Puck possession, quality shots, strong goaltending, it’s all there for the Nashville Predators. Yet, after a 4-0 blanking against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday night, the Predators had to find a way to get the puck into the net.
One of the NHL’s lowest-scoring teams in the early part of the season, the players and coaching staff can point the finger at any number of things as to the reason for some of their missteps. With their record now sitting at 2-3-0 after their win against the New York Islanders, Nashville is realistically only a missing puzzle piece or two from being a great all-around team.
Alternating back and forth between wins and losses over the past handful of days, the proverbial “lightbulb” is slowly getting brighter for a team that needs it to, in a very bad way.
“You have to learn how to win again. That’s part of building your game. Building your game defensively, building your game on special teams, and building your game mentally is huge. Tonight was hopefully a piece of us becoming a good team. When you’re down 2-1, you’re playing a good team, and they get called out a little bit [from their coach], you wonder if you can stay with the gameplan,” said head coach Barry Trotz. “For the most part, we stayed with the gameplan, which we didn’t do against Toronto. We started to cheat all over the ice and didn’t give ourselves a legitimate chance to win. Today, we stayed with the gameplan and gave ourselves a chance to win by staying with what we were doing. We got it to 2-2, stayed with us, played sound defensively, created [chances] off the rush, created a lot more secondary chances.”
Midway in the second period of Nashville’s game against the Islanders, the Predators trailed 2-1 after leading 1-0 early in the period. Patric Hornqvist, Nashville’s crease specialist and by far one of their hardest working players on the ice, found himself with his stick knocked out of his hands on one play and held by an Islanders defenseman not too long after on a possible scoring chance. However, unlike Thursday night against the Maple Leafs, Hornqvist’s frustrations turned into points on the scoreboard.
Just moments after the aforementioned missed call on Hornqvist, the 26 year old Swedish winger streaked down the right side of the ice and put all of his anger into a shot that ripped past Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. In his ensuing celebration, Hornqvist looked like a player who had a weight lifted off his shoulder.
“Yeah, we created a good moment there with a good shift, a couple of tips and shots. I get slashed from behind a bit, the defenseman was holding me up. We got back to our own end and I was tired. [Gaustad] took my spot down low, did a good job on the wall, chipped it out, and I got the puck. I shot it as hard as I could, it was nice to see it go in,” said Hornqvist. “It was my first goal of the season and you want to get that out of the way as quick as you can. Now that it’s out of my way, hopefully I can keep going.”
For the Predators, it’s been one word to sum up their small handful of games so far this season: frustration. Seemingly making all of the right moves and not finding wins or goals for that matter, Saturday’s win against the Islanders helped to ease some of the early season growing pains.
“I think we were getting a little frustrated, to be honest. We were getting so many chances and we just needed to get bodies to the front. I think we did a good job tonight. The chances were definitely there, we just weren’t getting the bounces that we needed,” said Predators defenseman Seth Jones.
Nashville’s two wins this season have come when they registered three goals, a common theme for the Predators in the past few years. The players know what the winning formula looks like, as evidenced by their two wins. Like a monotonous beating drum in the locker room, Barry Trotz, in his fifteenth season with the Predators, answered the question before it was asked.
“Trust me, I know we need to score goals. But we need to find different ways to do that,” said Trotz.
For an offensively-challenged team like the Predators where goals come sparingly and defense/goaltending finds ways to win the game, Nashville is learning to win again. It’s going to take time, but continuing down the path they’re currently on is quite possibly their main chance for sustained success.
Photo Credit: Sarah Fuqua
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