With the specter of Game 5 in Chicago hanging over them, the major storyline heading into this season was whether the Nashville Predators would develop the maturity to close out important games, a factor seen as crucial to them taking a step forward in the playoffs. I can't say they have done that, however, as demonstrated recently. Yes, it's nice that they've won five straight, and have put the pressure on teams like Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Anaheim to keep up, but the way the Preds have played lately, you might think it's October or November, the way they're angling for individual achievements along the way.
Follow after the jump to see what I'm talking about...
The Dallas Stars come to town Saturday, followed by the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday. Take the OTF Discount to save money on Nashville Predators tickets for these, or any other home game!
First, Barry Trotz called out David Legwand last night (not by name, but it's obvious given the context) for trying to set up Sergei Kostitsyn for a hat trick-completing empty net goal, rather than bury the puck and seal the win over Anaheim (video from Preds On The Glass, jump to the 2:28 mark):
His reaction is understandable; things shouldn't have gotten that close, and you never know when a fluke bounce (like Ryan Suter's kicked puck) can change the complexion of a game in an instant. Given the perilous state of the playoff chase, it's imperative that guys bury the empty net chances that present themselves, and secure the victory rather than pad someone's stats.
I wonder somewhat if it's not just the players who need to get that message, but the coaching staff, too.
Consider, for example, what Trotz said Tuesday night after a similar "selfish" play occurred when leading by two goals late against Edmonton (jump to the 8:03 mark):
In that case (Pekka Rinne taking a shot at Edmonton's empty net), Trotz even admits to talking about it beforehand, telling Peks to go for it. In that case, while Rinne didn't score, at least the Oilers didn't pot one late, so the mood afterwards was entirely different. But let's be clear, there was considerable risk in Pekka taking that chance - if it failed to clear the zone, he would have been out of position to make a save on a quick Edmonton shot, and if it went all the way down and missed the net, it would have led to an icing call.
What differs between those two games has more to do with the results, not the approach. In both instances, with a two-goal lead and an empty net ahead of them, two Preds tried to make individual plays instead of putting the team first. At least in the first case, even the head coach was on board with that idea.
If they really are going to go where no Nashville Predators team has gone before (the 2nd round of the playoffs and beyond), that stuff needs to stop, immediately. The stakes are only going to get higher with each passing game, so let's hope that last night's scare leads to a different approach to "crunch time" going forward.