The Nashville Predators did not come back from the All-Star break ready to make a playoff run, based on their 5-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.
While the on-ice effort seemed fine for most of the contest, the on-ice results were as bad as usual. Missed opportunities on the offensive end, defensive mistakes leading to goals against, poor special teams play, and goaltending that could not save the day when it mattered.
Perhaps the most important missing ingredient was “mental fortitude” which coach John Hynes says was missing tonight.
“A lot of times [mental fortitude] is where the challenge lies, I think that’s where you narrow down where our team is at. It’s basically what cost us the game,” Hynes said after the game.
“I think we did some really good things in the 1st period, I give the guys credit for their play, we had a couple good days, and then in the 2nd period the intensity level, the competitive level, the attention to detail, the puck management, our group playing together and for each other for 20 minutes… we didn’t stay with it. We got away from what was working.
And as has become a trend for these Nashville Predators, once the the Maple Leafs grabbed a multiple goal lead, the tide seemed to turn against the Preds and their mental strength waned.
“Sometimes you have to understand in the game that even if you’re doing some good things, you may not have the lead, but you can’t get away from what you’re doing. You’ve got to have some digging and some push-back. I think that’s the biggest thing out of this game.”
Bridgestone Arena no longer a threat
It’s something that the Bridgestone Arena faithful have seen all season and are continually frustrated with. No doubt yet another blowout home loss is starting to take its toll.
In 24 home games for the #Preds this season:
7 losses by 2+ goals
5 losses by 3+ goals#YearOfTheFan
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) January 28, 2020
While Bridgestone Arena was once a fortress of gold that became deafening when the home team was on a roll has become little more than a bingo hall filled with golf claps. The visiting fans are often seen gathering in the concourse in between periods and starting impromptu away chants, and are often seen leaving the arena at the end of the night with smiles on their faces after a win.
For everything that’s been said over the last few years about how tough it is for opponents to play in Bridgestone Arena, the exact opposite is true now. The Preds continue to play underwhelming hockey at home and continue to get poor results on the ice.
2nd Period Dooms Preds
While the 2nd period was ultimately the costliest period, once again, the Preds had to dig their way out of an early hole.
After William Nylander scored on a breakaway to make it 1-0 Toronto, Mikael Granlund answered to tie it up off a nice feed from Matt Duchene. Then, following an extended possession in the Nashville end, the Leafs took a 2-1 lead on a deflection in front by Zach Hyman.
The Preds put up a solid effort after the Hyman goal to try and tie it in the 1st, but Frederik Andersen was able to hold on to the one goal lead going into the first intermission.
In the 2nd period, the Preds managed some good pressure on the Leafs’ defense, but could not capitalize before Toronto added to their lead. Rasmus Sandin scored his first NHL goal after a defensive lapse by the Preds. That made it a 3-1 game. Then Leafs added one more in the 2nd period to build a three goal lead going into the final 20 minutes.
At this point, it felt like the game was over for the Preds. Once again, they had issues generating high quality chances and could not contain the Leafs on defense. Pekka Rinne wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t saving the Preds like he’s been known to do.
Though the Preds managed a late goal to make it 4-2, the Leafs iced the game away when Auston Matthews put home an empty netter to make it a 5-2 final.
With tonight’s loss, the Preds remain at 51 points and now have only 34 games to make it to the expected postseason cutoff of 95 points.
Ryan Johansen plays team low 10:28
One interesting turn of events in this game was that Ryan Johansen played a team low 10:28 on the ice.
Normally one of the leaders in ice time for the Preds, Johansen was initially locked in a defensive matchup with the Auston Matthews. This was similar to his role against the Sabres, when he helped shut down the Jack Eichel line, but his performance tonight was not good enough for John Hynes to keep the faith.
“I just felt as the game goes on, you want to play the players that are playing at a level that they can do it,” Hynes said after the game. “We had [Johansen] on a line match, we switched the line match because we didn’t like it, so, you know that’s just what happens in a game. With players, if they want to play more, they’ve got to play good.”
— Alex Daugherty (@AlexDaugherty1) January 28, 2020
Johansen played 3:43 minutes against Auston Matthews, finishing with a 22% shot attempt share and a minus-1 at even strength. The unit was disbanded somewhere between the 1st and 2nd periods, with the Kyle Turris line with Colin Blackwell and Craig Smith picking up most of those minutes.
Despite the downgrade in minutes, Hynes still says Johansen is their “top line center” and that he will be used in that role.
The Nashville Predators have plenty of issues on the ice. The playoff race is eluding them and they are running out of time to turn this season into a meaningful one in April. While it seems odd to put your top line center in the proverbial doghouse, if Hynes can get Johansen to play better down the stretch and help elevate this team into the playoffs, it will obviously be worth it.
— Featured image via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports —