Nashville Predators fans were still somewhat hopeful heading into a two-game series against the Florida Panthers this past week, but following a pair of losses, that hope seems to be evaporating. Both losses were concerning for a myriad of reasons and put the Predators in a deep hole in the standings, now buried at sixth in the Discover Central Division with 20 points on the season through 24 games.
With losses of 5-4 and 6-2, many of the Predators’ major issues were on full display, highlighted by the three key takeaways outlined below.
Predators Can’t Play a Full 60 Minutes
The most glaringly obvious aspect of the series against Florida was Nashville’s inability to string together a full 60-minute performance. For most of the season, they’ve looked sleepy and apathetic through many starts, only to wake up in the third period. Believe it or not, as of the writing of this column, the Predators are tied for the league lead with 31 goals in the third period.
Thursday’s series opener was much of the same for the hometown Predators, who scored twice in the second and twice in the third to pull within one of Florida in the 5-4 loss. This has been a bad trend all season, as they have been outscored 56-23 in the first two periods on the season. The third period looked better, as the Predators mounted a bit of a comeback, which looked even more promising when Ryan Johansen finally scored his first of the season with 1:13 left, but the Panthers managed to hold on from there to keep their lead intact.
Then the Predators came out firing on all cylinders on Saturday, registering the first 10 shots of the game and holding Florida to none through 10 minutes. From there on out, however, things rapidly deteriorated, as they gave up four consecutive goals and only recorded six shots in the second period en route to an embarrassing 6-2 loss. As a result, most people who watch the Predators now ask not if, but ask when a game is about to fall apart for them.
Bad starts to periods are also of great concern for the Predators, who allowed early second period goals to Jonathan Huberdeau in both games, and looked extremely flat from top to bottom for large portions of both games. The complete game is something that has eluded Nashville all season, but the series against Florida was a prime showcase of their inability to play more than a good period of hockey in the same game.
Predators Cannot Play Defence
I am not even going to mention any individual names here because from top line to fourth line, first pair to sixth defenceman, the Predators have been very porous defensively. Aside from the aforementioned opening 10 minutes of the second Florida game, the Predators have routinely looked like spectators in their own end, leaving whoever is in net out to dry.
Whether it is watching a rebound sit in the crease for an opponent to bury, or watching cross-seam passes float by them, the Predators as a whole were a trainwreck defensively. Especially against a top-10 offence like Florida’s, one would think the Predators would tighten up defensively or have a little more emphasis on defensive zone habits, but that was clearly not the case prior to the two Florida games.
Leaving a potent goal scorer like Huberdeau all alone with a long time to make multiple moves in tight is not an ideal way to play defence. In addition, allowing Noel Acciari to score his first three goals of the season in the same game is not a good look, either. Nashville’s best defenders have to start looking like that soon or this season will get away even more than it already has, especially with matchups against the high-flying Carolina Hurricanes and Tampa Bay Lightning, currently seventh and eighth respectively in league scoring.
This is of particular concern considering the strength of this Predators’ lineup is supposed to be its blue line depth and defensive abilities. Neither of these look remotely close to being a strength right now, and the goaltending has not been consistent enough to bail out poor defensive mistakes as has been the case in past seasons.
Forsberg Is the Only Consistent Positive
Filip Forsberg is now operating on a point-per-game average, with a goal and four assists in the two games. With 10 goals and 24 points in 24 games, he is officially the only good and consistent aspect of the Predators’ lineup. With a team-leading 95 shots on goal, he is not only consistently producing but constantly looking to produce.
With points in six of his last eight games, and six multi-point games on the season, Forsberg has been the one shining light in the roster from an offensive perspective, but has also made some impressive defensive plays in a back-checking role as well. Even though the season is not yet halfway through, Forsberg is already cementing himself as the team’s Most Valuable Player, and it’s not even close.
Honourable Mention: Ekblad for Norris?
I know this is a Predators-oriented piece, but I couldn’t go an entire column without mentioning how outstanding Aaron Ekblad is. I haven’t seen too many Panthers games this year, but watching him completely obliterate the entire Predators’ roster in two games and seeing where he is in terms of numbers, I have to think Ekblad is making a serious push to be a Norris Trophy candidate.
At first glance, his numbers may not jump off the page, but he is currently leading all blueliners in goals with nine, five of which have been on the power play and two of which have been game-winners. In addition, he was easily Florida’s best player in the defensive zone through both matchups with the Predators as well, and when paired with his three goals and three assists in the two games, it made him the standout player in the series. I will be watching the rest of his season with great curiosity to see if he maintains that level of play on both ends of the ice.
The Predators had many issues showcased in the two-game series against Florida, and the road ahead does not get any easier. Eight of their next 10 games are against the four teams currently holding down playoff positions in the Central Division, and all eight of those matchups are on the road. If the Predators are to cling to any kind of playoff-related hope, they will need to fix the issues plaguing them in a hurry and come out of this long road-based set of series with a positive record.
Wray has been an NHL fan long enough to remember when Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne were linemates, as well as when Colorado and Detroit had a brutal rivalry.
Wray has seven years’ experience serving as the Sports Writer for Mount Allison University’s student newspaper, The Argosy, as well as two years as the Sackville Tribune-Post’s student reporter. After covering football, basketball, and hockey at the university level, Wray worked for four years with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks in a behind-the-scenes capacity, and while currently living in New Brunswick (Canada), is doing lots of writing and podcasting for various topics, including CFL football, movies and television.