In front of the second largest audience at the NHL’s Winter Classic, the Nashville Predators showed exactly the kind of team we’ve seen over the last two months. Despite grabbing an early 2-0 lead and owning the 1st period, the Preds let the Stars back in the game late in the 2nd, eventually losing 4-2 to their division rivals.

And while the final score was 4-2, but it felt like much, much worse.

Of course, you can’t tell the story of this game without discussing a crucial incident that happened less than three minutes into the game, when Corey Perry elbowed Ryan Ellis in the head, earning himself a game misconduct and an ejection. Ellis left the game and did not return.

The weight that Ryan Ellis carries on this roster is more than significant. He is the second leading scorer on the team and an important balance to Roman Josi on the back end. The Preds were down a top defenseman for 57 minutes and the rest of the game showed they struggled to replace him.

But it would be a mistake to say that losing Ellis was the reason the Preds lost this game. It was all just too familiar.

A tumultuous start, a terrible ending

The rivalry between the Preds and Stars was evident very early on in this one. Soon after a big hit by Austin Watson behind the Dallas net, Corey Perry elbowed Ryan Ellis square in the face at the blueline, knocking him down and out for a full minute. Perry was assessed a game misconduct for elbowing and ejected just 2:44 into the game.

The Preds made sure to capitalize on the egregious hit by Perry. Matt Duchene scored a power play goal from the right side of the Dallas net to make it 1-0, then Dante Fabbro did the same from the left side of the net to make it 2-0.

The hits didn’t stop there. Both teams seemed fueled by the heated start of the game, though the Preds maintained composure enough to secure a 2-0 lead going into the first intermission.

The 2nd period didn’t have as much action as the 1st, but the Preds were able to generate some token pressure on the Stars once they found their legs again. It looked like the focus at 1st intermission was to play with control and focus, rather than try to match the Stars’ aggression. At first, the gamble paid off, as the Preds baited the Stars into a couple penalties in the period.

But then the Stars grabbed the game back quickly. A late goal in the 2nd period provided the boost they needed to get back in the game. Then the Stars scored three goals in the first seven minutes of the 3rd period.

Before the Preds knew what hit them, the score was 4-2 Dallas and there was very little time left to get back in the game.

From there, the Stars closed down the neutral zone and camped out in front of goalie Ben Bishop. The Preds had very few quality chances on the Dallas net in the final frame, and the Stars came out with the 4-2 victory.

Pekka Rinne unable to clinch first outdoors win for Preds

It was the first start for Pekka Rinne in an outdoors game for the Preds, something that Peter Laviolette mentioned was “well earned” by the Finnish netminder.

“He certainly has put in his time and he’s been the backbone of this franchise for so long.” Laviolette said before the game on Wednesday. “He’s accomplished a lot, he’s taken his team through playoff rounds, he’s been to All-Star games, he’s been one of the top goaltenders in the league. For him to get an opportunity like today is well deserved. He’s earned this opportunity, earned the start.”

But unfortunately for Rinne, he couldn’t capitalize on the moment. He finished with 31 saves on 35 shots, with several big saves in the 1st period. But giving up three goals in the first seven minutes of the 3rd period secured the win for Dallas.

After the game, Rinne admitted the game was an important for the franchise, but also that the team is not in a good place right now.

“It was a huge experience for all of us. It was a blast playing there, but you know, other than that, I don’t know, we’re in trouble right now”

Losing Ryan Ellis a factor, but this felt familiar

It’s easy to point at the loss of Ryan Ellis as a significant factor in the 4-2 loss for the Preds. He’s a huge part of the blueline and the Preds did not have the skill to replace him in the top four.

But don’t let anyone tell you Ellis was the reason the Preds lost today.

This game was, in a way, a reflection of how the Preds have lost most of their games this year. Inconsistent offense, questionable defense (especially in transition) and goaltending that just isn’t getting the job done.

So while, yes, losing Ryan Ellis was a factor, in the end today’s loss was just another typical loss. There wasn’t enough effort on defense to hold a lead on the Stars. There wasn’t enough quality in goal to prevent the Stars from taking the lead. And there wasn’t enough fight in the Preds late to get the game tied.

And since the loss seemed so similar to so many losses we’ve seen by this Preds team this year, it seems reasonable to ask: is Peter Laviolette feeling any pressure to win more games? Is the coach being held responsible by those above him?

Adam Vingan of The Athletic, as he did over a month ago, asked Laviolette that question today after the game. Laviolette responded, “I’m not going to get into that right now.”

Which is just about as dismissive as you can get. Perhaps even more dismissive than his previous response of “No, I haven’t felt any.”

The question is fair. The team just lost on the biggest stage in hockey. In general, the results on ice are not going the Predators way and there are clear, discernible patterns emerging about why. At some point, the head coach has to answer for these patterns.

But it would appear Peter Laviolette has simply opted not to answer those questions.

— Featured image via Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports —
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