It’s easy to say “well, they made the playoffs for five years in a row with Laviolette,” but do we really see this game having gone any better with the guy who coached them in last year’s Stars series? Probably not.
Ann: It is difficult to label much “good” when the end result is elimination, but there were a few good moments in this game. I thought the team kept their wits about them better this game even down 2-0 than they did after the “off Matt Duchene’s back” goal in game 1.
Kate: The start was good, even though the more shots they got without scoring the worse I felt about it. Ryan Johansen had some good moments, and Duchene made me look smart for saying he’d contribute more than a replacement-level player. Filip Forsberg continues to impress as the Preds’ only real gamebreaking forward—but that “only” is a problem for a team that wants to contend.
Ann: Filip Forsberg’s key goal to force overtime is a testament to his reputation as that gamebreaking forward. Duchene stepped out of the series shadows to contribute positively this game, but again—when the team loses an elimination game, it is difficult to cheer his performance.
Ann: Losing Viktor Arvidsson at the end of the second period after he took a puck to the ribs was a coffin nail. After the COVID break, Arvidsson came back to training camp with his speed back on full display, and contributed three goals in the play-in round. Not only did the Predators miss his shooting and speed in the third period, his absence meant no more JoFA magic. Without Arvidsson healthy, I’m not sure the Predators could have finished off the Coyotes in five, let alone gain momentum in the first round.
Kate: Agreed. He’s a spark for the team and always has been, and the offense was going to be in bad shape without him. Getting two goals on Kuemper without him was going to be tough; getting more goals, next game, if it had happened? Bleh.
Darcy Kuemper was good. I don’t want to take that away from him. It sucked for the Preds, and they didn’t make their lives easier by making his harder, but he was one of the best goalies in the league this season and he looked it this past week.
Ann: The Predators struggled too often this game (this series/this season) to clear the puck out of the defensive zone. A turnover in the defensive zone led to the Coyotes first goal at the end of the first period. If I had a nickel for every time I mumbled, “CLEAR THE PUCK!” I could buy out some contracts during the offseason.
Kate: The fourth line wasn’t great. Most of the forwards, actually, apart from JOFA and Duchene, weren’t great. Josi was not playing some Norris-caliber defense. Saros decided he wanted to go be the third defender, and allowed the Coyotes to get their first goal of the game. Just...not a great performance, up and down the roster. Some of that might’ve been on the line shuffling—I had had concerns about putting any of the members of Wednesday’s second line with bottom-six forwards, and that worked out about as well as I’d thought it would, i.e. not—and some of it was things they’d been struggling with all series. Like you said, they were not well-adapted, strategically, to getting those clears when they really needed to.
Kate: A lot of the Preds’ old bad habits were on display. Take the thing where Roman Josi thinks he has to win games by himself, for example. Micah, of HockeyViz, tweeted this after the game:
Preds lose despite the best effort of Roman Josi, with whom the Predators out-shot the coyotes fifty-five to twenty-two. He took seventeen of those shots himself.— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) August 7, 2020
All game charts: https://t.co/VZViaucj4y pic.twitter.com/kEKd2pPHRz
Josi is a defender. He had fourteen shots on goal, plus another eight that missed the net or got blocked. What’s more, most of those shots were from the point, which is not a great way to try to score on a goalie like Darcy Kuemper. Pass the puck to a forward, Josi. Let them earn their millions.
He wasn’t the only player just blasting away from the point. Team defense crumpled. Team offense...eh. Wasn’t good. It had some flashes, but it wasn’t great. All of this is stuff we’ve been saying for much more than just this series, and that we’re having to say it again, in an elimination game, is bad.
For me the ugliest thing about this series was that the Preds exceeded my expectations along the way. I didn’t expect them to fight back from down 0-3 in Game 1. I wasn’t relaxed when the Coyotes scored their first goal in Game 2, because I was still braced for something like that to happen. I didn’t expect the Preds to tie Game 3—or score the go-ahead goal in it, even if that goal was overturned—or Game 4, and...well, I wasn’t expecting them to manage the OT win, so when they didn’t, I didn’t even have anything to be disappointed about.
That’s not a great feeling to have about your hockey team.
Ann: Kate nailed it. While Forsberg carried the team to overtime on a beautiful goal with less than a minute to go, I didn’t feel any more confident that the Predators could turn their chance into a win...or win a game five...or compete consistently well in the first round of playoffs. It is frustrating because there is enough talent on this team that the roster holes the team has shouldn’t be so glaringly obvious.
While it is easy to blame the Predators’ early exit from the bubble on the unique circumstances of the postseason, the fact remains that the Predators have struggled to consistently showcase a team identity. This season and this game, the Predators were Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates—we never knew what we were going to get. The only thing we did know was not to get our hopes up too high.