It’s a rare occurrence for a 2-1 overtime loss to feel more discouraging than a 7-2 walloping, but Thursday night’s game between the Nashville Predators and Colorado Avalanche left me feeling much more at a loss than Tuesday’s.
Going into Thursday night, there were a number of concrete things the Predators could to do to improve their chances of winning:
Play more calmly and confidently, not freezing up.
We saw that pretty consistently throughout Game 2, during which the Preds looked much less discombobulated than they had for Game 1. It still wasn’t what I’d call good, but they looked a lot more like a team that had a plan and was working to execute it. It looked like they started the series off panicking, and that wasn’t on display on Thursday.
Hit smarter, not harder, and take fewer bad penalties.
One of the things that helped the Preds look less like they were flailing around on the ice was that they were focusing more on the play itself, not on hitting to hit. There were still some bad—and some foolish—penalties, but they didn’t put too many men on the ice during a penalty kill in Game 2 like they did in Game 1, and that’s already a big step up.
Even more important, one of the penalties they took was what I’d call a good one: Alexandre Carrier hooked an opponent while Connor Ingram had lost his footing and the Preds were struggling to get possession. It wasn’t a guaranteed saved goal, but I felt a lot better once Ingram was back on his feet.
Of course, the penalty story would look different if the Preds’ penalty kill, and Ingram, hadn’t been perfect on Thursday. That is still something they can work on.
Start the right goalie.
Connor Ingram made 49 saves in the loss, to Darcy Kuemper’s 25. He has allowed four goals this postseason in 113 minutes of play, and one of those goals was scored by one of his own teammates during a two-man disadvantage. He has been exceptional.
The Predators are out of easy fixes, and they still aren’t winning.
Ingram was amazing on Thursday, but he was also the only one on the Preds’ roster who consistently looked like he belonged there. It was one of those uncomfortable situations where a goalie absolutely deserves a win, but their team isn’t doing anything to earn one.
The Preds will have last change and a supportive arena this afternoon, but I question whether it will be enough. We saw brief flashes in Game 2—late in regulation and early in overtime—when they looked like they were playing the same game as the Avalanche, but for the most part this series they’ve been getting run around the ice.
The Avalanche PK has handled the Preds’ PP in an absolutely clinical manner. Their defense has been similarly good at even strength. Their offense has easily outplayed the Preds’ defense.
Darcy Kuemper is good, and finally getting the credit he deserves after years of being inexplicably hated by his own team’s fans when he played for the Minnesota Wild, but frankly he hasn’t needed to be. The Predators’ offensive zone possessions have been one-and-done, with few of the passing plays that really make a goalie work or the extended zone time that wears a goalie down.
I can’t say “just hockey better” in a game preview—if they could, I’m sure they would. The Preds’ biggest hope heading into this afternoon’s game is that those shifts of competence we saw late in Game 2 were a sign of the coaching and players adjusting to the series, and not an empty-the-tanks effort to quickly get a win. I’m not completely ruling that out just yet.
How to Watch
The game airs at 3:30 PM on Bally Sports South, TNT, Sportsnet 360 (for the Canadians out there), and on 102.5 The Game.