The Predators ran out of gas in the third period against the New Jersey Devils, dropping a 5-2 decision after entering the final frame tied at 2. After battling hard for two periods, the third period was twenty minutes of futility for the Predators as they failed to mount a serious scoring threat against a solid Devil defense.
Going in to the game, the Predators knew they would have to bring their best to have a chance for victory in the hostile environs of the Prudential Center. And for two periods, the Predators brought all they had and had skated well with the Devils.
The Devils got on the board first as Jordin Tootoo and Ryan Suter had a breakdown in communiction in the defensive zone. Both players got caught chasing the puck behind the net, leaving the slot wide open for a streaking Travis Zajac to cruise unmolested down the slot. He fired a shot past netminder Pekka Rinne, who had no chance on the play.
Cal O'Reilly tied the game at 1 on the power play with a wrister from the slot.The Predators moved the puck well and O'Reilly worked himself free for the score. O'Reilly is quietly improving his play each game and is becoming more comfortable with each shift on the ice.
Despite being outshot 14-7 and having to kill off a five on three man advantage for the Devils, the Predators were hanging tough. The first period felt as if the order of the day was survival at times, but the Preds weathered the storm and were in the game.
In the second period, Jordin Tootoo gave the Predators at 2-1 lead just :46 seconds in, as he blew a shot past Brodeur. Tootoo has played very well on this road trip, using his speed to create chances and playing smart hockey. He has been one of the best players for the Predators in the past three games, fighting for position in front of the net and winning puck battles.
Patrick Elias tied the game 1:30 after Tootoo's score as he rifled a hard knuckleball over the glove hand of Rinne. Pekka made some great saves at times, including a breakaway stop on Elias in the first period. There were times, however, when he looked to be fighting the puck. This was an unscreened shot that just beat Rinne, one that he would like to have back.
In the third period, the wheels came off for the Predators. Ilya Kovalchuk was able to circle behind the net with the puck and cruise into the slot. He fired a hard wrister that beat Rinne high to the stick side at 8:24 of the third. Zach Parise scored at 13:08 on the power play. Jamie Langenbrunner finished the scoring with an empty netter at 19:18 of the third. All the while, the Predators offense went in the tank.
In a game that the Predators needed, and in a game that they had an opportunity to capture two critical points, they imploded. In a game where the offense needed to step up, they mustered only five shots on goal in the third period. In a gut check, the Predators came up woefully short.
This team has reverted to the horrific habit of looking for the extra pass rather than taking the shot. And the players that need to be shooting are not. Consider this: Steve Sullivan had zero shots on goal; David Legwand had zero shots on goal; J.P. Dumont had one shot; Joel Ward had one shot; and Patric Hornqvist had two. This team has won in the past by shooting the puck and crashing the crease. Tonight, that was not the case.
It is not only shots on goal, but quality shots. Of the 21 shots taken, very few really challenged Brodeur. When this team works hard and goes to the net, good things have happened. When this team fails to play lunch pail hockey, the probablity of winning is slim.
Unfortunately for the Predators, the roster has become filled with "prairie dogs", those players that pop up for a while then disappear for long stretches of time. We do not have players that are going to be point a game producers- this is the reality of the talent we have. However, we have to have players that are playing tough hockey and doing the things it takes to win. Every shift. Playing sound defensive hockey and blue colllar offensive hockey. Every shift. Right now, that is not happening.
It is as if the Predators have lost their identity. Intead of being gritty, there is a tendency to float. Instead of winning battles and playing with the lunch pail mentality, there is a sense of just surviving on the ice.This is a formula for disaster for this team, which has to change immediately for them to have a chance at making the playoffs.
It is time for leadership on this team to exert itself. It is time to challenge each player to bring it every shift. That starts with the captain and extends to every player on the roster. It is time for each player to look at his game and ask if they are laying it on the line, doing what it takes to win a game. It is time to stop floating and start bringing your lunch pail, boys.
This has been a rough stretch. You have gone 3-5-2 over your last ten games. You have, in that stretch, lost your identity. It's time to re-discover Predator hockey. It's time to dig down deep and do what it takes to win.
Time to find your lunch pail and your shirt with the blue collar.