Last Night in Review: Yikes

It’s hard to break last night’s game down into manageable bits. We did our best.

The Nashville Predators had an embarrassing loss last night to the Dallas Stars, evening the series at 2-2.

We’ll be honest: a lot of our in-game discussion was the two of us debating how much swearing we could actually include in the article. Because we know that a lot of you read OTF at work, or with your kids, or otherwise don’t expect that from us, we opted for the PG version.

If that’s your thing, enjoy. If it’s not your thing, feel free to mentally edit in some, uh, additional words.

The Good:

Kate: Nobody got hurt, as far as I know! And Roman Josi broke the shutout in garbage time, so that’s...something, I guess. The Preds have had kind of a bad habit over the last couple of years of getting shut out in key games—5 and 6 against the Penguins in 2017; 7 against the Sharks in 2016—so it was nice to see them manage not to do that this time.

Rachel: Thank you, Roman Josi.

If you need something else good, I did see on Twitter that Dan Hamhuis and Dante Fabbro have not been on the ice for any of Dallas’s goals. Limited deployment is the likely reason here.

Kate: Yeah, Fabbro especially has been pretty solid. He’s coming out on the right side of a lot of metrics, including ones that Hamhuis is, uh, not (shot share, xG share). He hasn’t gotten a ton of minutes and he hasn’t spent that much time against the Stars’ top players, but he’s a definite bright spot. Which is good, because the rest of the defense has been a dumpster fire.

The Bad:

Rachel: Pekka Rinne deserves a better effort from his team.

Kate: I feel like I should probably point out that Rinne allowed four goals on eight shots. It wasn’t all his fault, but to all intents and purposes the game was over before the first period had even ended.

Rachel: Rinne did have a terrible 14 minutes.

The Ugly:

Rachel: Can we call this game a poop show?

Kate: Gonna go with yes on that one.

Rachel: They’re still taking too many penalties. Mattias Ekholm going to the box twice is most certainly not setting the standard for his team.

Kate: Discipline has been awful. Noted goon Calle Järnkrok putting a guy in a headlock just shouldn’t be happening. As for Ekholm, I don’t even know what’s gotten into him.

Rachel: The early penalties killed momentum. They couldn’t find it once Dallas chased Rinne out of the net. They got their butts handed to them on a silver platter. The part that worries me is that this team was NOT fighting through the adversity. They were merely going through the motions.

Kate: It didn’t help that the penalty kill just wasn’t good tonight. Some of that was on Rinne, who was a huge part of the penalty kills in earlier games. Some of that, honestly, was on coaching; Nick Bonino and Colton Sissons were getting used as part of PK1 tonight—at least while the game was still close—and they just haven’t been as effective shorthanded as Ryan Johansen and Viktor Arvidsson. And some of that was just what’s going to happen if you’re treating the penalty box like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

Rachel: The Predators have to stay disciplined in Game 5. This series will be over quickly if they cannot control themselves. This series will also be over quickly if they can’t respond.

Kate: I am very seriously on the #BenchEkholm train at this point. Especially since Fabbro is playing well in the minutes he’s getting, there is no reason for Ekholm to be out there taking stupid penalty after stupid penalty. Tell him that the next time he takes a bad penalty—any penalty that isn’t one of those “he might have just saved a goal” ones—he’s getting stapled to the bench until he calms down.

I don’t believe in taking away icetime for players who are struggling to produce, but Mattias Ekholm is my age—almost 29. He is a grown adult and he’s old enough to be professional while he’s at his job. If I can get through a day at work without throwing staplers at people who annoy me, he can get through a day at work without hitting anyone in the face with a stick. He’s a massive liability right now, and that hurts them even more because he’s usually so good. Also, with Josi and Ryan Ellis struggling, not being able to rely on Ekholm in high-stakes situations puts everyone in a bad situation.

Rachel: I’m not sure what the line blender is accomplishing unless Laviolette is attempting to send a message to Filip Forsberg.

Kate: That’s the bad kind of taking away icetime. Forsberg was the Preds’ second leading goalscorer in the regular season and one of only three players to crack fifty points. Also during the line blending, Mikael Granlund got sent down to the fourth line for a bit, and Miikka Salomaki came up to the second line. Giving less icetime to good players, and more icetime to less-good players, just doesn’t make sense.

It was one of a lot of things that didn’t make sense tonight. I already complained about the PK units, but we might need to start about how the team is icing a penalty kill as the PP2 (Bonino, Sissons, Järnkrok, Josi, and Ellis).

Also, Laviolette’s decision to leave Rinne in after the third goal was just incomprehensible. He was having a bad night; he’d been great last night; the Preds were playing very badly in front of him; the game was still, theoretically, within reach. A coach who had a lot of nerve and a very good relationship with his goalies might’ve pulled Rinne after the second goal without any issues. As it was, leaving Rinne in for the fourth was just ugly.

The Conclusions:

Rachel: Dallas dominated this game. This series will most definitely hinge on how Nashville responds in Game 5. The Predators should be ashamed of their subpar effort and awful play in front of Pekka Rinne.

My next question/thought is this: can Nashville come home to Bridgestone and blow Dallas out? Can they take the next two games without mercy? Give us two big wins to close the series, boys.

Kate: My smaller concern is about the Johansen line, and to a slightly lesser extent the Granlund–Kyle Turris–Craig Smith line.

The Turris line needs to be producing, and isn’t, and that’s going to be a real problem going forward if there’s a forward to go. The Preds traded young, cost-controlled players with a lot of potential in Samuel Girard(++) and Kevin Fiala in order to get players who they felt could help win now; given that, it’s frustrating to see Turris and Granlund not being effective in this system.

But a team can generally at least make a lot of noise in one playoff series with one line and goaltending. When they’re playing well, the Johansen line is extraordinary. This series they’ve mostly been playing fine, but not getting results. Bad luck happens, but the Predators really need the JOFA line to make some good luck.

The bigger problem is that the Predators have been struggling all series with zone transitions and with effective play within the offensive zone. They can’t make a zone exit with possession (that is, not a dump/clear that just comes right back) to save their lives, so they’re spending a lot of time in the DZ with the Stars’ offense circling around to pick their chances or scrambling to try to get back when an exit they thought they had fails, as happened with the Stars’ fifth goal tonight. When they do make it out of the DZ, they can’t get cleanly into the OZ and set up themselves. The Stars’ defense has been very effective keeping the Preds out of the slot.

These are adjustments that Laviolette needs to be making with the players and his coaching staff. The players have the talent to do better, but they’re not doing it. If they don’t start doing it, it’s going to be a long summer.