After a significant hiatus, the Nashville Predators returned to play tonight in a matchup with the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin. Did the Preds keep up their excellent play after some time away from the rink? Did anybody stand out? What exactly happened? All of that and more below.
What went right?
Despite a horrific first period, the Predators managed to keep things from getting totally out of hand due to the stellar play of Juuse Saros. The Finnish netminder made stunning save after stunning save tonight, even if the box score doesn’t reflect an excellent outing. He was the reason things were interesting after Washington’s early onslaught.
Juuse Saros so locked in right now that he's just playing the shooter as complete mayhem unfolds behind him pic.twitter.com/bsJh7ZM39p— Dimitri Filipovic (@DimFilipovic) December 30, 2021
Nashville responded by storming out of the gate in the second frame, starting things off with a Yakov Trenin tally to make it 3-1.
The Preds followed this up with one of their prettiest offensive sequences of the season, kicked off by a fantastic saucer pass by... Ben Harpur? Luke Kunin had a slam-dunk finish after Eeli Tolvanen lofted a perfect assist over the Capitals defender’s outstretched body to bring the score to within one.
Shortly after, a Filip Forsberg deflection on a Dante Fabbro shot from out high tied things back up. The Predators displayed their mettle tonight, even if the process was inconsistent and the physicality got to be a bit much at times.
Washington also ended the night with zero power play goals, which in of itself is an accomplishment. Not bad for a team missing Roman Josi and Colton Sissions.
What went wrong?
From a process standpoint, a whole lot, but first it’s important to talk about the way the first period unfolded. The Capitals opened the scoring via a backdoor pass that Lars Eller had no trouble putting past Juuse Saros. The defense on this play by Phil Tomasino (not getting his stick in the passing lane) was less than ideal, to say the least.
oooohhhhhh that was nice pic.twitter.com/NgXRXKjTH0— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) December 30, 2021
The second Washington goal came off an unscreened shot that Saros maybe would’ve liked to have back, but sometimes you’ve just gotta tip your hat to the goal scorer. It didn’t help that all five Nashville skaters were on the opposite side of the ice.
A late backcheck by Eeli Tolvanen after a Dante Fabbro pinch caused a breakdown, and the Caps found another easy backdoor goal from Nic Dowd. The defensive coverage was am mess tonight.
After fighting back in the second period, the Predators totally petered out before eventually conceding the game-winning goal to Evgeny Kuznetsov. Giving a guy like that so much time and space behind the net isn’t optimal stuff, even if the shot itself was a thing of beauty.
Kuznetsov wasn't happy about being robbed. So he scored the go-ahead goal pic.twitter.com/svTBmfni0k— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) December 30, 2021
Carl Hagelin potted the empty-net goal to finish things off, and the Preds saw their winning streak finally snapped. Not the best night for the Preds, who in all facets of the game besides goaltending and physicality got thoroughly whooped. The Capitals won the shot differential and scoring chance battles convincingly.
There was some clear miscommunication on defense, but also in the offensive end. The power play got a few cracks at scoring tonight and was unable to create much of anything. In a game where Nashville’s physicality got them into trouble (taking some stupid penalties retaliating to clean hits), not executing on either phase of special teams hurt them tremendously.
Speaking of penalties, there were a lot in this game. It’s wonderful that John Hynes’s team has been marked by playing with an edge that’s been missing since the days of Barry Trotz, but reigning things back in a bit might not be the worst idea after this evening’s messy affair.
Three Big Things
- This was the iffiest Nashville’s process has looked in a while, but it’s not worth taking much concrete away from. After a hiatus from games, you’d expect any team to look rusty, and for a Preds roster that very clearly is succeeding based upon executing a system effectively (rather than winning via raw talent and skill), an opponent like Washington was possibly the worst team to face when opening play back up. Shake it off and look to the next series of games for defining whether this team can keep playing great hockey like they did prior to the pause.
- The Predators gave up five goals tonight, but Juuse Saros keeps playing like he’s legitimately one of the three or four best goalies in the world. Incredible performance from him tonight, even if the stats won’t credit it as such.
- Working on neutral zone play should be a focus for John Hynes and co. heading into this next practice. The second pass on breakouts looked sloppy tonight, although the zone entry attempts were for the most part intelligently played. Getting something as basic as “the second pass is clean 60 percent of the time, not 45 percent” nailed down can change the outcome of entire games, and tonight it probably lends Nashville one or two more scoring chances the right way and a few less the wrong way.
Post Game Tunes
America is pretty messy right now, so the song fits.
As always, good night, good hockey, and go Predators.