Nearly a week ago, the Nashville Predators had won six of nine games, had just beaten the Calgary Flames in dramatic come-from-behind fashion, and were in playoff position for the first time in the John Hynes era. Things were, as they say, looking up.
Then everything went south, quickly.
It started with a promising, but ultimately ineffective effort against the Colorado Avalanche. The Preds lost 3-2, with seemingly only a game tying goal being waved off due to questionable goaltender interference being the deciding factor.
Then came a disastrous 8-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers the following Monday. A well balanced game in the 1st and 2nd periods turned into a blood bath in the 3rd period. The Oilers exploded for five goals in about a six minute span. Leon Draisaitl looked like a Hart Trophy candidate, netting four goals and an assist, continuing his career domination of the Nashville Predators.
Finally, a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on the road capped off a tremendously disappointing three game swing for the Preds, who now find themselves out of a playoff spot once again.
While there’s always plenty of reasons why a team loses a hockey game (particularly this hockey team), the last three failures come down to a few bad habits that have crept back into their game.
Bad habit #1: Porous Defense
Let’s start with the most obvious problem: the Nashville Predators’ defense has been bad over the last few games. The problems are numerous. Poor transition play, ill-timed defenseman pinches in the offensive zone, and an overall inability to clear the puck when it matters most.
They continue to let the opponent own possession for long stretches of time in their zone, which leads to all kinds of problems. Take a look at the Minnesota Wild’s unblocked shot attempts from Tuesday night, courtesy of Hockey Viz:
That’s entirely too much action directly in front of the Nashville net. The Preds’ goaltenders (in this case, Juuse Saros) can only do so much with shots in close. It’s just asking for trouble.
With a team like Minnesota, who likes to own the puck for as long as possible in the offensive zone, this is a disaster waiting to happen. So what about a team like Edmonton, which has considerably more skill and speed, in addition to great puck possession ability?
My goodness, that is a sight to behold. You can hardly see the names of all the players that had free reign on Pekka Rinne that night.
In the end, this is just two different routes to the same destination for the Preds’ defense. In one game, they could not maintain possession of the puck enough to make an effective clear, eventually getting burned by a determined Wild team. In the other game, they could not solve the Oilers’ transition and speed game, eventually getting burned by some of the best players on the planet in Leon Draisaitl and Connor McDavid.
Bad Habit #2: Ineffective Power Play
If you’ve watched the Nashville Predators over the last couple seasons, you know the drill whenever the Preds get a power play.
Go grab a drink. Go hit up the restroom. Go finish up that term paper.
Do anything other than watch the Preds’ power play unit try to score, because it is painful to watch.
I know, dead horse and all that, but the #Preds power play since the beginning of 18-19 season (including tonight):
67 goals on 467 chances
14.3% — dead last in the league
Allowed 16 sh goals — 10th most in the league
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) March 4, 2020
That ineffective power play has returned over the last three games, though it’s reasonable to ask if it ever really left.
The power play has gone 1-for-10 over the last three games, and even the lone goal was a bit of a miraculous bounce off the stick of Craig Smith. The Preds even found a way to squander antoher 5-on-3 chance against the Minnesota Wild, this time when Mikael Granlund was called for an offensive zone penalty.
It’s been business as usual for the Preds’ power play unit. Ineffective zone entries are the biggest problem, as it usually takes a full minute for the unit to get set up in the zone. Then once they do, bad passing, lack of net front presence, and low shot quality all result in a lack of scoring. There’s almost nothing they do right on the power play, it’s amazing to watch.
As far as bad habits go, this one seems like the most impossible to fix, given all they’ve done over the last two seasons to try and fix it.
Bad Habit #3: Disappearing star forwards
This is becoming a serious problem. For all the Predators are paying their top six forwards, they are getting very little return.
The numbers speak for themselves here. Take a look at this lack of production for the four highest paid forwards on the team since February 1st:
- Ryan Johansen: 5 points (2 goals, 3 assists) in 15 games
- Matt Duchene: 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists) in 16 games
- Filip Forsberg: 7 points (0 goals, 7 assists) in 16 games
- Kyle Turris: 7 points (3 goals, 4 assists) in 16 games
There’s no other way to slice it. That’s unacceptable production for the team’s biggest threats on offense. And it’s been even worse over the last three games: Johansen, Duchene, Forsberg, and Turris have combined for three points (all assists) in the team’s last three games.
If you want to blame any one group of players for the team’s three game losing streak, you’d have a good case for those four. How is the rest of the team supposed to make up the difference when those key players are invisible on the ice?
The Nashville Predators are not out of the playoff race, by any stretch. They have 16 games left to make a final run at the postseason, which is plenty of time to get it done. But if these three bad habits continue to plague them, Preds fans can go ahead and make vacation plans for April.
— Featured image via Nick Wosika/USA TODAY Sports —