For the third time so far in the three games and counting of this series, one team—in this case the Nashville Predators—got off to a great start, pouring on the offense and hemming the opposition in their own zone, only for its goalie to give up a goal on one of the first few shots faced, and ultimately lose. The solution can’t be to phone in the first period, but we’re at a bit of a loss.
Kate: The start really was good. The JOFA line is looking reliable—five goals and a commanding percentage of the xG share this series—and they were showing it at the start.
Eamon: Yeah yeah, the JOFA line did good things, the top pair looked fine, whatever. This was an immensely frustrating game, and there honestly isn’t a ton that’s positive to talk about besides the first period, which was what I was looking for out of this group. Dominant in shots, chances, and every facet of play... so of course, they allowed the first goal on a perfect tip. Sigh. Juuse Saros looked pretty good, so there’s that? It was just a bad time today, folks.
Kate: I had hopes, briefly, when they responded well to allowing that first goal, that we weren’t going to have another one of those games. But...nah. On to the bad.
Kate: We knew going into the series that Darcy Kuemper is a highly skilled goalie with the ability to carry his team for a game or two, and apparently he just needed less rest to show that off. Some of what plagued the Preds this game—not all, but some—was facing a talented opponent who was having a good day (maybe to make up for the atypically bad one he had on Tuesday).
Eamon: I expected Kuemper to be the biggest factor in the ‘Yotes winning the series, but hot damn did the Preds make it easier on him by forcing almost no cross-crease movement on shots. Despite attacking the slot pretty well and getting chances in close, the team didn’t manage to score effectively, likely because Kuemper seems to be immune to shots that don’t require much lateral movement or tracking. Nashville seemed incapable of adapting their offensive strategy to incorporate/focus on this.
Kate: Like you said, yeah, Kuemper was having a good day, but the Preds weren’t really making him work for it. After a lively and high-pressure start, they started to slip back into a more static offense. You have to be prepared to make a goalie work for every save, and it looked like the Preds weren’t.
Eamon: What really frustrated me was how inconsistent the wingers were in this game. You’d have occasional good, smart plays from Craig Smith, Mikael Granlund, and Viktor Arvidsson, but then they’d wipe it all out with numerous boneheaded offensive turnovers from shooting the puck into the shins of a defender who was inches away. For two players looking for paydays, Granlund and Smith have made the wrong impression in the postseason this year, with #64 especially standing out as a disappointment. I’d hoped that he’d find a groove in a new system under John Hynes, but it seems the scheme change did little to alleviate the “square peg, round hole” situation that Granlund has been since his arrival.
Kate: I feel bad calling out the second line because Kyle Turris did score a goal, but Matt “Offside” Duchene did that thing he does and, thanks to, well, him, the NHL caught it. So technically, the second line has still been held scoreless. They’re not getting much done by way of generating chances relative to the rest of the team, either; it’s not just a case of bad luck.
Stop me if you’ve heard “the Preds only have one line reliably showing up this series, their second line is a ghost, and it’s killing their playoff hopes” before.
We’re definitely in one of those weird situations where I don’t know what the solution to the problem is. Both John Hynes and Matt Duchene are new since 2019. Mikael Granlund is new since 2018. Kyle Turris is new since 2017. There’s a similar construction issue on defense, which I know you had some thoughts about, Eamon.
Eamon: Look, I know that people don’t like to blame David Poile for anything. He’s been a stalwart of the franchise since day one and has brought us some success. But I refuse to ignore his shortcomings when he actively hurts the team like this. If the Predators wanted to sell at the deadline, Nick Bonino would have been shipped for assets along with Smith and Granlund. The fact that this didn’t happen indicates that Poile wanted the team to make a deep playoff run. So, if that was the case, why did he willingly leave a gaping hole in the defensive corps? Why didn’t he deal a third-round pick for Dylan DeMelo, who has been a key contributor for the Winnipeg Jets?
