Despite some lineup shifts and a pre-game ceremony celebrating Steve Sullivan's Masterton Trophy win, the results didn't change for the Nashville Predators as they dropped a fourth straight game, this time 3-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Did they play better tonight than in recent games? Perhaps, but that only means that instead of losing by 5 or 6 goals, they lost by 2.
I think that still counts the same in the NHL standings.
In a repeat of the horrifying defense we've seen out of the Predators lately, Chicago jumped out to a 2-0 lead with goals just 28 seconds apart in the 2nd period. The first, a power play strike by Dustin Byfuglien, came as he was allowed all the time and space he needed right outside the goal crease to corral a rebound off the goalpost, turn around and slam it into an open net. The closest defenseman was Dan Hamhuis, but he couldn't even challenge the play in time.
Shortly thereafter, a turnover by Kevin Klein deep in the Nashville end turned quickly into a 3-on-2 situation, with Tomas Kopecky slamming home the goal. Despite surviving a competitive (and scoreless) first period, the Preds suddenly found themselves again staring at a multi-goal deficit.
A big sigh of relief came when Martin Erat finally scored his first goal of the season; yes, it looked more like an attempted pass that deflected off a Chicago skate and behind Cristobal Huet, but at this point the Preds can't be choosy about how goals are scored.
From there on in, however, most of the good chances for Nashville ended with shots flying wide of the net. With about a minute left Patric Hornqvist rang a shot off the post (which then rebounded off of Colin Wilson's head), and a few seconds later the Preds did get a third and final power play chance, but never managed to even get a shot off as the Blackhawks closed out the win.
One measure that Terry Crisp likes to talk about is the comparison between Shots On Goal and Total Shots (which include those that miss the net or are blocked by an opposing skater). On average, a little over 50% of your Total Shots should be getting through as Shots On Goal.
Tonight, Chicago attempted 49 Totals Shots, of which only 9 were Blocked and 10 Missed. Thus, 30 of 49 required a save.
The Preds, on the other hand? They had 42 Total Shots, but 16 were Blocked and 13 Missed. So only 13 actually forced Huet to make the stop.
Our goalie had to fight off 30 pucks, Chicago's only had to face 13. That's your game right there, and it represents a combination of doughy-soft defensive zone play by the Preds, with a lack of execution on the offensive end.
Experience tells us that we're still in the early days of the season and that this can get turned around, but it's hard not to get exasperated over the fact that there are multiple problem areas on this team right now, and we've yet to see much improvement after closed-door meetings, lineup changes and the return of J.P. Dumont. With a road trip starting Saturday in Washington and continuing in Boston, the Preds need to find some answers quickly lest they effectively fall out of the playoff race before we even reach Halloween.