Thursday, January 14, 2016

Predators Battle Back But Fall (Again) in OT to the Jets

43 games into the season, one would not think that a game would be a must win game for any team.

But for the Nashville Predators, this game  at the MTS Center against divisional foe Winnipeg qualifies as a must win game.

The Predators, losers of 4 straight games and struggling to gain consistency, are hanging on by a thread to the last Wild Card slot in the West with 45 points.

The Predators sit 4 points in front of the Jets and are tied with the Colorado Avalanche in points but are in the Wild Card slot by virtue of having a game in hand.

The Predators battled back from a 4-1 deficit to tie the game and force overtime before falling 5-4.

A horrible second period cost the Predators this game.

Kevin Fiala, in his first NHL game this season,  made his presence felt immediately as he banged a rebound of a Ryan Johansen shot under the crossbar for his first goal and the first goal of the game. Fiala cleanly beat Connor Hellebuyck by driving the net, something the Predators need to do consistently.

Dustin Byfuglien tied the game at 1 at 6:40 of the second period as he gathered in his own rebound and beat Pekka Rinne to the far post.

James Neal took a dumb interference penalty and on the resulting power play, Bryan Little buried a one timer to take a 2-1 lead.

Dustin Byfuglien scored on a wrap around to make it 3-1.

The wheels were coming off for the Predators in this game and in their season.

The Predators went completely in the ditch early in the third period as Nick Ehlers was sprung on a breakaway and he buried his shot to make it 4-1.

The Predators managed to show some signs of life, however.

Ryan Johansen scored his second goal as a Predator on the power play with some sweet hands in the low slot to make it 4-2.

Eric Nystrom jammed home a pass from Ryan Ellis to make it 4-3 with 8:07 remaining in the game.

After a slew of penalties, there was 1:39 of 3 on 3 hockey late in the third period. Rinne skated to the bench to make it 4 on 3. The Predators were unable to score during this man advantage.

They were finally able to break through and score with James Neal ripping a shot from the face off circle to tie the game at 4 with 13.5 seconds remaining.

A truly improbable comeback to force overtime.

In the OT, the Jets scored on their first shot as Blake Wheeler beat Rinne cleanly for the game winner.

Some observations:

  • Viktor Arvidsson was reassigned to Milwaukee. With Colin Wilson being placed on IR, the Predators recalled Kevin Fiala and Cody Bass. Fiala was placed on a line with Ryan Johansen and James Neal. Certainly an opportunity for the young talent to show what he can do with some quality line mates.
  • Forward lines were once again placed in a blender. Calle Jarnkrok, Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg were on the second line. Mike Fisher, Craig Smith, and Eric Nystrom (?) were on the the third line. Miikka Salomaki, Cody Bass, and Paul Gaustad manned the 4th line.
  • The Predators placed Cody Hodgson on waivers and he cleared and and was assigned to Milwaukee.
  • Really sweet goal by Fiala to score his first NHL goal in just his third game with the Predators. He drove hard to the net, fought off a defender, and more importantly finished his chance with a great shot that he roofed just under the crossbar. The talented 19 year old has seasoned a bit in Milwaukee, and it would be good to see him stick on the roster. He is explosive and has tremendous upside and if he can play a solid game in all zones could give the Predators a real boost.
  • The penalty on James Neal was an appropriate call and frankly, that penalty was just stupid. He hit a Jets defender long after the puck had left his stick and was called for interference. These are the kind of boneheaded plays that the Predators just can't make. And it bit them because they were stupid.
  • The inattention to detail has cost the Predators. The jets second power play goal occurred because Mattias Ekholm failed to clear a puck when he had an opportunity to do so. Defensive breakdowns that are caused by mental lapses are winding up in the back of our net and the team has done nothing to reverse the negative trends that are causing their problems. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Draw your own conclusions about the play of this team right now.
  • Let's be honest: the Predators have played some pretty sorry hockey for the past 2 months. So the question becomes, what will turn it around for this team? Will they find their identity? Will they be more physical? Will they start playing fundamentally sound hockey? I believe that the great failing of this team right now is that the coaching staff has failed to instill a sense of urgency and cultivate the character of this team. Can they turn it around? Right now, they are showing no signs of being able to do so.
  • Apparently James Neal will have to lose a limb to avoid being called for embellishment.
  • James Neal ripped a shot past Hellebuyck to tie the game. That was Neal's 200th career goal.
  • Ryan Johansen hit the post in OT and the Jets came back and scored on their first shot in the extra period. The Predators have won only 1 OT game this season. If they miss the playoffs, they will look back on these points that they left on the table.
  • Once again, the Predators failed to play a full 60 minutes. That second period was 20 minutes of miserable hockey. Elite teams play a 60 minute game. The Predators rarely do that.
I have to give the team big ups for battling back to tie the game and get a point. That was heart and character in that effort.

I have to give them failing marks for their sloppy play and inability to play a full 60 minutes.

It cost them a game a game they dearly needed to win.

And they are going to have to find a way to elevate their play for a full 60 if they want to change course.

My three stars:

1. Dustin Byfuglien

2. Kevin Fiala

3. Blake Wheeler

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