First, I’m aware that this Ted Lasso quote I used as a lead-in is factually incorrect. However, it works for Sam Obisanya, so who really cares if it’s true or not? Like most Nashville Predators fans, you’d probably like to forget about what happened last night. But before you forget about it, let’s take a quick look at what went wrong.
It seemed like the biggest question heading into the series was the one about who would start between the pipes. During post-practice media availability on Monday, Predators Head Coach John Hynes commented that the coaching staff was still discussing who would get the start for Game 1. The fact that there was even a question over who would start the game should tell you everything you need to know. David Rittich was signed to a one-season contract to be the backup goaltender—the first true backup goaltender the team has had in a long time. The tandem of Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros...or Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne…certainly spoiled Predators fandom, and this season was bound to be a rude awakening for anyone used to that combination. The speculation has always been that Connor Ingram was the intended backup for this season, but those plans had to change when Ingram voluntarily entered the NHLPA Player Assistance Program during the previous season. With a question mark over Ingram’s season, Rittich had to be signed. Fortunately for Connor Ingram, the assistance program was exactly what he needed to help him deal with his mental health struggles and return successfully to competition with Milwaukee. Saros carried the NHL team and started the majority of games, Rittich backed up when needed, and Ingram got another season under his belt in Milwaukee—and the rest is history.
But the Predators found themselves at the basement doorstep of the playoffs with Saros injured and two backups on the roster. It seemed like the backup (Rittich) and the intended backup (Ingram) would have to battle it out for control of the playoff crease. However, John Hynes went with David Rittich. I’ll defend that choice despite the outcome of his time on the ice in the first period. John Hynes absolutely did the right thing by starting Rittich. Rittich had earned the right to Game 1, and it was his to defend. He didn’t fare very well and, even though he played with the heart of a lion, made the choice for Game 2 easy for John Hynes. And, realistically, Ingram is probably the guy they need in the net until (assuming) Saros is able to return. Moving forward, Ingram is probably the second rostered goaltender in Nashville next season, with Askarov in Milwaukee.
The Predators spent an entire season establishing their identity as a physical team that plays a full 60-minute game, finishes all of their checks, forechecks aggressively, and forces teams to think twice about going into the corners or entering the zone. (I spend a lot of time on podcasts, YouTube shows, and even radio spots talking about this.) In fact, the biggest part of all the “this is how the Predators can win this series” articles alluded to the fact that the Colorado Avalanche are not as physical a team as the Predators are and that by leaning into that identity, Nashville could force Colorado to play a style of game they didn’t want to play.
Unfortunately, in short, the Predators didn’t lean into anything (except some undisciplined penalties) that resembled their season-long identity style of play until after Rittich was pulled from the game. Even then, it looked like it wasn’t until midway through the second period before they appeared (and that’s the right word for it—they were doing a lot of hitting all night long) to be on the same page as a team. The players seemed to be more interested in laying down a devastating hit instead of a smart hit and wound up missing, freeing up their target and taking themselves out of the play. They overcommitted to standing guys up at the blueline instead of slowing them down or harrassing their attempts at zone entry, and that overcommittment led to, once again, players out of position to defend the attack. For me, the worst offense was the offense—which focused on taking a shot from the blueline upon entry. There was very little attempt early on to establish possession in the zone with a lot of shots (and transitions) coming before all the Predators had even made it into the zone.
It imploded last night. That’s all you really need to know, but here’s the part where the title comes back in. In the middle of all of the negativity, Brad Miller, a University of North Dakota alum and host of The Morning Bagger Podcast, tossed out a dose of reality for everyone out there on the bird app overreacting:
Beauty of the playoffs is, you can lose game 1 by 8 and the series still reads 1-0. Short memory’s are key but not a lot of fans have them— Brad Miller (@Bradm14) May 4, 2022
...and that’s the truth. You need to have a short memory. Be a goldfish. And, before I go, Brad pointed out what the Predators needed to do with the rest of the game to make it count:
Game one for the Preds is all but over but the good thing is, there’s still lots of time to send a message for the series. Finish all checks. Hurt someone (not injure but make them wake up sore). That period was easy for the Avs. The rest of the series can’t be— Brad Miller (@Bradm14) May 4, 2022
...and that’s exactly what they did. You saw Colorado get drawn into the Predators’ style of hockey. Their scoring dried up, they slowed down, got emotional, and took some dumb undisciplined penalties. Most importantly, some of those guys will still be sore on Thursday.
As John Hynes has said all season long, “Don’t get too high; don’t get too low. Take the lessons and move on.” Be a goldfish. Get ready for Game 2, but be a goldfish.