I say this with as little faint praise as possible. Despite the final score being 6-3, the Predators didn’t play all that badly in this game.
The deck was stacked against them from the beginning. The Tampa Bay Lightning entered (and finished) as the NHL’s best team points-percentage wise. The Predators, meanwhile, were decimated by injuries, and were forced to play six rookies. Four of their top six defenders were sidelined.
Still, there were flashes of great hockey from Nashville. The young defensive corps (Alexandre Carrier looks like a star) held their own against Tampa’s explosive stars. Yakov Trenin played maybe the best game of his career. And we kept seeing five- to six-minute blocks of the Predators keeping all of the action in Tampa’s end.
But at the end of the day, Tampa Bay is Tampa Bay. They don’t need a ton of chances, because whatever chances they do get, they seem to execute to textbook precision. Their passing, their power play set-up, their ability to skate themselves into a high-danger chance...just all near perfect tonight.
And that was big difference between the Predators and Lightning tonight. Right now, Nashville just doesn’t have that ability to finish their chances. Tampa does.
Perhaps each a little frustrated by their previous outings (I mean who loses to the Red Wings, hahaha... *quietly sobs*), both teams came out of the gate hot. The Lightning get a good chance 20 seconds in when Tyler Johnson—whose name you’re about to see a bunch—stole the puck off Ryan Johansen’s stick in the Preds’ zone. His shot, luckily, deflected into the netting. Moments later, Filip Forsberg returned the favor with a steal of his own off the backcheck. Arvidsson had a great look at the open net, but Forsberg’s pass to him was just a bit off target.
A turnover in the offensive zone ultimately lead to an odd-man rush for Tampa, which ends with Johnson (see, told you) sliding past Ben Harpur to tap the puck past Pekka Rinne for a 1-0 Lightning lead. And look, I know Twitter is going with the “a 5-foot-9 player just outmuscled a 6-foot-6 player in front of the net” narrative. But to be honest, Harpur played that fairly well; that was just an unbelievable effort by Johnson to get to that puck.
The Lightning kept buzzing after that goal, creating a plethora of second- and third-chance opportunities right around the net (partially aided by the fact that the Preds’ ability to clear the puck right in front of their own net was atrocious tonight). Johnson nearly scored a carbon copy of his first goal by swiping a rebound from his stomach towards the net, which actually beat Rinne, but bounced off the post.
With just under three minutes remaining in the period, Trenin very nearly scored the Preds’ goal of the year. He forced a turnover at the red line which led to a 2-on-1. Trenin then muscled past the Lightning defender to turn the rush into a breakaway, but Vasilevskiy slid over to make the save. That’s a textbook example of Trenin using his strength for game-making plays, as opposed to simply shelling out hits.
It would have been great if he did score, because a minute later, a Mathieu Joseph shot off a faceoff deflects off Ekholm past Rinne to make it 2-0 Tampa Bay. There’s not much anyone could do on that one. It was simply just one of those weird bounces that make you say “well...that’s hockey.”
The second period begun with another onslaught from the Lightning. Eeli Tolvanen picked up a slashing penalty trying to prevent a chance, and Tampa made the Preds pay on the power play. A seeing-eye pass from Ondrej Palat led to an easy tap-in goal for Alex Killorn to make it 3-0 Lightning. Again, not much you can do about that one. That’s just brilliant execution by maybe the best team in the NHL right now.
The action slowed a bit after the goal, and we didn’t see much action until halfway through the period. Alexandre Carrier makes a great pass in the neutral zone to set Johansen up for a breakaway chance. Joey’s shot beat Vasilevskiy, but clanged off the post because it’s 2021 and no Predators top-six center is allowed to have nice things.
But then...Yakov Trenin. What a game, man. A beautiful wrist-shot from the high slot beat Vasilevskiy to get the Preds on the board, 3-1. We should also point out (for reasons) the on-the-money pass from Arvidsson to set up that shot.
This led to a surge of momentum for the Predators, who started to keep the action in Tampa’s end for the last part of the second period. Maybe the best chance was an EA Sports-esque “skill stick” dangle from Carrier that Vasilevskiy had to make a stop on. The fast-paced action in the Lightning zone led to Erik Cernak taking a frustration penalty, which led to a Predators power play chance. Could Nashville take advantage of this opportunity to capitalize on their momentum swing and cut the deficit back to one?
It’s the Predators; of course not.
Instead, the Lightning got the two best chances of the power play. After successfully killing the penalty, the Lightning would go on to make it 4-1, this time courtesy of an absolute laser of a shot from Brayden Point. That’s the second intermission score.
The Preds, as has been the story all season, came out on fire to start the third. This eventually led to...ALEXANDRE CARRIER’S FIRST NHL GOAL! A beautiful drop pass from Trenin (seriously, Yakov, what a game) set up an absolute snipe from the rookie defender to make it 4-2. If that’s a glimpse of the Preds’ future, not bad.
A bit of a scary moment after the goal. Tyler Johnson shoved Matt Benning, a.k.a. one of the Preds’ only two healthy top-six defenders, right in the numbers by the boards. Benning was slow to get up as tempers flared around him. He’d head down the tunnel, but eventually returned to the game. Still, something to keep an eye on in the coming days, considering that was eerily close to the play that sidelined Josi.
STOP BOARDING OUR DEFENSEMEN YOU MONSTERS— On The Forecheck (@OnTheForecheck) March 14, 2021
The one upside (?) to this is the Predators would get a power play, and, HEY A GOAL! Calle Järnkrok fires a shot wide of the net, Vasilevskiy seemed fooled by where it went, and Erik Haula (who is suddenly upping his trade value) banged in the rebound to cut the lead to 4-3.
Again, this led to another surge from the Predators, and at this point, it really seemed like Nashville was due to tie the game. Rocco Grimaldi had two point-blank chances himself that just missed the net.
And yet again, Tampa would kill that momentum with a single play.
This time, Blake Coleman weaved into the high slot through traffic and beat Rinne short-side with a back-hander to make it 5-3 Lightning. Pekka looked like he may have been screened a little bit on that shot. If there was any of his five goals allowed tonight that you could say “that should have been stopped” about, this was probably it.
The Predators had their fair share of chances at the end, but couldn’t convert. Tampa would add one more goal into the empty net to make it a 6-3 final.
- Yakov Trenin: easily the Predators’ best player in this game. Trenin was a spark plug whenever he saw game action last year, but this year, he’s seemed to figure out how to fine-tune his game. He’s using his physicality to set up scoring plays (as opposed to just “throwing the body around”). He’s also moving the puck with more conviction as well.
- Speaking of youth, the Preds’ rookie defenders have played really well the past few games, Carrier especially. That’s not an easy ask to have someone jump onto the top pairing after just five NHL games in four seasons, but Carrier’s handled the task as well as anyone could have asked. Allard’s debut was a bit of a mixed bag (he was out of position on that first Tampa goal), but he also made a couple of smart defensive plays.
- Inability to clear the front of the net. Seriously. There were three goals allowed tonight directly related to this.
- Offensive zone turnovers continue to haunt Nashville. Nothing kills momentum faster that a careless pass or trying to force a play that leads to an odd-man rush the other way.
- Seriously, STOP HURTING OUR DEFENDERS.
These two teams play again Monday afternoon in Tampa. It’s a rare 3:00 PM CT weekday puck drop.