Let's just be honest.
The Nashville Predators are not a good hockey team.
Good hockey teams find ways to hold leads. Good hockey teams find ways to win games. Good hockey teams don't keep facing deficits throughout games from which they have to recover. Good hockey teams fight to the very end of the game for precious points.
That is not the Nashville Predators.
Mercifully, the Predators do not play again for another three days. Frankly, the way they are playing right now, this is the only thing that will prevent another loss.
The Predators continue the annoying, disturbing- pick your favorite adjective, trend of giving up an early goal. Not once, but twice, at 52 seconds of the first period and 49 seconds of the third, the puck found its way into the back of the net against the Preds. Poor starts to the period put the Predators into the hole right off the bat. The hill is steep enough for this team and its anemic offense. Spotting the opponent early and quick goals is not a formula for success.
Unlike the contest the night before against the Kings, the Predators forwards looked energized and ready to play. The play of the Sullivan, O'Reilly, Hornqvist line was stellar tonight as the netted three of the four goals that the Predators tallied. Unfortunately, no other line could muster much in the way of quality chances against the Ducks Jonas Hiller. This was evident by another lopsided shot tally as the Ducks outshot the Predators 37-24.
While the offense has struggled in this skid, the defense has been inexplicably weak. Coverage was lost on the Ducks forwards on numerous occasions and it resulted in scores by Saiku Koivu and Jason Blake. The defense of the Predators was considered one of the cornerstones of this team, but has not played to the level that this team has to have to win games.The only Predator D-men that were a plus on the night were Cody Franson and Alexander Sulzer, who were both a +2.
Cody Franson has a great night offensively, scoring a goal and setting up Cal O'Reilly with a beautiful assist.
Anders Lindback got the start for the Preds tonight in net, and I cannot fault Lindback for any of the Ducks goals. On most, he was hung out to dry by the defense in front of him.
The heart was ripped out the Predators on a broken play. Bobby Ryan corralled a bouncing puck and slid a pass underneath a diving Shea Weber. Paul Mara gathered in the puck and slapped it into a wide open net with 1.7 seconds left on the clock as Marcel Goc was late getting back in coverage and Lindback had played Ryan coming to his left.This play typified the futility of this road trip for the Predators.
So where do the Predators go from here?
This is a team that has the ability to win, but the margin is razor thin. If everyone- from the first line of forwards and the top D pairing- to the fourth line players are not laying it on the line every night, this team will not win. Against L.A., this team quit. Against the Ducks, they battled.
That is a good sign.
The problem is that they battled not only the Ducks, but their mistakes. Blown coverages and poor puck control. Lack of offensive pressure from secondary lines. When you play any team in the NHL, these kinds of mistakes make a win improbable.
You certainly don't win the Cup in October or November. But you can certainly lose it. Dig a deep enough hole early on and you will not climb out.
The Predators are digging a deep early season hole in the ultra competitive Central Division and Western Conference. You hate to say that games are becoming "must win" this early in the season, but they are becoming just that for the Predators. The gap between the top of the Central and the Predators is growing game by game.
Three days off. Three days to re-tool the effort and re-focus the players.Practice should be interesting this next few days. It will be time to get the defense back in the groove. It will be time to get the offense back on track.
It will be time to find some heart.
My three stars of the night:
1. Saku Koivu
2. Lubomir Visnovsky
3. Cody Franson