The Nashville Predators put up an effort that can only be charitably characterized as weak against the Minnesota Wild in dropping a 5-2 decision in an afternoon matinee in the XCel Energy Center.
Pekka Rinne got the start in net for the Predators and was left defenseless for the most part, allowing 3 goals on 9 shots in the first period. Rinne was pulled to start the second period and Anders Lindback took over in net to finish out the game.
Marek Zidlicky, a former Predator defenseman, opened the scoring for the Wild at 12:22 of the first period. He was allowed to walk out the corner and skate in on the net. His first shot went off the side of the net, but he was unchallenged by the Nashville defense and gathered in his rebound and flipped a shot over the pads of Rinne for the first score.
The Wild continued to challenge the Nashville defense and they continued to fail to respond. Andrew Brunette made them pay for their breakdowns in coverage as he was able to corral a rebound at the top of the crease and flip the puck over a sprawling Rinne. Throughout the game, the Predators consistently failed to help their netminder and clear the front of the net. Frankly, their play in front of Rinne and Lindback was inexplicable.
Martin Havlat was a force all game, controlling the puck and generating numerous scoring chances. Havlat made the Predators pay for his effort with his fourth goal of the season at 18:12 of the first.
The Predators had some chances offensively. Shea Weber rang a blast off the post. The Predators buzzed the net and generated some chances, but as has been their wont, they could not finish those chances. Jose Theodore was able to shut down the offensive challenges the Predators mounted.
Three goals on nine shots. The Predators had looked as bad on defense as they did in the Toronto game. A weak, inexcusable effort.
Anders Lindback came in for the Predators to start the second period and was immediately greeted with a goal from defenseman Nick Schultz just 48 second into the period as Schultz was the beneficiary of an odd man rush. He buried a rebound of a shot from Martin Havlat into a wide open net as Lindback was out of position from the initial save.
The Nashville defense was guilty of turning over the puck at the blue line, poor coverage, and inability to clear the front of the net all night. What is usually a solid component of this team was absolutely miserable in this game.
Nashville cut the lead to 4-1 at 3:55 of the third period as Steve Sullivan took a beautiful pass from Colin Wilson and tallied on the power play. The Predators anemic power play (3 for their last 61 attempts) had clicked. Finally, the Predators had a spark.
That spark would be snuffed out as Martin Havlat tallied his second goal of the contest at 14:02 of the third. Havlat's goal would happen because Francis Buillon lost the off side coverage of the net and allowed Havlat to put the uncontested rebound back on goal.
Martin Erat would score his second goal of the season on the power play at 19:51.
Too little. Too late.
It is beyond me as to how this team can come out unfocused on the defensive end of the ice. The Wild are a team that struggles and are not what one would call an offensive force. Today, we made them look like the Oilers in their prime.
The Predators are a team that can win when they play a TEAM game. This means all the parts have to clicking: defense; offense; goaltending; and special teams. When one component breaks down, this team is in trouble. The offense has been a problem lately. Today, it was the defense.
The Predators are going to have to get their focus and start executing on both ends of the ice. They are going to have to get an edge to their play. Too often, they appear docile on both ends of the ice.
Continue to put up weak efforts like today, and this will be a long, painful season.
My three stars:
1. Martin Havlat
2. Marek Zidlicky
3. Jose Theodore