win in regulation. So yes, it doesn't get more brutal than this.
To add to that pain and agony, the tying goal was scored by former beloved fan favorite Craig Smith.
In the postgame comments, Colton Sissons called it a "gut check" moment, but also says it shouldnt rattle the confidence of the team too much. (Per Bally Sports South, Kara Hammer).
Preds Can't Hold Leads and Have Left a lot of Wins on the Table
I'm a little taken back by the "these things happen" response from Sissons. Becuase in reality, this had never happened in NHL history. It certainly is a gut check moment for the Predators, and it's on Head Coach Andrew Brunette to address what went wrong and who lost focus late in the third period.
Speaking of Brunette, he also had some really candid words for the 3-2 loss that sends the Predators to a 19-15-0 overall record into the Christmas break, while missing out on a golden opportunity to put pressure on the division leading Stars.
Brunette told 102.5 The Game's Robby Stanley that he thought there were "passengers towards the end of the game. Too much watching, and not enough grit to close out the game.
One thing we know about Brunette is he's not afraid to make brash lineup decisions. He is purely performance based, and not reputation based or status quo. We currently have a roster freeze through the holiday break, and then the Predators next game being December 27 at home against the Carolina Hurricanes.
You don't want to see a head coach overreact to one loss and pull the rip chord when it's not needed. To the same token, you have to send a message that this stuff can't become a trend, and unfortunately this team has had it's issues with holding leads through the season.
After this loss to the Stars, the Predators have three losses when leading after the 2nd period, and four losses when leading after the 1st period. That's the most in the NHL combined. Taking three losses after leading in the 2nd intermission is tied with the Oilers, Senators and Red Wings for the most.
To break it down even further, the Predators have just a .733 winning percentage when leading after the 1st period. Losing one out of every four games when you had the lead is a really bad trend that has to be corrected.
The truth is, the Predators should be much better than their 19-15-0 record, which to many is still outperforming preseason expectations. But blown multi-goal leads and now this rock bottom collapse to the Stars leaves at least 3 or 4 wins on the table that the Predators couldn't secure. It could ultimately end up being the difference between returning to the postseason or missing it by a couple of points.
How did the Stars Stun the Preds in the Last 15 Seconds??
When I'm watching the tying goal from Smith, I see lazy skating from almost the entire Predators team. They're not aggressive on getting the loose puck like they normally are. I see players like Kiefer Sherwood, Michael McCarron and Alexandre Carrier not organized defensively, and looking more like spectators than aggressors.
So uncharacteristic of this Predators team. Flat out, they got comfortable and relaxed thinking the Stars were finished, when instead they should've kept the intensity level up like they were the team that was trailing. This is what I think Brunette means by "passengers". No one was leading in this situation, and the defense broke down.
The go-ahead goal is just unfathomable. Carrier fails on the clearing attempt with a pretty lazy backhand, McCarron and Lauzon are scrambling to locate the shot lane, and there's just an enormous amount of traffic screening Juuse Saros for a bouncing puck.
Now with that out of the way, you cannot let this wreck what you've already accomplished. You have to learn from it, but also take away from it some positives. You did have the Stars, a top Stanley Cup contender, on the ropes and you did the boxing equavilant of thinking your opponent was knocked out when indeed they were still fighting back.
Saros' strong performance was spoiled in those final 15 seconds, so you take that in stride. He made 31 saves on 34 shots, while the Predators managed only 21 shots on goal.
Also, what could've been if Filip Forsberg is able to get the puck in on the breakaway before all of this unraveled? He hit the post instead.
Despite all of that, the Stars were the more deserving team to win this. They generated more offense, and up until the collapse, Saros was the difference-maker. The Predators barely got above two Expected Goals, while the Stars finished with 3.34 Expected Goals.
The Predators had to block a lot of shots on top of the 34 shots the Stars managed to get on net. Sissons led the Predators in blocked shots with four, with the team totaling 27 blocks overall.
There are definitely some disturbing trends that Brunette has to work out. This team has to always play desperate and aggressive hockey. When they relax and or take the foot off the gas, bad things almost always happen.