The Nashville Predators continued their last west coast swing of the regular season with a tilt against the L.A. Kings. Once again, the Predators faced a team in the Kings that was fighting for their playoff life, as the Kings had 80 points, currently in 10th place but one point out of the 8th playoff position.
For the Predators, this meant that they had to bring the intensity and effort from the opening puck drop. You knew that the Kings were going to bringing it tonight. The Predators had to match the desperation of the Kings.
Pekka Rinne started in net for the Predators, while the Kings went with Jonathan Bernier.
Just as sure as the sun comes up in the east, the Kings opened with jump and pressure on the Predators. The Predators, as has been their tendency, took the Kings best early shots and just survived, with Rinne having to make some good early saves.
The Predators finally wilted under the pressure of the Kings, as they won a puck battle on the boards and controlled the puck to Anze Kopitar. Kopitar took one stride off the boards and lasered a shot over the shoulder of Rinne to give the Kings a 1-0 lead at 7;53 of the first period.
The Predators looked listless throughout most of the first period as they lost puck battles and for the most could not get through the neutral zone to establish their offense. The shot totals at the end of the first period reflected that fact as the Kings out shot the Predators 10-5.
If the Predators were going to have an opportunity to get back in this game, they were going to have to play with more jump and intensity. If you can answer the question as to why the Predators cannot seem to realize they have to match the intensity of their opponent, I would love to hear from you.
I would imagine that what Head Coach Barry Trotz said to his charges at the first intermission would cause a sailor to blush, because the Predators came out in the second period like they wanted to play a hockey game. The Predators skated better and won puck battles. They poured shots on Bernier, and in the first 7:30 of the second had out shot the Kings 8-1.
Now they just had to get a puck in the net.
The Predators did just that on their third power play attempt as Marty Erat cranked a shot from 10 feet inside the blue line that went between the legs of Patric Hornqvist who was screening and past Bernier to tie the game at 1 at 13:43.
The second period ended tied at 1 and the Predators out shooting the Kings 9-8 but generating the majority of the quality scoring chances.
So the Kings played the first 20 minutes of the contest and the Predators played the second 20 minutes. The contest would be decided by who wanted it more in the final 20 minutes.
The Predators offense reverted to their first period form as they did not get their first shot on net until the 8 minute mark of the third. On the plus side, the Kings only had 2 shots on net in the same time frame as the game had settled into a defensive struggle with each team looking to capitalize on a mistake made by the other.
That mistake occurred at 8:04 of the third as the Predators could not hold the puck in the zone as the puck got away from Ryan Suter at the blue line and the result was a 2 on 1. Dustin Penner finished the play off a nice pass from Trevor Lewis to give the Kings a 2-1 lead.
A horrific turnover by Jordin Tootoo at the Predators blue line sent Dwight King in on a breakaway and he buried the sot to give the Kings a 3-1 lead at 13:02. On the play, the Predators were also caught in a bad change and were victimized by two egregious errors.
The Predators implosion was complete when Kyle Clifford scored on a break away to make it 4-1 L.A. at 16:19.
Mike Fisher made the score somewhat respectable with a backhand score off a rebound of a Kevin Klein shot at 17:18 of the third to make it 4-2, which was the final score of the game.
For the Predators, there are two glaring problems right now. The first: their secondary scoring has gone ice cold. Throughout much of the season, the Predators have relied on balanced scoring from all lines. Right now, the scoring is coming predominantly from the top line. The remainder of the forwards are being shut down by opposing teams, and it is going to be essential that the Predators get these lines going again.
The second problem is that the Predators seem to have lost their edge, their intensity. This team is successful when they are playing gritty, blue collar hockey, hockey that is balls to the wall. Right now, the Predators are taking 20 minutes to get started, or are taking a period off. This team is not good enough to survive much less win playing that type of hockey. This has to change immediately.
The remainder of the schedule will be against teams that are desperate and will be more than happy to knock off the Predators. Right now, this team is the hunted, and it is important for them to play with the intensity and desperation of those teams that are hunting them.
The opportunity for redemption begins tomorrow night in Anaheim.
My three stars:
1. Jonathan Bernier
2. Patric Hornqvist
3. Dustin Penner