By Kristi Loucks
The Nashville Predators came into the NHL playoffs expected to be a real contender for the Stanley Cup, and many believed that they were poised to make a return to the Stanley Cup Final.
They won the President’s Trophy; they had a historic season where they dominated on their home sheet of ice, and on the road. The Preds were the big tough schoolyard bully, and they came into the 2018 NHL Playoffs ready to shakedown some opponents and take their allowance.
That is not what’s happened.
The Preds rolled into the first round looking to annihilate the wounded Colorado Avalanche. A team that came in without their starting netminder Semyon Varlamov (and backup Jonathan Bernier in series) and a slew of other key players to injury. They also had far less playoff experience since they’d been relegated to spectating after years near the bottom of the league.
The Avalanche were wounded birds that were expected to look like a chew toy in the mouths of this Predators juggernaut.
Even the Avs fans expected that outcome.
Avs: "Go ahead, go get swept by Nashville."
Blues: "No, you do it."
Avs: "Really, we insist."
— Nathan MacKinnon's Hype Man (@TexasAvs) April 6, 2018
Again, that’s not what happened.
Sure the Preds came out early and commenced their shakedown with a two games to none lead in the series, but the Avs eventually got wise and started to take advantage of a momentum killing chronic problem for these Preds against them. Apparently, these Preds have an affinity for the Sin Bin.
The Closet of Shame
Maybe it’s the smell in that little-enclosed space? Perhaps the team cut their smelling salts budget this year? There must be a reason they love spending time in there.
The Preds spent so much time in the box, the NHL was considering giving them a redecorating budget.
What’s worse is that many of the repeat offenders were the guys the Preds need on the ice. The Preds triggermen were in the box, their top scorers were not immune either, and several defensemen had to go to their quiet place and think about what they’d done.
The Preds got lucky, the Avs were only able to capitalize twice, but the Preds gave them almost 30 chances. Thirty!! No matter how well your goaltender is playing, even if your penalty kill is a well-oiled machine, that’s way too many chances. Even when you manage to keep pucks from denting the mesh, this many penalties disrupts the flow of the game and stops the team from carrying any sort of momentum.
It’s just stupid.
Blueline Shooting Blanks
And that wasn’t the only thing that went wrong. One of the hallmarks of this Preds team in recent years has been the potency of their offense from the backend, and while sitting in the ‘closet of shame’ didn’t help their cause this was still a sore spot that the Preds had no answer for.
Mattias Ekholm was the only defenseman to score.
This Preds team should have given the Avs an epic shakedown, even the Avs faithful fans were expecting it, and credit the Avs for playing like a team with nothing to lose and making the Preds look a little less like Superman and a bit more like Clark Kent wearing kryptonite underpants in mustard yellow.
Nashville self-sabotaged enough to look human. Beatable.
And while the Preds were still working to dispatch the Avs, the Winnipeg Jets were doing their homework after dispatching the hobbled Minnesota Wild in five.
High Octane Hijack
The Preds have had a lot of success rolling through the neutral zone like a big yellow school bus. They made the Blackhawks look like a bunch of kids getting mowed down on tricycles in the first round last year and continued to roll all the way through the playoffs until they faced the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Final. And they gave the defending Champs a run for their money, but came up just short.
This spring, the game plan appeared to be much the same, but as the Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings, and every other team that has had long-term success has learned, standing still just makes it easier for teams to catch up.
While the big yellow school bus was ready to roll, they weren’t ready for a high octane jet.
The Jets have an arsenal of scoring talent that rivals that of the Preds, their blueline led by Dustin Byfuglien are punishers who can also light the lamp, and Connor Hellebuyck is a young netminder who can stand on his head and has no respect for his elders, having outdueled Rinne on the regular.
— Puck Face (@puckfacepod) April 28, 2018
The Jets have popped the tires on the bus lighting up the Preds with 24 goals to the Preds 12, even while being outshot 48-19 in Game 1. In spite of that start, the Preds lost and only have a slight edge in the series outshooting the Jets 188-179 (the Jets outshot the Preds in Games 2-4).
