Monday, December 26, 2011

Predators Offense MIA in 4-1 Loss to Detroit

The Nashville Predators faced the Detroit Red Wings at the Bridgestone Arena in a Central Division tilt that saw the Predators try to win their second in a row over the Wings.

The big news for the Predators was that they were going to try to do this without their Captain, Shea Weber, and with two rookie defensemen in the line up. Weber was scratched with little information given as to why he was absent. Speculation was that he was feeling the effects of a crushing hit by Mark Fistric in the Dallas game on Friday. Rookie Ryan Ellis was called up from Milwaukee and took Weber's place.

Detroit won the game 4-1, and despite the score, there were some positive aspects to the Predators game.

The Predators out shot the Wings 32-22. They skated hard and competed well. Ryan Ellis acquitted himself well in his debut. Roman Josi continues to play a solid game.

Those were the positive aspects of the contest.

Those positives were outweighed by the fact that the Predators offense could not finish their chances. This is the Achilles heel of the offense. Finishing their chances was a critical aspect to their effort against Detroit, and the Predators could not find a finisher when they had the puck in the offensive zone. And this bit them in the ass tonight.

Detroit opened the scoring at 10:57 of the first period as Valtteri Filppula beat Nashville netminder Pekka Rinne from the slot inside the face off circle low to the glove side. This looked like a stoppable shot, but it snuck under the arm of Rinne to give the Wings a 1-0 lead.

At the end of the first period and down 1-0, the Predators were still in the contest, but it was critical that they get a goal and not let Detroit extend their lead.

That did not happen, as Pavel Datsyuk scored on a wrap around attempt at 12:52 of the second. It looked as if Rinne had the post sealed off and he got pushed into the net.. The official,  Dan Hasenfratz, signaled goal, but the play went to review. The replay was inconclusive and did not show the puck crossing the goal line, but it was not overturned and the Wings had a 2-0 lead.

Just 13 seconds later, Dan Cleary beat Nick Spaling in the low slot and had an open shot over the shoulder of Rinne to make it 3-0. This was a young team that faced some adversity and failed to respond, and Detroit took advantage to extend their lead.

In the third period, Filppula struck again as he got loose in the low slot and beat Rinne to make it 4-0 at 5:22 of the third period. Rinne had slid to the right of the net, and when the puck reversed to the left, he stumbled getting over. This left Filppula alone and with an open net into which to bury the puck. Once again, a defensive breakdown hung Rinne out to dry and Detroit capitalized on the failure of the defense to maintain their coverage.

Jonathan Blum scored at 17:48 to make it 4-1, the final margin of the game.

Going back to the absence of Weber, one could say that the defensive coverage would have been better with him on the ice. Maybe so. The fact is that three of the Wings goals occurred because the Predators forwards were beaten on the play.These defensive lapses cost the Predators an opportunity to win the game.

The Predators potent power play was 0-5 and failed to generate many quality chances against the Wings penalty kill. This crippled the chances of the Predators.

The other aspect of this game is the inability of the Predators forwards to finish their chances at even strength. Once again, the forwards passed up too many shots in favor of a pass, and their shots were for the most fairly routine for Detroit's keeper Jimmy Howard to handle. Occasionally, the Predators created some quality chances, but were unable to solve Howard. The fact is, those quality chances were few and far between.

Two of the top six forwards, David Legwand and Colin Wilson, did not register a shot on goal. The necessity of these forwards being involved in the offense goes without saying, and when they do not register a shot on net, this team is in trouble. 12 of the Predators 32 shots came from the defense, which means the Predators were not getting the puck deep and cycling to create chances with any efficiency.

This is indicative of the fact that this team has to develop a better offensive mentality. It looks good on the scoreboard to say that we out shot an opponent, but the shots have to be quality scoring chances. Tonight, there were very few of them.

This team has to understand that the deeper into the season they go, the more the defensive pressure will ramp up. This means the forwards are going to have to work harder and develop the "shoot first, pass second" mentality. Right now, that is as absent as Shea Weber was tonight.

This team is going to have to regroup and get back on track. Quickly. They have to develop their confidence in the offensive zone, and that starts with shooting the puck and going to the net.

Otherwise, this is going to be a long season for the Predators.

My three stars:

1. Valtteri Filppula

2. Jimmy Howard

3. Pavel Datsyuk

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