Monday, October 17, 2011

Predators Blow Another Third Period Lead, Fall to the Oilers 3-1

The Nashville Predators made their first trip of the season to the great white North, taking on the Edmonton Oilers at Rexall Place. In the Oilers, the Predators faced a young, talented, speedy squad that could be very dangerous with the puck. Sorta like what the Predators had hoped to be at the outset of this season.

Pekka Rinne got the start again in net for the Predators, while the Oilers went with Nikolai Khabibulin.

It was scoreless after one period, but not for lack of effort by the Oilers. Once again, the Predators allowed a flurry of shots on Pekka Rinne, getting outshot by a 12-4 margin. Rinne was once again called upon to make some critical stops to keep the Oilers off the board. I hope you are taking your vitamins and getting lots of rest, Mr. Rinne, because this team in front of you is certainly going to give you all the work you can handle.

Both teams went 0-2 on the power play, and all 4 of Nashville's shots in the period came on their power plays. To say the Nashville offensive effort was absent in the first period is generous.

There is no doubt the young Oilers squad is talented, and they are only going to get better. The young talent of the Oilers seemed to be a step faster throughout the period, and it was the aforementioned Rinne that kept the Predators in the game. Here is a blinding flash of the obvious: the Predators are going to have to improve their defensive zone coverage and cut down on the shots and scoring chances of the opponents. Fail to do so, and this is going to be a long season.

One has to wonder what Head Coach Barry Trotz says to his team during an intermission. It is probably not suitable for those with sensitive ears, because the Predators opened the second period playing the type of hockey of which they are capable. The Predators were skating better, getting good breakouts, and getting the puck deep.

Nevertheless, the Oilers were still pressing, and a shot was rocketed toward Rinne, who blocked it out with his stick to the blue line. The puck was picked up by Sergei Kostitsyn, who skated the puck in on Khabibulin and fired a backhand shot that trickled through the Oiler netminder for a 1-0 Predators lead at 18:58 of the period.

The remainder of the period was an up and down affair, as both teams moved the puck well and created some scoring chances. The Oilers were defensed much better by the Predators, who held them to 7 shots for the period while the Predators recorded 5 shots.

Nursing a one goal lead going into the third period was going to be another test for the young Predators to see if they could shut down a potent Oiler offense.

Throughout this contest, the Predators played with fire by taking a number of penalties. They finally were burned when Ryan Suter was in the box for holding and Taylor Hall took a nice cross ice pass from Ryan Nugent Hopkins and had an open net in which to shoot the puck. Hall's first goal tied the game at 1 at 5:29 of the third period.

It was now up to the Predators to respond.

At 7:31 of the third, we saw how the Predators responded. Their response? Blowing defensive zone coverage and allowing Shawn Horcoff to make a beautiful pass to Ryan Smyth who was wide open in front of the Predators net and easily beat Rinne to make it 2-1. Both Jonathan Blum and Kevin Klein slid toward Horcoff and left Smyth wide open to attack the net. On the play, the Predator forwards on the ice were late getting back in defensive support, and this comedy of errors cost the Predators a goal.

Ryan Jones scored an empty netter at 19:22 to seal the win for the Oilers.

The absolutely horrid statistic from this game? The Predators only mustered 12- count, em, TWELVE shots on goal for the entire game. Three shots on goal in the third period. THREE shots. Now I am not a hockey coach, but to me that is not a formula for winning hockey games.

Here is the fact that all Predator fans must deal with: this is not a good hockey team. The young guys are making too many mistakes and the veterans have not stepped their game. Missing in action to date this season are Nick Spaling, Patrick Hornqvist, Matt Halischuk, and Cal O'Reilly, none of which have produced any sort of offense.

This is the second game that the Predators have blown a third period lead. This is a sign of tentativeness, lack of confidence, lack of experience, whatever it might be. Regardless, it is a problem that must be corrected quickly or this team will find itself way outside the playoff race early.

I have given this team a pass in their recent contests and called their flaws "learning experiences". The time for these painful learning experiences is, in my view, over. It is time for this team to begin to play disciplined hockey, gritty hockey, Predator hockey.

Right now, they are not even close to doing so.

My three stars:

1. Shawn Horcoff

2. Taylor Hall

3. Sergei Kostitsyn

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