Nashville Predators 1, Carolina Hurricanes 3: Lucky that wasn’t uglier

The Preds lost this one, but it could’ve been so much worse.

The Nashville Predators took on the Carolina Hurricanes again tonight in what might have ultimately been a preview of Nashville’s future in the postseason. What happened, who were the stars, and where will the team go from here? All that and more below.

What went well?

The second period was a great effort from a Predators team that looked dead in the water. Saros maintained his smooth, “ain’t no thang” style of play against the Hurricanes’ onslaught, and the offense began to take advantage of Carolina’s tendency to constantly play up in the zone. It was clear that the Canes weren’t afraid of Nashville’s scoring prowess, and while that ended up being a fair assumption, Roman Josi made them look silly for a moment with Nashville’s only goal of the game.

While Matt Duchene didn’t get on the scoresheet in his return, he was one of the better Nashville skaters, effectively generating Josi’s goal with forechecking effort and a nice moving screen. The expensive pivot has been much maligned for his lack of production, and for good reason, but tonight was an effort that nobody besides an irrational hater would be unhappy with.

Now, to the most evident positive of the night: Juuse Saros has re-ascended to a heavenly realm of goaltending prowess. The twitchy Finn made difficult saves look routine, continuing his recent run of dominance with 45 saves on 47 shots. The Predators looked down and out for much of this matchup, but Saros kept them in things, a good sign for them as the postseason race narrows.

What could have been better?

Pretty much everything else. The first period in particular was embarrassing, with the Hurricanes racking up 46(!) shot attempts and 25 shots on goal. The Predators essentially got boatraced by a speedy team that they weren’t skilled enough or deep enough to compete with for a full 60 minutes. This isn’t a fantastic sign considering that the Predators, who are almost a lock for the four seed if they do indeed make the playoffs, will likely face the Canes in the opening round.

Also not a good sign for Nashville? This game should have been a blowout by all means. If Juuse Saros isn’t in prime Hašek form when the team hits the postseason, we might see a repeat of last year’s Coyotes vs. Avalanche matchup. Nashville’s power play was also impotent, going 0/2 on the night while generating fairly little in the way of scoring chances. This team misses Eeli Tolvanen and Filip Forsberg badly, especially when you look at the dearth of shooting talent on the roster with the absence of Rem Pitlick (put him back in over Haula, please).

Finally, I would like to single out Mattias Ekholm, who had one of his worst games in recent memory. For a guy who is reputed to be an elite defensive defender, tonight’s effort saw entirely too many gaffes, particularly in the defensive zone. While there have been a multitude of shifting parts on the back end, Ekholm is a key cog in whatever success this team hopes to achieve. Get it together, big man.

Three Big Things

  1. Saros should be in the Vezina conversation, and he’ll get some recognition if Nashville makes the playoffs. People are already starting to take notice of his elite performance on a lackluster team that by all means shouldn’t be headed for the postseason.
  2. Erik Gudbranson was ... whatever tonight, but scratching Davies in favor of a lumbering, aging veteran who has never been remotely effective in any of his recent NHL stops is a shortsighted and frankly baffling decision. Pitlick and Davies should find their way back into the starting lineup sometime soon, but the current state of affairs is disappointing.
  3. To the Carolina broadcasters: please stop calling Colton Sissons “Colton Shishons.” That is not how you say his name. Thank you.

Post-Game Tunes

Some Ten Years After for you.

Good night, good hockey, and, as always, go Preds.