Shots From The Point: So, About Game One...
There’s a lot to be desired after the Preds’ opening loss, so what needs to change?
The Nashville Predators are now in a 1-0 series hole against the Carolina Hurricanes, thanks to last night’s 5-2 loss. With game two a day away, Nick and Shaun look back at the key takeaways from the Preds’ game one loss, and what to watch for moving forward.
Nick: The “Physical Advantage” Isn’t Much of an Advantage
Grit and intensity are important tools to have come playoff time. But against these Hurricanes in this series, it’s not going to be enough for Nashville to steal wins.
A big goal for the Predators were to set the tone physically; It was a key factor as to why the Game 1 lineup looked the way it did. But the Canes answered the bell right out of the gate, finishing their checks and going toe-to-toe with some of the Preds heavy hitters early. It was almost a subtle message of “we know what you’re trying to do; You’re not going to intimidate us.” The Predators wound up being absolutely bullied physically, something I don’t think the players were expecting, and it gave Carolina an extra dimension that made them look just that much more dominant in game one.
“We had a lot of guys who made cases for themselves to play, and obviously the group tonight didn’t get it done,” Hynes said after the game. “We have some guys who aren’t the lineup that are ready to play and contribute.”
Now, about those changes.
Eeli Tolvanen might be an obvious addition, considering his absence in game one sparked a big spike in torch and pitchfork sales across Middle Tennessee. He hasn’t been as red-hot as he was at the start of his stint in Nashville, but he still has a big shot that can come in handy in certain situations (oh... we’ll get to one of them). Nick Cousins, who’s been in and out of the lineup lately with a myriad of injury issues, is also someone who can provide that mix of intense, physical play with a little bit of an offensive zone spark. It’s also a safe bet to assume we might see some major changes on defense after lackluster games from Harpur and Gudbranson. Dante Fabbro, another guy who’s battled injury issues of late, could provide a boost to the bottom pair.
Whatever direction Hynes goes in, he still has a balancing act to perform. Because yes, grit won’t outright win you games, but you still need that element in your game. The challenge will be finding a combination of players who give you enough skill to score goals and stymie Carolina’s offense, but still gives you that intensity to survive a physical playoff series.
As Hynes put it, “evaluate the game, evaluate our players, and move on from there.”
Shaun: A Less Alliterative Look at the Line-up
I had the opportunity to sit in on the post-game media availability last night and here’s my takeaway: I knew early on that Tolvanen and Fabbro wouldn’t be playing last night. I wasn’t surprised when they weren’t playing. I talked about it on the radio; I wrote about it here. Everyone else seemed to think this was some crazy choice that Hynes made. It’s the playoffs, coaches and teams play their cards VERY close to their chests. If Hynes didn’t play Tolvanen and Fabbro, he had a very specific reason for not doing so. Do you really believe Hynes thought the team would be better off without them? It’s easy to play armchair hockey coach, but I’ll say this: I’ve followed this team INCREDIBLY closely this season and I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say I have a very solid grip on who these players are and what they’re capable of each night. However, as much as that may be true, what I know PALES in comparison to what the coaching staff knows, so I think it’s fair to say the calls for Hynes job are a bit much at this point.
Nick: About Those Special Teams...
Like we predicted, there were plentiful penalties procured in this preliminary playoff series... eight total in game one (5 against Nashville, 3 against Carolina). What we didn’t really expect was what kind of penalties we’d see. As Hynes and Filip Forsberg pointed out, virtually all of the calls tonight were for “soft” penalties like tripping and hooking.
Filip Forsberg: Penalties got our momentum off. Killers did a great job, but they were killing too much. #Preds @OnTheForecheck @RenegadesOfPuck— Shaun C. Smith (@SCSOTF) May 18, 2021
Filip Forsberg: It's a fine line you have to walk. We were a little reckless sometime. #Preds @OnTheForecheck @RenegadesOfPuck— Shaun C. Smith (@SCSOTF) May 18, 2021
The Predators penalty kill played great in this game, a trend they’ve continued from the past few weeks of the regular season. But five penalties against one of the league’s best power plays is still playing with fire. And Forsberg’s “fine line” comments bring up another side point to all this. If the refs are going to call the series this tight, “reckless” penalties don’t just include just the dumb “shove a guy after the whistle” penalties, they include reckless in-play moments. These are things like high-sticking a guy trying while trying to lift a stick, tripping a guy who has you beat by a step, holding someone in the crease after getting caught on the ice during a long shift. All of those things are mistakes the Predators will have to avoid making.
Shaun: It’s All In The Response
When they lose, the mantra of this team has remained consistent. Don’t get too high; don’t get too low. Take the lessons from the game and move on to the next one. What lessons did we learn? 1. Carolina can play an aggressive, physical game just like the Predators can. 2. Size doesn’t necessarily beat speed, but it helps wear it down. 3. The team needs to focus on avoiding the soft penalty calls that plagued them all night. If you look at those lessons, you make changes to your line up and changes to your approach. Moving forward, you have to evaluate this team based on how well they respond to the lessons they learned in the previous game. and if those changes don’t work, it may just mean that the Carolina Hurricanes are the better team this season.
Game 2 will be Wednesday night in Raleigh. Puck drop is set for 7:00 PM CST once again. The game will air nationally on CNBC and locally on Bally Sports. As always, you can listen on the radio via 102.5 The Zone.