The Nashville Predators got back on the ice at the American Airlines Center after a brutal showing Friday against the Dallas Stars that dropped them to 2-2 on the season and raised all kinds of questions about their readiness for the season. Jamie Benn, who was injured last game in an odd collision with Viktor Arvidsson, joined Tyler Seguin on the absent list for the Stars, while Rocco Grimaldi drew in instead of Mathieu Olivier for the Preds, and Luca Sbisa—just out of quarantine—replaced Matt Benning on defense.
With Benn and Seguin both out, you might have expected to see the Predators steamrolling the Stars—who have a very talented young defense corps but perhaps not so much support up front. However, the game started fairly evenly, tilting a little towards Nashville in shot quantity but not so much in shot quality as the period went on.
The Preds got the first power play of the game (which maybe should have been 4v4), but were unable to convert. As the first period continued, the Preds were able to get a few cycles going, but again with no joy on the scoreboard, even after a second power play opportunity. The Stars’ penalty kill tonight is fantastically aggressive, leaving the Preds unable to even get set up.
As the teams returned to five a side, defenders Miro Heiskanen and Mark Pysyk streaked down the ice in a 2-on-1 that they were almost able to convert. Although Pysyk missed the shot, the Stars were swarming, and then Nick Cousins took a penalty. Juuse Saros stopped one great chance, but not the next, as Denis Gurianov scored to put the Stars up 1-0.
The Predators made an attempt at a counterattack, including a nice shot from Matt Duchene, but to no avail. The Stars came back from the intermission break invigorated, swarming the Predators’ net until Rocco Grimaldi took a penalty, putting the Stars back on the power play.
Saros dropped a shot from Roope Hintz, and the puck rolled across the goal line before Saros was able to re-corral it.
(Rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties, ’cause it’s cooooold out there today!)
Mark Borowiecki promptly took another penalty. For those of you following along without a scorebug, nine minutes into the second period the Preds have gotten four shots on goal. Miraculously, the Preds killed the Borowiecki penalty, but the Stars’ stifling defense continued to crush their attempts at striking back for the next several minutes, until the Stars took a too many men penalty.
This time, the Predators were actually able to score. Filip Forsberg, off a pass from Ryan Johansen, got a shot past Andrej Sekera and cut the Stars’ lead in half. Is it time to close the “30+ Best Groundhog Day Quotes” tab yet? Probably not yet.
Gurianov has had several great looks again tonight, and had another just before the second period ended. Saros was able to shut the door on that, and the Predators were able to escape the period down by only one goal. They started the third period off with more energy and better chances, setting up in the Stars’ defensive zone and forcing Anton Khudobin to make some saves.
Alex Radulov hit Sbisa high without a whistle, which, in a game where all three goals so far have been on the power play, is a discouraging look at the referees’ prioriti—Viktor Arvidsson was called for tripping as I was typing that. The Predators head back to the penalty kill, with no explanation for the missed hit on Sbisa given. Regardless of whether it was intentional, we’ve heard “the player is responsible for his stick” often enough; the same standard should apply to a player’s elbow, especially now that we know more about the dangers of concussions. Sbisa left the bench at least temporarily after the elbow.
Joe Pavelski scored with seconds remaining in the Stars’ power play, in spite of several valiant shot blocks by Preds skaters.
(It’s cooooold out there every day!)
However, Mikael Granlund got that one back, closing the gap to a single goal again. While the Stars almost got their lead back, Borowiecki blocked the shot perfectly. Then, moments later, Viktor Arvidsson almost scored again with a through-the-legs shot; John Klingberg’s attempts to stop him resulted in a penalty call and another Preds power play.
The power play had no success, but Mikael Granlund made a great play to keep Klingberg from going on a breakaway as he came out of the box. We take what we can.
And, ultimately, that would be all we could take. With a little over a minute to go, the Predators finally managed to pull Juuse Saros for the extra attacker, but there was no obvious plan, and in spite of a valiant flurry of shots Anton Khudobin was able to make the saves to keep the Stars’ lead. Roman Josi saved an empty-net goal, but with nobody able to convert, the Preds met their third loss of the season.
OTF’s Three Stars of the Game:
- Filip Forsberg, for the hope spot.
- Mikael Granlund, for his second consecutive game of really solid play—this time with a goal to show for it.
- Viktor Arvidsson, with a primary assist on each goal.
- Not something the Preds themselves did, but Hynes sitting Benning to play Sbisa was a weird choice. Sbisa isn’t obviously a better hockey player—I’m not saying he’s worse, necessarily, but he’s not significantly better—and he only just cleared quarantine, meaning he’s had pretty much no time to work with his new teammates or new coach’s systems. It seems likely, though, that Benning was sat for his penalties on Friday—a weird choice, when Borowiecki took as many penalties but played anyway.
- The penalty kill has been horrendous. The Stars have been destroying it, helped along by a severe lack of discipline among the penalty killers, and if the Preds spent the weekend trying to figure out how to fix their problems I’m a little concerned about what it means that they didn’t fix this. The defense at even strength hasn’t been good either; the Preds are giving up way too much around their own net.
- That sucked. Next game won’t be against Dallas, but the Preds have to face the Stars six more times this year, and they cannot afford to do whatever this was again.