Sports, Thrill of Victory

What’s wrong with the Predators? Or, what’s right?

Hockey fans are rabid. At any given moment you will see polarizing comments on internet blogs, fan and team websites, etc. Predators win a game, and all is right with the world. Predators lose a game and suddenly there is a line forming leading to the beheading trough for players, coaches and general managers.

Shea Weber scored his 150th goal and 400th point on Tuesday night vs. Ottawa. He is the second youngest defenseman to reach the 150 goal plateau in the history of the NHL. PHOTO COURTESY NHL

A rookie gets recalled from the minor leagues and scores a goal. He is immediately seen as “the answer.” A veteran with a decade of experience goes through a cold spell and he is perceived as a cancer, and should be cut out of the body immediately.

Play big, welcome home! Play small, go away. There are moments that feel as if each tick of the clock within any game will see a fan’s allegiance shift like the wind.

Let’s look at the polarizing Nashville Predators. As this is written, the Preds sit in fourth place in the Central Division of the Western Conference. The team has actually gotten points in eight of its last ten games, going 6-2-2.

Most recently, having returned home for the start of a five-game homestand the Predators dropped a 4-0 game against St. Louis on Saturday. They followed it with an exhilarating 7-5 win vs. Ottawa. You would think looking at the scores that the team was horrible on Saturday night and fantastic on Tuesday. Nothing could be further from the truth… despite what some fans may lead you to believe.

You need only look at a quote from Nashville Coach Peter Laviolette after the shutout loss to the Blues.

“Some of the best games we’ve played, we’ve lost this year.”

I submit that this is a difficult truth. Fans see the score and just imagine their team has laid down and died at center ice. Nothing could be further from reality if you witnessed that particular game. The Predators were flying on all cylinders for the first two periods on Saturday. Shooting the puck and giving the fans many looks at what could have been a decidedly different outcome.

Blues goaltender Jake Allen was terrific, and holding a slim 1-0 lead through the first forty minutes having scored a power play goal midway through the opening period, the team seemed to hold off countless Preds attempts. By game’s end Nashville had outshot St. Louis 45-28. The Preds had outhit them and out skated them but had nothing to show for it.

With the team’s high flying offense being generated by the defensemen, Mattias Ekholm contributed his second goal of the season last night at Bridgestone. PHOTO COURTESY DAVID MCCAGAR

With the team’s high flying offense being generated by the defensemen, Mattias Ekholm contributed his second goal of the season last night at Bridgestone. PHOTO COURTESY DAVID MCCAGAR

Hence, Laviolette’s statement, as he really had nothing bad to say about his player’s efforts. On any given night you run into a hot goaltender, and believe me, over the past decade, MANY teams have run into a Predator named Pekka Rinne!

Tuesday night, however, the shoe seemed to be on the other foot. Rookie Colton Sissons, just recalled from the Preds minor league affiliate in Milwaukee, scored a goal after Ottawa had grabbed a 2-0 lead. The Senators increased the lead to 3-1, tallying a very late first period short-handed goal. Both teams went into their dressing rooms in diametrically opposite phases of mood.

What happened next was hardly predictable by hockey standards. Goals by Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Austin Watson gave the Preds a 4-3 lead and all came within a span of about 150 seconds! But then, about 40 seconds later, Ottawa tied the game and to rub salt on the wound with less than a minute to go in the second period scored again to regain the lead. Once again, the intermission would have seemingly brought dejection to the Predators room.

However, with Rinne giving up 5 goals on just 13 shots to that point all he had to do was shut the door and give his teammates the chance to win. That chance came early and often in the final period as Mattias Ekholm tied the game early, and then added two goals in less than two minutes midway through the third (Barret Jackman’s first as a Predator, and Gabriel Bourque’s first of the season). In the period the Preds saw Rinne make some stellar stops to hold down the fort, and hence, a 7-5 win.

Twelve goal hockey games are fun for the fans and nightmares for the coaches. Defensive breakdowns, missed offensive assignments, shaky goaltending and general chaos and confusion are usually the watchwords of games like these. To the Predators credit, they never gave up. Fighting deficits at the end of each of the first two periods is never the position you want to be in but this team shows character on every turn.

Consistently given top ice time among forwards, Craig Smith and his linemates have yet to deliver consistent performances this season, causing some line juggling for Coach Laviolette. PHOTO COURTESY NASHVILLE PREDATORS

Consistently given top ice time among forwards, Craig Smith and his linemates have yet to deliver consistent performances this season, causing some line juggling for Coach Laviolette. PHOTO COURTESY NASHVILLE PREDATORS

So, what’s wrong? We can start by saying the Preds top forwards are not hot. In fact, chilly or ice cold may be a better definition. The team’s top two lines have generated little offense since the team has returned home to Bridgestone, and yet, the bottom two lines seem to provide a spark.

Hats off to the defensive corps who remain the NHL’s most consistent offensive threat from the blueline, and a specific hat off in the direction of Captain Shea Weber. His second period goal was the 150th of his career, and his 400th career point – all with Nashville. He became the 39th defenseman of all time to log 150 goals, and the second youngest to do so.

One other thing, far out of the Preds control, is that the team sits in the ultra-competitive Central Division. With Dallas (12-4-0), St. Louis (11-3-1) and Minnesota (9-3-2) all ahead of Nashville in the standings (Nashville, also 9-3-2 have less “regulation/overtime wins” than Minnesota,) and Winnipeg (8-6-2) and Chicago (8-6-1) just two and three points back respectively, you can expect a dogfight from now to April as the playoff race heats up!

This Thursday features the Toronto Maple Leafs, one of the weaker teams in the league. Then Saturday, division rival Winnipeg comes to town and the homestand finishes on Tuesday with the return of the Anaheim Ducks.

A guarantee is that the Preds will compete in each of these games, and whether they are the best team on the ice on any given night does not always tell you the story of the final outcome.

We know you’ll want to stick around and draw your own conclusions!

Be sure to follow S&E Nashville on FacebookTwitter and Instagram, and for even more Preds coverage follow Marc Nathan on Twitter.