The Nashville Predators lost another home game on Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena, this time 4-1 to the Dallas Stars.
Though the game started out well for the home team, with Austin Watson putting the Preds up 1-0 in the 2nd, the Stars scored four unanswered goals in the middle frame, then choked away the Preds offense in the 3rd period. Anton Khudobin finished with 37 saves and was stellar in net for the Stars.
And Khudobin’s excellent performance only further exposes a troubling trend for the Predators we’ve seen this season.
2nd period dooms Preds
With Mattias Ekholm out due to illness and Mikael Granlund back on the shelf with a lower body injury (day to day), the Preds went with both Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber in on defense, plus Colin Blackwell made his season debut on the 4th line.
The first period featured only a handful of chances from either team, with the Stars getting the majority early on, then the Preds taking over in the latter half of the period. A couple of penalties gave the Stars some power play chances, but the Preds penalty kill was very active and held them scoreless.
Early on it looked like the Turris-Duchene-Smith line would be the Preds’ best chance at a goal. They looked more creative and active in the offensive end, getting a couple close looks.
Then the Stars took over in the 2nd period.
After Austin Watson made it 1-0 Preds, the Stars tied it up on a shorthanded goal by Blake Comeau. Less than two minutes later, Roope Hintz put the Stars up 2-1 on a wide open shot in the slot.
Not long after that, more Preds turnovers led to more Dallas goals. First it was Jamie Oleksiak skating in and around the defense and putting one past Pekka Rinne. Then Andrew Cogliano crashed the net and put a rebound by Rinne to make it 4-1.
Entering the 3rd period, there was not much going for the Preds. This allowed the Stars to clamp down on the middle of the ice, force everything to the outside, and prevent Khudobin from having to do much.
In the end, the Nashville Predators just didn’t have the life they needed to beat the Dallas Stars.
“Embarrasing” and “Desperate” Preds
The Preds looked lifeless in the 3rd period and the postgame quotes only solidify that that’s exactly how they felt.
“There’s just no desperation, I don’t think the desperation is there,” Filip Forsberg said after the game. “It’s not good enough, especially when we’re down in the 3rd.”
Forsberg also explained that the volume of shots (the Preds outshot Dallas 38 to 22) was misleading, as the Preds’ lacked any real danger.
“We’re getting some chances, but they’re mostly from the outside. Yeah, we gotta get desperate.”
Per my last tweet, here’s a quick thread of “embarrassing” and “no life quotes from tonight.
First, Austin Watson pic.twitter.com/TKVmeu7y1p
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) December 15, 2019
From the coaches perspective, Peter Laviolette felt the same way as his players.
“It’s not good enough,” Laviolette said to open the press conference, adding that the team didn’t have the quality that they needed to get the job done. Laviolette almost always finds a positive spin after a bad loss, but even he couldn’t find a way to turn this loss into a teachable moment.
Interestingly, when asked about Colin Blackwell, Laviolette’s comments rang more as a critique of the rest of the team than a compliment of Blackwell.
“We need to invest more in the game, I thought he invested a lot. He played the game hard, he was fast, he was attacking the game all night, he was physical, he was passionate… the [4th line] had a lot of purpose in their game.”
Goaltending not saving the Preds anymore
It’s easy to point fingers when your team loses by three goals on home ice, but there’s a larger trend that’s starting to emerge with this team.
And it has to do with goaltending.
For the past decade or so, the Nashville Predators’ goaltending has been the strength of the team. Pekka Rinne has been the backbone of the team since becoming the full-time starter, with Juuse Saros quickly becoming one of the best up and coming goalies in the NHL.
For years, Rinne was holding this team together, making saves on seemingly unsavable shots and helping the Preds win seemingly unwinnable games.
And now we are seeing what happens when he doesn’t make those unsavable saves.
This continues the most troubling trend of all: since the end of October, the #Preds have had one of the worst goaltending tandems in the league.
That’s 18 games since the 10/29 shutout over Chicago. It’s not just a blip. It’s a problem.
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) December 15, 2019
You can’t blame Pekka Rinne entirely for the goals he allowed tonight. They were dangerous chances by the Stars. But how many times over the years have we seen Rinne bail out the team with huge saves in those situations? How many games has he won by doing the impossible?
Is Rinne’s magic running out?
Entering tonight’s game, Rinne had an .897 save percentage at all strengths. That ranks 52nd in the entire leage. And with only 18 saves on 22 shots tonight, that will go down. Similarly, Juuse Saros has an .894 save percentage, which ranks 55th.
There aren’t many NHL teams with two goalies outside of the top 50 in save percentage. At least not any good ones.
There’s still time to right the ship. There’s still plenty of hockey left. With 51 games remaining, the Preds could still become the dominant team we expect them to.
But if Pekka Rinne doesn’t continue to be the Pekka Rinne we all have been amazed by over the last decade, I’m not sure it’s going to happen. As Rinne goes, so go the Nashville Predators… and right now he’s just not getting it done.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —