Predators Need Defense, Special Teams, and a Little Luck in Hurricanes Series

After two games, the Nashville Predators head back to Bridgestone Arena down two games to none to the Carolina Hurricanes. They’re looking much like a team that has been overwhelmed by their opponents for most of the season and less of a team who was looking to play spoiler and steal any sort of home-ice advantage. After looking at the first two games of this series, there’s definitely a lot of work that needs to be done.

Sluggish Defense

The first thing that struck me in the first two games was the fact that the Predators looked like they had cinder blocks on their skates. The team looked extremely slow and sluggish (or the fact that Carolina has some really fast skaters), and they also looked at times defeated, which really was apparent when the ‘Canes put in two late goals to seal Game 2’s 3-0 victory.

Juuse Saros Nashville Predators
Juuse Saros, Nashville Predators (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)

In order to get back into the series as it shifts to Nashville, the Predators need to improve upon moving on defense and cutting the flow of the Hurricanes offense. If they can get more physical and put more bodies on the opponents to slow them down, it cuts off Carolina’s timing with their passes. One thing about the Hurricanes is they thrive off their passing – Jordan Staal’s first goal in Game 1 and Sebastian Aho’s first goal in Game 2 were prime examples of Carolina’s passing coming into play. Nashville has to play better defense – they need to move more quickly and rotate with their timing. If they can do that, they can help goaltender Juuse Saros out a lot more than what they have been doing in the first two games.

Missed Power Play Opportunities

In the first two games in Raleigh, Nashville went 0-for-10 on the power play, including an abysmal 0-for-7 in Game 2. It was a repeat of what they went through at the start of the season with some missed opportunities when having the man advantage. At 5-on-5, this team played very well, and then when they had the man advantage, they could not get the puck into the zone, and Carolina was just able to get the puck out of the zone and clear. The lack of success in scoring power-play goals was the main killer in Game 2.

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When Nashville turned it around in the regular season, one of the catalysts was an improved power play. If they can capitalize at Bridgestone, they will be able to get back into this series pretty quickly. With one of the best crowds (if not the best) in the NHL, especially at playoff time, the Preds will get back into this series pretty easily.

Third Period Collapses

The final period has been a huge problem for Nashville. Through the first 40 minutes of Game 1, they were tied at 2-2 and had the momentum on their side until Nino Niederreiter scored the go-ahead goal for the Hurricanes, which was followed by two goals from Staal and Andrei Svechnikov. Then in Game 2, after Nashville played the relatively better game between the two teams, Aho and Warren Foegele sealed the 3-0 win. Nashville has been in both games, and just faltered in the end, and the score is not reflecting the whole game.

Roman Josi,Calle Jarnkrok
Nashville Predators Roman Josi and Calle Jarnkrok (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The Predators have to play better in the third period and not hang their heads – it shows in their body language that they are showing doubt. They have had flashes of showing they are the better team, and then when they go down, they don’t want to play anymore and then they end up making critical errors that put the game all the way out of reach. If they want to get back in the series, they need to bring intensity and heart.

Hard Luck

The last thing that has affected the Predators has just been some hard luck. Per Gentry Estes’ recap, the team has shown frustration in believing they were the better team and played a better Game 2, and still don’t have the win to show for it (from “Golden opportunity wasted by Nashville Predators in Game 2, and that’ll be tough to take”, The Tennessean, 20 May 2021). They ended up looking much better than in Game 1, when the Hurricanes were the much better team. One thing that was pointed out amongst my Predators’ colleagues here at THW was that Matt Duchene did not get much ice time, and if the lineups were the cause. It looked like it was fixed for a bit in Game 2 until the very end.

Now with a change in venue, will it be a different story? With a bigger crowd expected to come to Bridgestone for the next two games at 12,135 for 70% of the arena’s capacity, it will sound like a full house, and luck can definitely be on the Preds’ side to get back into the series (from “Predators to allow 70% fan attendance for playoffs”, Nashville Post, 11 May 2021).

Should the Predators correct these items, this series will definitely be longer. It’s not for a lack of effort – a lack of completeness and execution are what have them in this hole, but it’s correctable. It’ll be interesting to see if this will come to fruition on Friday night in Smashville.

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