I'm staying away from the obligatory but trite sayings such as "The Flames Burn the Predators" or "The Flames Torch Preds" after last night's contest in Nashville. Because the fact of the matter is that the Flames pounded the Predators en route to a 5-0 win.
Calgary is the best road team in the NHL, and last night they showed why, as they slowly and methodically strangled the life out of the Predator offense. Goaltender Mikka Kiprusoff was never seriously challenged by the Predator offense, as the Flames defense created all sorts of problems in the neutral zone for the Predators. Their forechecking kept the Preds from gaining the zone with speed, and once inside the zone, their defense in front of Kiprusoff clogged shooting lanes and eliminated most second chance opportunites. The net result is that the Predators couldn't find the net and never mounted a serious scoring threat all night.
In an 82 game season, there will be nights where things just don't work and you get your head handed to you (not in the Keith Ballard-Tomas Vokoun sense). We have seen that earlier this year from the Predators (think Chicage and 13 SOG for the entire game). The aspect of this game that is problematic is that the top offensive threats for the Predators were completely- and I mean completely- shut down by the Flames defense. Jason Arnott, J.P. Dumont, Martin Erat all registered zero SOG against the Flames. Three of the top six forwards and no shots. This cannot happen for this team to have a chance at winning. It's cliche to say it, but your best players have to be your best players, and when some of your best players are not getting any shots on the net, your probablity of winning the game is very low.
This team has to have a workman like effort every night from all its players. That means you have to show up. That means you have to do the tough things that get you in a position to win. That means when you have a night against an exceptional opponent, you work that much harder.
The Predators made up ground in the Western Conference race by stringing together wins. Those wins occurred because they played solid, fundamental hockey and brought the effort every night. This needs to become the norm again for the Predators. It is not enough to win one and lose one. Wins have to start piling up again because the Central Division and the Western Conference are too tough to just tread water.
There are lessons to be learned when you play the best road team in the NHL and one of the better teams in the Western Conference. Painful lessons. Learn from those lessons and know that every night, every time you step on the ice, you have to bring it. Balls to the wall. Play like that, and you will win games. Don't, and you will get pounded.