After killing his wife, Hercules sought atonement. He was ordered by the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi to travel to Tiryns, find his cousin King Eurystheus, and complete the tasks asked of him. This is how the story of the Labors of Hercules begins. Hercules spent 12 years completing these tasks previously thought to be impossible. You’re probably wondering what this has to do with hockey...
Well, let me start by saying that the Colorado Avalanche are a very good team. In fact, I have been making a regular joke on YouTube shows, podcasts, and even on the local sports radio programs, that “they have like 3000 points in the standings.” They are are VERY good team. They have a dynamic set of scorers, one of the best defenders in the game, and a darn good power play. Speaking of a good power play unit, when you play against a team like the Colorado Avalanche, one of your top priorities should be to avoid putting them on the power play at all costs.
Unfortunately, while that memo may have been received, it certainly hasn’t seemed to be taken very seriously. There’s been a discussion all season long about the large number of penalties this Nashville Predators team has piled up. Early on, the biggest part of that discussion was that when you play an aggressive style of hockey, you have to figure out where the line is and try not to step across it. As the season progressed, the team seemed fine taking between two and three of this specific type of penalty, but what started to happen was that the recipe got kicked up a notch with undisciplined and avoidable stick penalties. It was a problem going into the postseason and has remained such.
The story of the Predators’ loss in Game 3 is built on a foundation of those penalties. The first three goals for the Avalanche came on the power play. The fourth goal was challenged for the “unknowable” goaltender interference and the challenge failed...leading to another power play for the Avalanche. Believe it or not, the Avalanche converted on that one as well. These penalties are something Head Coach John Hynes has mentioned as being “correctable,” and the team has worked on them at practices between games, during meetings, and pored over video to look at how to correct them. However, if you watched Game 3, you know that it hasn’t had a lot of impact.
John Hynes, in postgame media availability, seemed pleased with the teams’ play at 5-on-5. And—despite the way it seems based on the scoreboard—most of the game was played at even strength. The unfortunate reality is that when those few minutes spent shorthanded yield such disastrous results, it doesn’t really matter how much better the 5-on-5 play is. Being happy with improved 5-on-5 play sounds like something you’d expect a coach to say after a three-game slide in December, not after Game 3 in a series where your record is 0-3.
The Predators are facing a Herculean task if they plan to fight and claw their way back into a situation where they have a chance to make some (any) noise in the playoffs this season. Speaking of fighting (literally) and clawing (figuratively), remember that identity we’ve been discussing over the course of the previous 85 games? The one focused on physicality? It seems to have disappeared. The team thrived at many points of the season in forcing their opponents to play a slow, grinding game that neutralized speed advantages by clogging up the neutral zone and turning opposing zone entries into dump and chase puck battles in the corner. Beyond that, the team had a tenacious forecheck that stifled opponents’ attempts to break out, forced a lot of errors, and wreaked a lot of havoc on teams that focused on high energy, high scoring, and quick transitions...teams like the Colorado Avalanche. But the Predators aren’t leaning into that identity consistently enough to make it effective. Lapses in intensity and discipline (read: stick penalties) allow the Avalanche to capitalize on those chances. When that happens, momentum dies quickly, making it harder and harder for the Predators to get back up to speed.
The Predators have one chance to keep this series going, and if they manage to pull it off, they’ll continue to have one chance with each additional game in the series. To make it happen, they’ll need to reconnect with that identity, maintain discipline with their sticks, and keep the intensity dialed up to 11 for 60 minutes—or longer. Do this for the next four games and this team can chisel its name in the Predators Hall of Fame. Given recent history, that may seem impossible, but Herculean tasks were never supposed to be easy.