The Predators are playing some of their best hockey of the season, and they’ve crawled their way back into third place in the division. A 7-1-1 record in their last nine have fans feeling optimistic about the team going forward.
However, there’s been one major problem in the last stretch of play. The inability to close out games when the opposition pulls their goalie for the extra attacker has been eye-opening.
While they were able to close it out against Columbus last time out, three separate goals against the extra attacker in the last seven attempts can be considered more than a fluke and on the verge of a trend.
Why are the Predators giving up so many gut-wrenching goals lately? Let’s find out.
Empty Net Hungry
The first image comes from the Vancouver game where the Predators were finally able to win a 3v3 OT, but it should’t have gotten that far. Prior to this snapshot, Colton Sissons was looking to score on the empty net but wiped out and caused an odd-man rush the other way.
It’s easy to brush this off as an unlucky play due to Sissons unexpectedly falling down, but would the smarter play have been to dump the puck instead of attempting to score? Hard to say definitively, but it certainly looks that way.
Collapsing Too Hard
Moving on to Calgary. A 4-0 lead almost went up in flames (pun intended) as Calgary scored three goals at the end of third period to make things interesting. The last came with an extra attacker, and a questionable defensive zone strategy from Nashville.
As you can see, the Predators have all five players completely collapsed and on top of each other around the net which allows Johnny Gaudreau to skate freely before throwing it in front for a redirection goal. It’s easy to conclude Nashville made things much more difficult for themselves in this scenario. A more aggressive strategy likely prevents the goal.
Lack of Communication
While they won the previous two games above, Nashville played with fire one too many times, as they saw their lead over the Sabres evaporate late in the third. The defensive zone draw on a 6v5 started off well with a Ryan Johansen face-off win. But a miscommunication between P.K. Subban and Ryan Ellis, who don’t normally play together, prevented clear possession and ability for Nashville to escape the zone.
The resulting confusion allowed Reinhart to win possession behind Rinne. This is not ideal, as Reinhart is a budding 60 point centerman with great passing and scoring skills.
His pass out in front of James Neal and Johansen had enough on it for Okposo to slam it home past Rinne, thus completing the comeback.
While Ellis and Subban are the best individual defensemen to that could’ve deployed in the late-game scenario, their lack of familiarity with each other may have caused the initial trouble after the face-off.
As mentioned earlier, the Preds were able to hold off Columbus with the extra man last night. But it was pretty hairy in those final minutes. The Jackets had the goalie pulled for a couple minutes and spent almost all of it in the Preds zone. The Preds iced the puck several times, leaving tired legs out on the ice.
One of those pairs of tired legs was Austin Watson, who was on the ice for 1:44 of 5v6 hockey. In the dying seconds, Watson had a chance to clear the puck, but couldn’t get enough on it.
It’s hard to blame Watson for not having the juice left to clear the puck there. I imagine most of the team was pretty gassed. Luckily, the Blue Jackets just decided to pass the puck around for the remaining 10.4 seconds, sealing the win for the Preds. Thanks, Jackets!
The good news? The above examples are correctable mistakes. The team is playing well and getting healthier. But there’s a list of things to improve, and closing out games on a more consistent basis is at the top of that list.