If the Nashville Predators are going to make a playoff push, it has to begin tonight in Columbus against the Blue Jackets, a team that is 6-0-4 in their last 10 games and boasts one of the hottest goaltenders in the NHL in the person of Sergei Bobrovsky.
No easy task for the Predators, who find themselves in a deep hole of their own making. The Predators are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games and have lost three in a row.
The Predators benched Sergei Kostitsyn for his egregious gaffe in the previous game against Edmonton. Taylor Beck was called up from Milwaukee and took his place on the line with Marty Erat and Mike Fisher.
The Predators had Pekka Rinne in net, and Predator fans could only hope that the team in front of him would give him some support in this game.
The Predators opened with good jump, and early on had a decided shot advantage. As the period wore on, that changed, with the Blue Jackets aided by two Predators penalties. The Jackets out shot the Predators 14-9 in the period after the Predators opened the game with a 7-1 shot advantage.
The period ended scoreless, and Rinne made some big saves to keep the BJ's off the board.
The Blue Jackets got on the board at 4:08 of the second period as Fedor Tyutin launched a shot from the blue line that got through traffic and past Rinne, who was screened by a Columbus player and two Predator defenseman.
Since the midway mark of the second period, the Blue Jackets were carrying the play to the Predators, and it was going to be critical for the Predators to reverse the momentum back to their favor.
The Jackets second goal came off a dominating offensive zone cycle. The Predators could not get the puck out of the zone, and the Jackets made them pay. Mark Letestu roofed a shot over the shoulder of Rinne at the end of this cycle to make it 2-0 at 9:39 of the second period.
At this point, it looked as if the Jackets were going to run the Predators out of the barn.
The Predators responded at 14:45 of the second as Roman Josi walked the puck in from the blue line and took a shot from the high slot. Gabriel Bourque was in front of the net battling for position and re-directed the puck past Bobrovsky to make it 2-1.
Heading into the third, the Predators were in the game and needed a strong period to capture a much needed two points.
Yeah... about that strong period.
The Predators gave up a power play goal to Nikita Nikitin at the 10:00 mark to make it 3-1 Jackets. On the play, it looked as if Roman Josi had partially screened Rinne as he did not see the shot until the last second.
Derick Brassard made it 4-1 off a rush as he blasted a puck past Rinne at 12:41 of the third.
The Predators got a goal from Chris Mueller, who was battling in front of the net and shoveled a puck past Bobrovsky to make it 4-2 at 17:59 of the third.
Mike Fisher scored off a gritty effort in front of the net, sweeping the puck past Bobrovsky at 18:46.
Unfortunately, the Predators could not get the tying goal, and they saw a game that they had to have slip away by a 4-3 margin.
What Happened to That Opening Surge?
The Predators opened the game with good jump and were taking it to the BJ's early in the contest. Through ten minutes of the first period, the Predators had out shot the Jackets 9-1 and controlled the play. That effort slowly waned, aided by two Predator penalties in the period, and the Predators never matched the effort of the Jackets after that. It's a 60 minute game boys.
Another Third Period Fade
A disturbing characteristic of the Predators is getting whipped in the third period. Maybe it is the experience level of the players. I hope it isn't the character and heart of those on the ice. If it is that, then this team has deeper problems than just their won/lost record.
It Is Time For The Pine
I like him, but the fact is that Marty Erat has been awful. He has contributed nothing to the offense for far too long, and this team needs someone who is going to contribute. Tonight, Marty had 19:40 of ice time (second only to Mike Fisher) and not a single shot on net. Too often, Marty chews up big minutes and does nothing. This is unacceptable and is hurting the team. It is past time to get someone in the lineup that is at least going to get some shots on net and at least has an opportunity to score.
Speaking of Pine
After his horrific mistake against Edmonton, Head Coach Barry Trotz benched Sergei Kostitsyn. He spoke of accountability, and that each player has to be accountable to the team. It is now time to apply that principal to some of the other guys.
Gabriel Bourque recorded his team leading 10th goal. Roman Josi was solid. Chris Mueller and Mike Fisher scrapped and worked for goals. Some of the guys have their motors still running. That is a good thing. Unfortunately, not enough guys have their motors running. And therein lies the problem for the Predators.
The Predators are watching their season slowly slip away. And it is painful. No one, the fans, the coaches, the owners, the players, enjoy this. This is not fun.
Yet there is a lot of hockey to be played. We are going to learn a lot from about this team by how they respond to this adversity. This is an inflection point for this team. The guys that put on the sweaters can play with heart and grit or they can piss away the remainder of the season.
It will tell us a lot about the future of this team.
Your call, boys.
My three stars:
1. Sergei Bobrovsky
2. Derick Brassard
3. Gabriel Bourque