The Nashville Predators arrived in Raleigh, North Carolina, with a sense of confidence. The team finished the regular season on the back of one of the most surprising turn-arounds in the NHL this season—not to mention the fact that the team had finished out the 56-game campaign with two wins over its first round opponent, the Carolina Hurricanes. That confidence got deflated quickly.
After receiving a 5-2 drubbing on Monday night, the boys in gold are back at PNC Arena tonight for the second game of the series. Looking to take home-ice advantage away from the top-seed ‘Canes before heading back to Nashville, the Predators will need better play from most areas of their game if they want to avoid an 0-2 hole before game three.
As expected, Carolina rolled out a very different lineup in game one of the playoffs than they did in the final game of the season, where Pekka Rinne was able to shut out the Hurricanes. Dougie Hamilton, Brett Pesce, Andrei Svechnikov, Jacob Slavin, Brock McGinn and captain Jordan Staal all returned to the lineup for the home team on Monday night. The influx of talent was made clear on the scoreboard; three of the goals scored by the Hurricanes were scored by players absent from the regular-season finale. This should extinguish the hopes of any Preds fans who were optimistic about this series because of a 5-0 win against Carolina’s B-Team.
Another change in the lineup for the Hurricanes came in the crease. Alex Nedeljkovic got the nod in net, overtaking Petr Mrázek, and earned a .917 save percentage. The combined forces of a solid outing for Nedeljkovic and a suffocating Carolina defense provided all of the conditions necessary for a stagnant Predators offense. If the Hurricanes can maintain the offensive and defensive superiority that they showcased in Game 1, Nashville will have an incredibly difficult time trying to keep this series close.
When news broke that Eeli Tolvanen would not be in the lineup for the opening game of the series, fans immediately began questioning the decision. The loss of the young Finn could potentially limit both the power play and the offense at large, as his streaky shooting has been a welcome addition to the team this year. Once the game was lost, many immediately turned to that decision, as well as the move to keep Dante Fabbro out, as the reason for the loss. Others decided to “zag” and make the case that this move made hardly any impact, and that this game would be lost regardless.
The truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle.
The lack of offense from Nashville was as apparent as the smell of barbecue outside of PNC; the Predators ended with half as many high-danger chances as Carolina, according to Natural Stat Trick, totaling out at a 5-11 deficit. Furthermore, the Predators had three chances on the power play, a part of the game Tolvanen shone in this year. Zero of the chances turned into goals. While the presence of Tolvanen would most likely not have prevented the five goals from being scored against Nashville (four against Saros), his ability to put pucks in the net appeared to be something that was missing from the rest of the team.
Cashion’s Three Keys to the Game
1. Give Juuse breathing room — While the Finnish goaltender could have had a better night in goal for Nashville, his shoulders should not carry all of the blame for the four goals that Carolina scored on him. Nashville’s defense broke down under the pressure of one of the league’s best forward units, and Saros was unable to fulfill his usual role of bailing out the rest of the team. Saros can get this team some wins, the team just has to help him do it by not allowing high-danger chance after high-danger chance.
2. Keep the penalty kill the same — The success of Nashville’s PK last night is something that has been lost behind the cluster of headlines about the lineups. The Hurricanes possessed the second-best power play unit in terms of scoring percentage through the regular season, and Nashville weathered four different penalties without giving up any goals while shorthanded. That should be applauded.
3. Win the physical battle — Sorry to burst the bubble of any Preds’ fans, but Carolina’s offensive firepower is simply better than Nashville’s. If the Predators want to win this series in a Big-Twelve style shootout, they will be unable to do so. They could win, though, by muddying up the game and letting Saros steal a few wins. To start, Nashville needs to put red-coated bodies on the ice; Carolina led the hit count in game one, so there is plenty of work to do.
Where to Watch/Listen
Tonight's game can be viewed on CNBC or Bally Sports at 8:00 Eastern/ 7:00 Central. You can also listen to the game on 102.5 The Game.