Nashville Predators 1, Chicago Blackhawks 2: Running on empty

Nashville’s biggest rival came to town and took advantage of a tired, mistake-prone, and inexperienced team, despite their best efforts to give it away late.

With a matchup against the Winnipeg Jets looming large on Saturday, the Nashville Predators had a chance to gain ground in the Western Conference wildcard race, but the visiting Chicago Blackhawks and a lot of sloppy play ultimately resulted in a 2-1 loss.

Head Coach John Hynes was in “glass half full” mode after the game while sharing his thoughts on what went wrong for the Predators.  “I think even when you look at some of the guys that normally play in our top six, they were trying, but they didn’t have the same jump and execution they normally do—it wasn’t for a lack of effort,” remarked Hynes.

Captain Roman Josi, who scored the Predators’ only goal of the game with just 27.3 seconds left, agreed.  The blueliner focused on the execution that wasn’t quite there for the team tonight, including his own turnover behind the net that resulted in the game-winning goal late in the third period.

Unfortunately, Roman Josi wasn’t the only defender to commit a brutal mistake, even though not all resulted in goals.  One that did, unfortunately, was a Dante Fabbro turnover that resulted in a two-on-zero attack from Chicago.  Fabbro did a great job getting back to defend the play, but in the process, slid and collided with goaltender Juuse Saros, pushing both players and the puck into the net for the game’s opening score.

Coach Hynes remarked, “It’s a tough play when you’re under pressure like that... but again, it was a mistake on the offensive blueline, but he’s trying like heck to get back, it’s not like he quit on the play.  But that is what happened tonight—there were mistakes, and they would try to make up for it with their effort, but the mistakes compounded to a second and that’s a learning lesson.”  Fabbro and Josi weren’t the only players to make uncharacteristic plays—Tommy Novak, who has been on an incredible run as of late, was unable to keep the puck in the zone on two pretty routine plays early in the game, and despite his line getting some chances, nothing was going in.

The Predators would get a chance to tie the game at 1 with 7:20 left in the 2nd period when Chicago goaltender Alex Stalock threw his stick at the puck, drawing a penalty and awarding the Predators with a penalty shot.  Matt Duchene, the only Predator with more than one shootout goal this season (4 of 6), hesitated a bit too long on his attempt, and the gamble by Stalock would prove to be worth the effort.

One bright spot of the game was the performance of Colton Sissons’s line.  Sissons, Yakov Trenin and Cole Smith had the second highest TOI of Nashville’s forward lines (9:27), but managed some truly impressive numbers while on the ice at 5 on 5:

  • 12-2 shot attempts (85.7%)
  • 6-1 shots on goal (85.7%)
  • 0.49-0.01 expected goals (97.4%)
  • 4-0 in high-danger chances/

Cole Smith would get another chance to create offense on the penalty kill, but for the second game in a row, his teammate was unable to convert.  Nashville couldn’t take advantage on the power play either, recording just 3 shots on goal in their two attempts.

Defenseman Tyson Barrie stated after the game that the team can’t afford to dwell too long on this game, especially with the matchup against the Jets (who fell 3-0 to Boston tonight) looming on Saturday.  Josi agreed, noting that switching focus to Winnipeg instead of dwelling on tonight’s loss will definitely help the younger players move on.

With Nashville still just four points behind Winnipeg for the second wildcard spot and with three games in hand, Nashville still controls their own destiny (for the most part).  If this team can pull their depleted roster together against the second-hardest remaining schedule in the NHL, then maybe Smashville has something special.  But unfortunately for the team and the fans, another game like tonight could mean the Predators will be on the outside looking in.  We’ll see on Saturday.

Three Stars of the Game

3rd Star:  Chicago F Lukas Reichel (1 goal on 3 shots, 0.42 expected goals)

2nd Star:  Nashville G Juuse Saros (19/21 saves)

1st Star: Chicago G Alex Stalock (35/36 saves)