Nashville Predators 1, Carolina Hurricanes 4: Haula scores in collapse

The game started well and ended poorly.

The Nashville Predators, coming off a statement win against the Tampa Bay Lightning, took on the Carolina Hurricanes, fresh off a pair of embarrassing losses to the Detroit Red Wings, on the road tonight. It didn’t end well.

The game started off with a bang, as in the first minute the Predators got an extended OZ possession, got a shot off the crossbar, and drew a penalty. However, their power play’s struggles without Eeli Tolvanen and Filip Forsberg (both still injured) continued against a fabulous Hurricanes penalty kill unit, and halfway through the power play Mikael Granlund committed an infraction of his own. Both teams returned to full strength with just under four minutes elapsed and no goals.

The teams exchanged chances as the period continued, with the Preds’ fourth line responsible for a few more possessions in the offensive zone and the Canes’ top players getting chances of their own. A fantastic sequence by Rem Pitlick and Nick Cousins about halfway through the period seemed to have been kept out of the net by Petr Mrazek’s will alone. Moments later, Juuse Saros snatched an Andrei Svechnikov backhand out of the air like he had a magnet in his glove.

With just under four minutes to go in the period, Cedric Paquette committed a pretty blatant interference against Ryan Ellis and the Predators went back on the power play. The Hurricanes once again prevented them from getting set up, and the penalty expired without further scoring, although also without any shorthanded chances as dangerous as the ones the Canes got their first time out and without the Predators taking a penalty of their own.

However, with 1:34 left in the period, Warren Foegele beat Ben Harpur to score. Mrazek recorded an assist on the play. That wasn’t it for the Predators, either, as Viktor Arvidsson went hard into the boards with a little bit of help from Jesper Fast. Play stopped for a while as referees tried to figure out whether a penalty would be assessed, and eventually decided to call both Fast and Ryan Johansen—who objected to the play—for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The Hurricanes scored again seconds into the second period, as Svechnikov converted a pass from Dougie Hamilton to press their advantage. After that, the period was all Hurricanes. The fourth line had a brief chance, but the Preds were unable to get any momentum going off of it and Vincent Trocheck scored again five and a half minutes into the period, putting the Canes up 3-0.

Jeremy Davies and Roman Josi almost managed to get the Predators on the board, but Mrazek continued his outstanding play. Moments after that, Arvidsson drew another penalty, from new Canes acquisition Jani Hakanpää, and the Predators were given another power play. After the power play had expired, still toothless without Tolvanen, the Hurricanes resumed their attack.

Mikael Granlund almost managed to score with a beautifully-placed shot between Mrazek’s skates, but it went just wide of the goal line. With just under four minutes left in the period, the teams went back to four-on-four play as Svechnikov and Mattias Ekholm got into a wrestling match after a battle in front of the Preds’ net, and were both called for holding. The four-on-four expired without any goals, though Hamilton had a shot that pinballed off the cage behind Saros, and moments later so did the period.

The Preds entered the third period still trailing by three, and Juuse Saros had to make a big save early to keep it that way. Five minutes in, Martin Nečas took a retaliatory slash against Nick Cousins, and the Predators went back to the power play. The best summary of the power play: the Preds iced the puck, then went offside after recovering possession from their own end.

After that, Matt Benning was called for high-sticking Paquette, and the Predators went back on the penalty kill. Erik Haula scored shorthanded with 10:30 remaining in the period to get the Preds on the board, then almost—but not quite—scored again as the penalty expired. Haula hasn’t been great at even strength this season, but his work on the penalty kill has been very solid. Haula had another chance moments later, drawing Mrazek well out of the net; a Hurricanes defender had to rescue the puck.

The Preds were playing with more vigor than they’d had since Foegele’s opening goal, but it was too little, too late. Unfortunately, with 3:09 left, they were whistled for too many men (“Nashville,” announced the referee, “six men. Too many”—in case we, like they, were unaware of the appropriate number). Haula was not able to manage another shorthanded goal, and Sebastian Aho was able to convert, restoring the Canes’ three-goal lead.

Although the Predators tried to make a final push, they failed. Time expired and they lost. Elsewhere in the league, the Dallas Stars are trailing by one halfway through their game, and the Chicago Blackhawks trailing by two with under four minutes remaining; if those scores hold it will be a big help for the Preds.

Three Stars:

  1. Erik Haula — tried really hard to singlehandedly tie the game after the Preds went down 0-3, and did manage to get them on the board.
  2. Colton Sissons — some continuing good play with the fourth line, as well as the assist on Haula’s goal.
  3. Meh. Trenin and Jeannot were fine, I guess. Whatever.

Three Thoughts:

  1. This is yet another game where the Predators just do not get shots on goal. I don’t like it. I acknowledge that the Hurricanes are an extraordinarily good team—as I said on the post-trade podcast, I think they’re the worst possible playoff matchup for the Preds, if the Preds make the postseason—but I still don’t have to like how few shots on net the Predators got while trailing.
  2. The one bright spot: the fourth line has genuinely impressed me the last few games, and I can’t remember the last time I said that about the Nashville Predators. Eamon shouts “ALL STAR” any time any of us mention Tanner Jeannot, and I’m starting to buy in to the hype. I’m not sure I really feel like they’re a threat to score, although I know they do have some goals, but I’m comfortable with them on the ice, and a lot of the reason I’m comfortable with them on the ice is that they spend most of their time there in the offensive zone (although when they end up in the defensive zone it’s sometimes not great). This is the kind of “grinding play” you want from your fourth line: they are wearing opponents down.
  3. Regression to the mean coming for Juuse Saros was always likely, and not good with the team still so injured. I’m not saying Saros is bad, but he’s not going to be a career average .960 guy, and with less unbeatable goaltending the Preds’ record as they clawed back into contention would have been a lot less pretty—by which I mean they probably wouldn’t be sitting here right now.