Wednesday night’s game was a struggle for the Nashville Predators. They got outworked and outcoached in the second and third periods, as the Dallas Stars came back from a 0-1 deficit to win 3-2. They couldn’t find a way through Jim Montgomery’s neutral zone trap, they couldn’t score on the power play, and although P.K. Subban almost got a comeback started with a late goal after some seats had already started to empty, it wasn’t enough.
The Predators will need to do better tonight.
Lineups for both teams look like they’ll be the same, which is unfortunate; Rocco Grimaldi’s speed and tenacity would be an asset to the Predators if the Stars get the chance to bring out the trap again.
A bigger concern is that the lines and defense pairings remain the same. The third line of Nick Bonino, Colton Sissons, and Austin Watson was just plain terrible on Wednesday. They got badly outshot and horribly outchanced, especially Bonino; on top of that, Sissons took two penalties and Watson was worse than ineffective on the penalty kill. They say they need to be better, but I’m not willing to pin our hopes on Playoff Third Line when Regular-Season Third Line just wasn’t that good. They had a lot of luck this season, but luck runs out if you’re not making your own.
I had been going to point out my worries about the play of Roman Josi and—to a lesser extent—Ryan Ellis, who took most of the offensive zone faceoffs among Preds defenders and matched up more often against the Stars’ second line than their first but still gave up far too many quality chances, but it actually looks like a lot of the weight on that pairing due to poor play with the third line.
Josi in particular had a rough game, but, looking at his play with and without his teammates on Natural Stat Trick, that 5:25 he spent with Nick Bonino in 5v5 play (forty seconds total, but I’d guess two shifts with Josi and one shift with Ellis plus the shifts with both) was so much worse than the other 12:03 that I don’t even know what to say. The phrase “sea anchor” comes to mind. Josi had a 4.6 expected goal percentage with Bonino and an 82.3% without him, and the difference was barely less stark when it came to shot rates. Bonino was pretty ineffective without Josi as well as with him, but I don’t know if I’m comfortable putting all the blame here on him; both players likely share some of it.
Either way, keeping that line and that defense pairing apart is going to be critical for the Predators as they go into this afternoon’s game. Other things they’ll want to bear in mind: the Stars’ second power play unit is lethal; Miro Heiskanen is good at hockey; Mats Zuccarello seems to have recovered just fine from his broken arm.
How to Watch:
The game starts at 5 PM Central and will air on CNBC and FS-TN, or you can listen to it on 102.5 The Game. Or, if you have tickets, head on over to Bridgestone Arena.