Following a 15-game point streak, the Predators are 0-2-1 in their last three games, getting outscored 13-7 and looking very much out of their element. They were out-paced against Toronto, out-muscled against the Wild, then out-lasted against the Jets. Nothing about the Predators’ last three games has looked similar to their first 72.
They’ve struggled to hold possession of the puck, struggled to shoot it, struggled to protect the important areas of the ice, and struggled to stop the puck from going in.
So what is this exactly? A bad hangover from too much winning? A run of bad luck after a season of better-than-average luck? A cause for concern?
I’m thinking the latter. But first? Here’s the rub.
No disrespect to the Leafs, Wild, or Jets, but the Predators biggest opponent over the last three games has been themselves. Turnovers, penalties, careless passing, and missed shots have been routine. Those are mental errors, ones that can cause you to lose games. The team has the structure they need, just not the execution. Ryan Ellis talked about it after the Leafs game and I think he nailed it:
Ellis saying the Leafs were well coached, had a game plan, and executed while the Preds were well coached, had a game plan, but didn’t execute.— On The Forecheck (@OnTheForecheck) March 23, 2018
Also, at least over the last few days, it seems they’ve gotten so used to winning that they haven’t reacted well to losing. After getting boat-raced on Thursday at home, you expected a better effort and better execution on Saturday. But for the majority of that game in Minnesota, the Predators had weights in their boots. They were getting beat to pucks they don’t normally get beat to and they couldn’t sustain any pressure in the offensive zone. The Wild scored a couple of gritty goals in front of Pekka Rinne, scoring on loose pucks that normally the Predators scoop up and take the other way.
Then on Sunday, they let the Jets’ back-alley approach to hockey get to them, committing seven penalties. All that work on the penalty kill doesn’t help tired legs. It led to some pretty awful coverage in front of Juuse Saros, who was probably the only reason they came away with a point.
A potentially dirty secret about the Predators this season is the amount of luck they’ve had. With a top-5 PDO most of the season—sitting at 1.02 going into Thursday’s game against Toronto—the Predators have had their share of puck luck. Most of that comes from the league’s best 5v5 save percentage, of course, but they’ve been riding an above average shooting percentage as well.
They haven’t been 2013-14 Colorado Avalanche lucky—or even 2017-18 Colorado Avalanche for that matter—but they’ve been luckier than most, that’s for sure.
Their PDO over the last three games is a .970, noticeably lower, even if it’s a smaller sample size. Bad bounces happen, but they don’t always turn into goals. If you look at some of the goals scored on the Preds recently—William Nylander’s goal on Thursday where the puck caromed on the goal from behind the boards is the best example, but also Nino Niederreiter’s on Saturday where the puck just skipped out of Rinne’s glove—you see some bad luck hitting the Preds in the defensive zone ending up in goals on the scoreboard.
Every team is bound to get pulled in by the PDO monster at some point, so this is one of those times for Nashville.
Concern For The Preds?
I’ll say this first: a good bit of this depends on the health of Austin Watson. The former 1st-round pick has been a huge part of the Predators depth this year, rounding out one of the best 4th lines in hockey and helping making the penalty kill successful. We find out more about his health on Tuesday. Let’s hope for good news.
But the real answer is no, there is no cause for concern for the Predators. They are still the deepest team in the league. They can consistently rely on all four lines and the league’s best defense to score at any point. They don’t have to rely on two or three guys to create all the offense, nor to play sound defense. They still have the best goaltender in the league this season. They still have a focused coaching staff that has been in this situation before.
In fact, there is precedent for a stretch like this from earlier this season. Back in December, when the Predators’ had their only other three game losing streak, they lost to the Jets, Hurricanes, and Stars in a five day stretch. The Stars game was especially frustrating, as they had a two goal lead disappear and lost in the shootout.
Following that loss, the Predators won two of their next three games, then had a brief lull before eventually turning red-hot in February following the return of Ryan Ellis and Filip Forsberg from injury.
Tuesday’s game against Minnesota—as well as the aforementioned injury news—does loom large. The end of March is not the best time for going on season-high losing streaks (just ask the Dallas Stars). But they have a wild card quickly approaching from the East in Eeli Tolvanen and they still have plenty of games before the real games begin.
Finally there’s this: the Predators didn’t win the Stanley Cup by playing well in their first 72 games. They also didn’t lose it by playing poorly in their last three. And they won’t lose it if they play poorly in their last seven.
For a team that hasn’t been itself lately, this is still true: