Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images
The longest regulation losing streak in Nashville Predators history was achieved on Monday night when the Predators failed to keep momentum going after tying the game 2-2 in the 2nd period and Vancouver skated off with a 5-2 victory.
The merry-go-round continued with yet another in a long line of injuries when Kevin Klein was out of the lineup and Mattias Ekholm was called up from Milwaukee to “fill-in.” The result? A minus-1 night with zero shots on goal. Insanity is defined as the repetition of something over and over again and expecting different results, and in the case of the Nashville Predators and Coach Trotz’ system for the 2013 shortened season, insanity was predictably reached on an exponentially repetitive scale.
The system has worked a time or two before. It is a system that got the Predators into the playoffs for now eight of the last ten seasons. The shortened season put more impetus than ever in a team’s health and ability to come out swinging from the get-go and net as many possible points that can be earned early and often against conference foes which they would be playing exclusively.
The Predators began the season moderately in January going 2-2-3, seven out of the possible eleven points and succumbing exclusively to the shootout (a sign of things to come) in all extra time contests. February was much better with the Predators record going from moderate to exemplary with 7-5-2. March and April especially would come to be the dagger for the Predators hopes of making the playoffs. March showcased a struggling Predators team with two horrendous road trips. In a five game road trip out West, the Predators went 1-4-0 with their only win against Dallas in a 4-0 rout, the other four losses were by a combined goal total of 20-12. After the ghastly road trip, the Predators managed to pull together some points gaining at least one point in 6 of their next seven games…all before the April 3rd trade deadline…and all of which are null and void because since then, the Predators have lost every game in regulation dating back to April 4th…seven out of eight games being at home.
There are points in the season that people have pointed to as the reason for the Predators not making the playoffs. Some suggest the injuries, some the road trip, some a combo of the two, some the Erat/Latta for Forsberg trade. The real reason for the Predators not making the playoffs is sincerely not having a development/training camp and the redeployment of stasis tactics.
The chemistry and make-up of a team is cemented early when they can develop and train together in front of their personnel and scouts to better see who can and can’t hack it at the NHL level. Can these players, the core of which were on the roster the year before, play like the did the year previous without the likes of Tootoo and Suter and with the additions of Hannan and a larger focus placed on Ellis, Josi, Bourque and Wilson? For three of these four players the experiment worked. Josi became what Weber already knew, the counter balance for one of the best defenders in the game…a solid replacement for Suter with growing room to spare and earning top-line minutes and carrying the load of minutes for the defense this season. Colin Wilson finally turned into the power forward everyone was waiting to develop and put the puck in the net leading the Predators at one point in the season in points. Gabriel Bourque, before his season-ending injury, would lead the Predators in goals as his style of play lends to the Hornqvist side of getting in the gutsy areas and being rewarded with tip-ins and rebound chances for easy markers….regaling the ever-watching Terry Crisp with his “a goal’s a goal” kind of mentality.
What Trotz had to work with regarding time and placement may have been the unforeseen downfall of the Nashville Predators from jump street. The talent level wasn’t quite at the caliber of other NHL teams, especially in the West where everybody in the division seemed to get better and better through free agency or their top talent getting back into their All-Star form. The Predators didn’t make any significant moves in free agency as a need for a serious scoring threat fell to the shoulders of 2nd and 3rd liners having to play above their potential, so Trotz employed the same tactics as the year before…and the year before that…and so on.
A defense-first minded team is a fine idea if you have the right personnel in place. It has to be the right balance of offense and defense, a strong fore-check and the ability to out-hustle the other team for an entire 60 minutes. This has not been seen it quite some time, at least not all on the same night. Sometimes, the Predators employ the strong fore-check and a great transition game off the turnovers created by hearty defensive maneuvers, but at most they would give it a 40-45 minute effort. That other 15-20 minutes was spent scrambling around the defensive or neutral zone and wearing out the top two Predators lines while the other team rolled all four lines and cycled to their top line to do the damage.
Speaking of out-hustling, the Predators for the umpteenth time are getting out-worked for the puck. If the Predators style can be labeled one thing for this season, it is predictable. With the loss of Suter, a great puck-moving defenseman that can out-stick-handle the opponent and take it into the offensive zone himself (props to Josi for doing his best in this regard), the Predators constantly are looking to clear the puck around the boards and chip-and-go up the ice. The problem? Anytime an opposing squad instituted a “full-court press” or 2-2-1 defense, the Predators weren’t quick enough with decision-making or tape-to-tape passes to get it out of the zone and all too often, the other team would simply step in front of the zone-clearing attempt and keep it in the Predators defensive zone.
Are we seeing a pattern?
The blame does not fall entirely to Trotz or the system, it is the flaw of trying to do things too basic for a team that should have been able to build upon their amazing PP success of last season and incorporate things into the game-plan that playing and losing to teams like Phoenix in the playoffs should have been implemented. With this shortened season behind the Predators with only four games remaining, a changing of the style of play seems a moot point at this juncture, but for the upcoming 2013-2014 season, it may be time to change things up from an offensive and defensive perspective. Maybe the addition of offensive-minded forwards like Forsberg and the hopeful top five pick of a forward and the return of Bourque and Wilson will change Trotz’ philosophy or at the very least force him to unleash the goal scoring talent and throw caution to the wind on his defense-first style (Erat requesting out might be looked at as a wake-up call for this type of reasoning). Also, with David Poile breaking the mold of what he would/would not do by trading Erat, the Predators might be in the works for some possible scoring help in the free agency markets and not “dumpster-diving” for those 3rd and 4th line talents that the Predators already have an endless supply.
It’ll be interesting to say the least and the potential for the Predators next season will rely on these issues being addressed, not just for the winning of games and qualifying for the playoffs, but to show the fans that from the ownership group down through the organization is committed to their previous statements of “wanting to win a Stanley Cup.”
Thanks again for reading our material and feel free to comment below about what you might want to see the Predators do in free agency. Do you think the basic style of play crushed any momentum the Predators had to get over on their Western Conference opponents? Are there other matters not addressed that you want to talk about? Chime in below and as always you can follow us on Twitter @Preducated or @ThePredatorial.