OK, the Vancouver win, with Jarnkrok scoring with less than two seconds to go in OT was thrilling to say the least, but of course, how did they get there? They gave up the puck with less than a minute to go, and watched helplessly as Brandon Sutter rifled a shot behind Pekka Rinne to tie what should have been a 1-0 shutout win.
The following game, the Preds had to match the momentum against the Boston Bruins, but instead were outshot 36 to 19, and spent a majority of the game flailing about in their own end, watching the B’s deftly pass the puck looking for a crucial shot. Fortunately, Finnish rookie Juuse Saros was there with crucial saves at virtually every turn. In short, (and yes, compared to Finnish veteran Pekka Rinne, he most certainly is) Saros was incredible, and deserving of all three stars on the evening (he, of course, did garner number one for his acrobatic effort.)
Taking yet a third Finnish goaltender (Boston’s Tuukka Rask) out of the mix had to be considered key in this victory, as the Preds were then left to test rookie Zane McIntyre, who has yet to win an NHL game. Despite Boston’s dominance both on the shot clock and territorially, a couple of nice individual efforts from Nashville forwards Austin Watson and Filip Forsberg gave the team two points they most probably didn’t deserve. That being said, the Hockey Gods looked favorably on Nashville tonight, and it was time to steal one in the W column, because the Preds have actually looked better than a team that won just 18 of their first 41 contests.
This disturbing trend of being outshot game in and game out calls to question the system the coaching staff has in place. Yes, the team was charged with finding more offense, and activating the defensemen in an effort to create more opportunity, but the team’s greatest success has always (in recent years) come from a shut down defense, limiting the opposition’s shot total and being defensively responsible.
At one point last night I wondered if the off-ice official in charge of handing out Takeaways and Giveaways would need an extra pencil. The number of Preds passes that went tape to tape onto Boston sticks felt staggering, with even Saros in the mix a couple of times. In the game, excluding goaltenders, Boston was credited with 3 giveaways and 4 takeaways. Nashville grabbed 8 on the takeaway, but… 17 giveaways??? That’s astounding. I’ve gone on record numerous times this year about the fact that this team is one of the poorest, if not THE poorest passing team in the league, and tonight continued to cement my documentation. Talk about the five minute power play the team was handed when Swedish rookie Anton Blidh interfered with Roman Josi and received a major for his infraction. In the ensuing five minutes, Nashville put ONE shot on net against a rookie goalie who had come in cold about three minutes prior. Shameful. Two points? Absolutely! Optimism? Why not? St. Louis was St. Lousy last night in Los Angeles, with Jake Allen and Carter Hutton each giving up goals like candy for trick-or-treaters. The Preds, as inept as they have been over the first half of the season are just two points behind the number three seed in the Central Division. Why worry about stats when you can steal a game now and then? Perhaps because it’s a disturbing scenario to watch this team get outworked in the corners, outworked on the specialty teams, outworked in terms of possession and be too easy to play against.
Toughness and physicality only rear their heads when a guy who’s not far removed from wearing a Milwaukee Admirals jersey hits the ice. Veterans are soft and non-combative. One six million dollar man rarely touches an opposing player over the course of a 60-65 minute game. Others may half-heartedly make efforts to win the hard battles, but on some nights it feels like Nashville never comes out of a scrum with a puck OR a bruise.
Injuries play a factor, and certainly losing Neal, Subban, Salomaki (a much bigger deal than most would give credence to) and now Wilson, possibly Josi, et al means the personnel is switched in and out playing different roles, and sometimes playing multiple roles throughout the course of the game. Players need to step up, and be accountable.
Are they on a two game winning streak? For sure. Do they play a weak sister team in Colorado on Saturday? You betcha! Is this time to dwell on the negative? Perhaps not, but facts are facts, and the team needs to get a whole lot better both physically and emotionally as they play some very important contests over the next two weeks.