I’ll tell you why: David Poile thinks Jared Tinordi is a quality NHL defender. Frankly, I’m not sure which game he’s watching, because Tinordi elicits nightmarish visions of Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning from my time watching the crummy Flyers teams of the mid-2010s. Yesterday alone, Tinordi was responsible for a goal off of a turnover at the blue line, because like an absolute genius he tried to stickhandle through Phil Kessel. Every game I’ve watched him in (i.e. every game he’s played in Nashville), he’s been a lumbering black hole on offense with abysmal defensive instincts to boot. I cannot fathom why he’s still playing games.
Let’s go back to the second pair. Dante Fabbro has been mediocre to poor for most of this season, and I feel that again this mostly comes down to roster construction. The rookie clearly wasn’t ready for a full time top-four role in the NHL, and his chemistry with Mattias Ekholm has been sickeningly poor. The lack of a truly effective, puck-moving partner for #14 is a glaring flaw in this team, and it was laid bare today when Fabbro made an ineffective pinch. Ekholm got caught watching Stepan on the wall and drifted away from his man, leaving Conor Garland wide open for a crucial goal. If his partner wasn’t so inexperienced and untrustworthy, maybe Ekholm watches his own side of the ice and takes care of his man.
You could chalk that up as speculation, but those same kinds of plays have happened too often this year in the same way to be coincidental. Fabbro and Ekholm just have poor chemistry, and the lack of roster additions to fix that frustrates me.
I also want to talk about the second line, because good lord do they anger me. Kyle Turris is the driving force in a forward group that is averaging an AAV of over $6 million; that’s all that needs to be said, but I’ll go on. Matt Duchene is good at controlled exits and entries, making plays from below the goal line, and acting as a distributor along the wall or off the rush when everything is clicking. Right now, he’s losing almost every puck battle and handing the load to others when entering the zone.
Kate: He also negated a goal by not paying enough attention to the play, so that was frustrating.
Eamon: Granlund is of a similar skillset and does more of the same. It really feels like most of this team isn’t a stylistic fit for the way that John Hynes wants them to play hockey, and it’s difficult to watch.
While two members of the JOFA line were stellar, Arvidsson continues to frustrate me with poor decision making. He scored a goal today, which overshadowed most of his flaws, but he repeatedly kills offensive possession with poor shot selection and losing battles. He hurts the chances of the unit sustaining the attack, and thereby hurts their chances of scoring. It's good to see him sniping pucks, but I really need him to be a smarter player in the offensive zone. I’ve grown accustomed to his...lackluster defense, but killing momentum like he has been needs to stop for this team to succeed.
Kate: Gonna interrupt you here for a second. I agree that Viktor Arvidsson isn’t the kind of brilliant all-around winger we might hope for, but he’s also always been like this. He’s pretty much only good at one thing—shooting the puck. He’s never pretended to be anything else and he’s gotten to a top-line role, and been one of the team’s best goalscorers when healthy (which he wasn’t this year), because of that. It’s not clever and it’s not fancy but he’s very far from the worst thing about yesterday’s game, and unlike a lot of the rest of the roster issues I don’t think that Poile could have been expected to cheaply find a winger who could be expected to score 30 goals, and proven to be able to do so in the Preds’ system.
Eamon: Lastly, an open letter to Craig Smith on his headshot yesterday: don’t throw those kinds of hits. That’s a scummy way to play the game, and it isn’t helpful given how shaky the Preds’ penalty kill can be at any time. I enjoy watching #15 on the ice shooting the puck and scoring goals, not throwing low blows. If you want to steamroll a guy, do it cleanly like Austin Watson did today (kudos to him on not being noticeably awful). Sincerely, Eamon.
Kate: Yeah, if we’re talking ugly, I wasn’t even mad when the Coyotes scored on that power play, even though it pretty much guaranteed the Preds the loss. Don’t headshot people. That’s not even a discipline thing, although that’s part of it, it’s just...basic ethics. If you’re going to do it, you have to be prepared for the consequences.