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Identity is the Key for the Predators Moving Forward

A look back at the win over Anaheim and how the team’s identity played into recent key wins.

Anaheim Ducks v Nashville Predators Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images

The Nashville Predators took on the Anaheim Ducks last night. The Predators were nursing a two-game win streak since their loss to the Kraken last week in Seattle and came in hoping to extend it to three. And while they were able to win things 4-1, I wanted to take a look at a couple of storylines coming into the game.

Identity

I wanted to take a look at the Predators playing to their identity, as that has been a common talking point for Head Coach John Hynes recently. After losses, he’s mentioned the team not playing to their identity and prior to games he’s discussed doing what they need to do to give themselves the best chance to win. This, of course, is identity. If you’ve been paying attention, you already know the identity of this team. However, if you’re just tuning in, this is who the Predators have been. The Predators’ focus is on playing a full 60-minute game where they are constantly pushing to get into high-danger areas on offense, transitioning quickly through the neutral zone, playing strong defensively, and challenging their opponents for every loose puck. This goes along with a mentality that the Predators will finish every check and make their opponents earn every inch of ice they gain. Successfully executing this game plan should, as John Hynes has said, give them the best chance to get a win.

The first period was a masterclass in “the Predator Way”. The period saw aggressive forechecking, finished checks, and puck battle after puck battle. Despite the Ducks managing to get several shots off, very few seemed to be dangerous. The team’s long power play chance featured cross-ice passing in front of the crease that led to a beauty of a tic-tac-toe goal from Matt Duchene. Tanner Jeannot “scored” a second goal, a netfront snipe, that was called off due to an offside zone entry. And, to top it all off, Michael McCarron, whose play in front of the crease has been great recently, nearly scored as well.

The true test was really an exercise of another John Hynes talking point—only controlling what you can control. The team came into the second period knowing they were potentially robbed of a two-goal lead. It had all the makings of an opportunity for the team to play “down”. However, the team came out of the locker room focused on playing to their identity and kept pushing. Things paid off midway through the second when Filip Forsberg made it 2-0 for real. At that point, the team got very defensive and focused on limiting zone entries and high-danger shot suppression. They would maintain their 2-0 lead well into the third period.

Despite Anaheim breaking through and pushing a puck through Juuse Saros and into the net, the team redoubled its efforts late and regained a two-goal lead via a strong play from a winded Colton Sissons. And, finally, Matt Duchene scored on the empty net to make it a 4-1 final. After the game, Mattias Ekholm commented that it may not have been their best game, but realistically, a shift to strong defense is quite different than the “turtle to the end with a lead” of the past. Continuing this trend of identity play is going to be the most important factor heading into the next two games this week against the St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild. Playing to that identity will give them the best chance to bring home those critical 4 points.

Michael McCarron’s Netfront Threat

I’ve been saying it for about a month now, but Michael McCarron has become a threat when he gets to the front of the net. His two-goal, three-point performance against the San Jose Sharks was not just a perfect example, but also proof of what I’ve been seeing from him. I spoke with Alex Daugherty of A to Z Sports on our “On The Preds” podcast recently about this. Alex attributes part of this turnaround to Philip Tomasino getting more comfortable in a playmaking role. I agree that Tomasino definitely has something to do with it. However, I feel like McCarron has shifted his focus from solely screening the goalie to being more offensively minded. After this change, he’s started finding opportunities to clean up the trash left on the doorstep. And, of course, McCarron nearly had another one in the first period:

While it certainly isn’t the expectation that McCarron scores a goal every game, it definitely adds to the other team’s concern when they see him in front of the net. And, realistically, every additional threat the Predators can have on the ice at any given time is a bonus.