Thanks to their ugly 4-3 loss Sunday, the Nashville Predators find themselves in a 1-0 hole in their best-of-five play-in series against the Arizona Coyotes. Now that they’ve had a day to fully decompress from the flaming roller coaster that was Game 1, Nick and Ann are digging deeper into what went wrong (and in some cases, right) for the Preds.
Ann: The first minutes of the first period and the third period showed that the Predators CAN play with intensity. Before the flukey goal off Matt Duchene’s back, the Predators were in control of the momentum of the game. They came out after a disaster of a second period and played an assertive third period. The ability to control the game against the Coyotes is there.
Nick: I’m strongly against the idea of moral victories, so I’m going to try and describe this as carefully and deliberately as I can. The Predators we saw in the third period are a shining example of how good this team CAN be when they play with any sense of urgency. On that same note, I don’t think there’s any question Filip Forsberg is the heart and soul of that offense. When he’s up and running to his potential, he’s the type of player who makes the people he’s playing with immensely better. I think we saw that later in the game when Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson finally woke up.
Ann: Totally agree with Nick here—the player of the game was Filip Forsberg, hands down. He put this team on his back and dragged the rest of the team back into this game. He plays unflappable hockey, and with even one or two linemates willing to push just a little harder, good things CAN happen on the ice for the Preds.
Nick: I also liked the Preds’ play in the neutral zone. Even during that hot, steaming dumpster fire of a first 40 minutes, the trap the Predators deployed made it very difficult for Arizona to enter the offensive zone. That’s something the Coyotes do very well themselves, so kudos to John Hynes for flipping that strategy.
Ann: Forsberg’s two power play goals were a bright spot in this relatively dismal game. His second power play goal off of a beautiful pass from Josi was gorgeous. So...there was that.
Nick: I mean, I honestly don’t know where to begin here...
Ann: Well, since we have to start somewhere...the penalties. So. Many. Penalties. I have to believe that part of the Predators game plan against the Coyotes had to specifically read “Don’t Commit Penalties”, and then—well—they did. Johansen, Duchene, Bonino, Fabbro, Granlund, Grimaldi, and Tinordi each spent time in the box, and when you give any team a skater advantage (and leave some of your top players sitting out to think about what they’ve done), nothing good can happen. The Predators cannot collect 14 penalty minutes and expect to win games. Period.
Nick: And it’s not like they were unavoidable penalties either. There’s a big difference between taking two minutes for hooking a guy streaking past you towards the net and taking two minutes for cross-checking a guy in the back because you got out-muscled along the boards. These are frustration penalties.
Ann: The Predators didn’t control the puck in this game like they did against Dallas. While Forsberg played a solid game, Grabner took advantage of a bad pass from Forsberg to score his short handed goal. I felt like I spent way too much time yelling, “LOOK at your shirt! Now LOOK at the other shirts! PASS THE PUCK TO A GUY WHOSE SHIRT MATCHES YOURS!”
Nick: I was hoping a full training camp (or whatever you want to call the last three weeks before this play-in round) would help John Hynes sort out some of the disorganization in regards to formations. But the Preds just broke down way too easily when the Coyotes got the puck deep in the offensive zone. The second and third goals were a textbook example of that. If you’re going to collapse into the slot to defend the front of the net, you better make dang sure no one on the other team gets a good shot off in front of the net.
That said, X’s and O’s don’t work if your players don’t show up. That was the story Sunday. Matt Duchene was a non-factor. Mikael Granlund was abysmal on both ends of the ice. Even Roman Josi, who got two assists, might have played his sloppiest game of the season.
I’m mixed on Juuse Saros. I think he got better as the game went on, and despite the four goals, he certainly wasn’t the most glaring of the Preds’ problems. But he also wasn’t stellar for the first two periods. There were a couple of misplayed pucks and a few juicy rebounds that easily could have broken the game back open.
Nick: So let’s talk about the Preds’ psyche for a minute. This isn’t hyperbole, I’m honestly struggling to think of a team that responds this poorly to any hint of adversity than this year’s Predators team. The Preds dominated the first eight minutes of the game. Then the Coyotes scored a fluke goal, and almost on cue, the Preds completely fell apart. The undisciplined penalties started to pile up, the players’ sense of patience in the offensive zone disappeared, and there were so many defensive breakdowns I’m honestly surprised the final score wasn’t higher. That’s been the story of the Predators for a handful of games this year, and I don’t know why.
Ann: After the game I spent some time thinking about what roster changes might need to happen for this team to be successful, and I came to the realization that who the Predators honestly need to add to their roster is a sports psychologist. We don’t need more forwards, goalies, or defenders (OK, we could use a couple more solid defenders)—what we need is every player on this team to tap into the “overcoming adversity” mindset. This has been a season-long challenge for the Predators, and I just can’t figure out how it is the rut they continue to get stuck in. The issue isn’t talent. It is perseverance. Sure, there are always X’s and O’s that the team could clean up, but the bottom line is that they have to believe in themselves, stop playing defeated hockey, and the execution will come.
Nick: I think back to guys like P.K. Subban, James Neal, and Mike Fisher. You would always see one of those guys keeping the team engaged on the bench. I’m wondering who that guy is for this team. Who’s the player that’s going to be the first one to speak up when the team starts to fall in the hole?
Ann: Too many key players just didn’t show up. Josi, Ellis, Forsberg, and Saros (although it wasn’t his best game) played pretty good hockey (I can’t even rave about Forsberg too much), but where are Duchene, Johansen, Arvidsson, Granlund, Turris, Bonino, Smith? Josi’s Norris-worthy play has carried this team this season, but this is the playoffs. These guys MUST show up in Game 2 or the Predators should start packing. Again, the team has the talent, but John Hynes has got to find a way to pull it out of the guys who aren’t carrying their weight.