In fact, as the series kicked off in Nashville the Preds looked less like a beastly sabertooth and more like a fluffy little kitten looking for a belly rub in front of a disappointed home crowd. The Jets gave them a belly rub alright, they delivered a 4-1 beatdown as the Preds looked like dry mustard spilled in the stands as fans dropped their hot dogs in horror.
The Preds bounced back in Game 2 with a 5-4 OT win, but as has been the theme too often this postseason, they did it the hard way. They gave up goals early, mounted a comeback, sat down and slammed Gatorades in the penalty box and let the Jets muscle their way back into a game they should have had in the bag. It worked that time, but it’s not exactly a model for long-term success.
Yep. This is the Tennessee Titans offensive line, hanging out at the Preds Game 2. Taylor Lewan chugging Bud Lite from a catfish. Marcus Mariota can't order an Uber fast enough. pic.twitter.com/e5aj6jQfH1
— Dan Lucas (@WFLADan) April 29, 2018
And if Nashville fans weren’t already crying in their catfish that they just used to chug their beer (which is incidentally a much more effective way to keep opposing fans from attending home games David Poile), the fact that the Preds looked even more flaccid than the dead fish they love so much on home ice not once, but twice in the series should have them flagging down the beer guy early and often.
I hope the Preds run a shuttle.
Thank goodness yesterday was Cinco de drinko to help me cope with the atrocious Preds loss 🤦🏽♀️ Still love y’all, but that was pretty bad
— Dominique Ortega (@dom_marie13) May 6, 2018
Full Night of Follies
While Nashville is by no means done in this series, they haven’t really played a single game where they’ve looked like a team trying to win it. In fact, on a night where Lady Antebellum flubbed the National Anthem expecting to be the butt of jokes for the duration, the Preds did them a solid and threw themselves on the ice like an ominous death knell of dead catfish floating to the surface right before an apocalypse.
The Preds have won two games by one goal (one took extra frames), and that has bred a false confidence of a team winning the hard battles. But it’s hard to forget the rest of this series the Jets have smoked them by three or more goals. The Preds are getting beaten by a team employing what brought Nashville success last season.
The Jets are using a 200-foot game to exert pressure on the Preds, finishing checks, capitalizing on opportunities, and scoring at will.
But, don’t you worry. P.K. Subban has called his shot promising one more game in front of Nashville’s faithful fans. He also had an enlightening explanation for the team’s shortcomings.
“It just felt like every bounce went their way,” Subban said. “Can we be better? Of course. We’ve got to be a lot better. But just seemed like every time we made a mistake, it ended up in the back of our net.”
Ah yes, the old puck luck defense.
Subban should look into politics with his spin game, puck luck might be an effective excuse for a 2-1 loss. Maybe even 3-1, but look at the scoreboard, you lost 6-2!!! Excuses are like crystal balls foreshadowing a tee time.
Don’t worry boys, keep playing like you are and the Jets will hand deliver you!
But, again, don’t worry. They meant to do it (the hotel in Winnipeg must have really good hot wings or something).
“Fact of the matter is we had to go to Winnipeg anyway. We’re going to go there, we’re going to win a game and come back here. It’s that simple.”
Yet another Subban gem.
Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of P.K. Subban, it’s just that the excuses fall a little flat after the efforts the team has shown in this series.
But Ryan Johansen had Subban’s back as he called the Jets three goals in under five minutes “unlucky” and adding, “For a half-second when we weren’t 100-percent perfect they capitalized.”
Not 100-percent perfect? Unlucky? You gave up FOUR goals in the second period then spotted them two more in the third!!! I guess Subban has found his running mate if he does decide to make that run at politics.
This team barreled through the playoffs last season with an assassins instinct. They came into the playoffs this year expecting to do more of the same, but none of them noticed when they stepped on the ice with a BB gun instead of their usual sniper rifle. Not exactly the weapon of choice for the cold-blooded killers the Preds thought they were.
Can the Preds pull off a win in the domain of the White Out?
But the Jets have their foot on the Preds jugular and they’ll be looking to give this kitty another belly rub and send them on their way to the links.
— North-Western Tim (@TimHill84434081) May 1, 2018
Original published at The 4th Line Podcast: https://the4thlinepodcast.com/nashvilles-path-from-predators-to-prey