Predators Prowl: P.K. Loses Subban Brother Battle

The Predators Prowl is a weekly post on how the Nashville Predators performed the previous week. Generally published on Tuesdays, Predators Prowl isn’t a recap of games, but rather a look at the themes, news and rumors that occurred throughout the week. Let me know in the comments below your thoughts on how the team performed this week, your views on the week’s themes and any other ideas or questions you have about the team.

Related: Last Week’s Predators Prowl

In the last Predators Prowl prior to the Feb. 25 Trade Deadline, I cover the Predators’ struggles. They dropped two of their three games this week, both in regulation, and have now lost four of their past five games. Yes, it’s the dog days of the season, and yes, they’re comfortably in a playoff position, but their downward trend is becoming alarming.

They may only be three points behind the Winnipeg Jets for the Central Division lead, and luckily, the Jets haven’t been playing well either, but the Jets do have two games in hand on the Predators. Then there are the red hot St. Louis Blues that are six points behind Nashville but have three games in hand.

Some of the reasons for the Predators’ struggles include the fact that they’re a one-line team most games, their blue line isn’t performing up to expectations, offensively or defensively, and inconsistent play game-to-game could be their downfall come playoff-time. All of these elements have to be at the forefront of general manager David Poile’s mind with the trade deadline less than a week away.

David Poile, Nashville Predators, Jimmy Vesey
David Poile will have several issues to address at this season’s trade deadline. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

This week, the Predators had up-and-down performances at home against the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens, going 1-1 in the games. They followed that up with a tough road loss against the Vegas Golden Knights as P.K. Subban was bested by his younger brother Malcolm in net.

Mixed Results at Home

The Predators began the week with a home matchup against the Red Wings, a team tied for second-last in the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings haven’t qualified for the postseason since 2015-16 and in the three seasons since, the Predators were 1-3-1 against Detroit entering the Feb. 12 matchup. All games were decided by two or fewer goals and the Predators were outshot in four of five games.

In the most recent encounter, the two teams once again played a tightly-contested game, which resulted in a 3-2 score, but also once again, the Predators were on the losing end of the score. The Predators outshot the Red Wings 34-27, including 24-18 at five-on-five, created 14 high-danger chances and even scored a power-play goal thanks to Subban, but it was all for naught. Detroit netminder Jimmy Howard was strong in net, only allowing a power-play goal that skipped in past Howard as Brian Boyle provided a screen, and a wicked slap shot from Viktor Arvidsson that beat Howard blocker side.

It was another game in which the Predators played down to their competition. Against teams not currently in a playoff position, they have a points percentage equal to or less than 50 against eight of them. For a team with Stanley Cup aspirations like the Predators, defeating beatable teams is a mark of a good team, and a requirement to ensure a high playoff seed.

Two nights later, they hosted former Predator Shea Weber and the Canadiens, currently a playoff team. Defenseman Mattias Ekholm missed the game due to illness, but his absence didn’t show up on the scoreboard. The game was scoreless over halfway through until Ryan Hartman netted the first goal.

Tomas Tatar tied it up 5:26 into the third, but two goals from the Predators, including Boyle’s first as a Predator, gave them the victory. The Predators may have outshot the Canadiens 38-25 in the game, but Montreal controlled play in the second period by way of a 14-shot advantage.

Ultimately, Pekka Rinne stood tall in net, the Predators peppered Carey Price with shots from all over the offensive zone and Subban added a helper to beat his former team 3-1. All-in-all, it was a strong performance against a quality team and set the stage for a road battle with the Golden Knights two nights later.

Going Broke in Vegas

The Predators entered this game looking for a season sweep against the reigning Western Conference champions, having beaten Vegas in both matchups earlier in the season. It was also the second time this season that the Subban brothers faced each other as Malcolm got the start in net after losing the first matchup. This time, there were different results.

Vegas Golden Knights goalie Malcolm Subban
Malcolm Subban faced older brother P.K. and the Predators on Feb. 16. (Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports)

The Predators lost this game 5-1, were outshot 50-30, gave up a power-play goal and failed to generate any high-danger chances on their three power-play opportunities. Despite the results, the first period was close as the teams exchanged chances. The Predators were even rewarded with the game’s first goal when Colton Sissons scored with five minutes left. However, Vegas successfully challenged on the basis of offside and the goal was overturned. Just over two minutes later, Max Pacioretty poked home a puck that appeared to have been covered to give Vegas a one-goal lead.

It could have been the overturned goal or the questionable Vegas goal, but the Predators came out flat in the second period. The Golden Knights put 24 shots on Juuse Saros in the period, compared to the Predators’ seven, and controlled high-danger chances 10-1. Still, Saros stood on his head and turned aside all but a power-play tally from Brendan Pirri. The Predators regained their footing in the third period in terms of momentum (11-9 shot advantage), but the Golden Knights managed to get three past Saros. Kevin Fiala scored a goal in the period for the Predators’ lone tally.

In total, it was an embarrassing performance by Nashville. Saros faced a siege all night, with an average shot distance of 30.4 feet, compared to a 35.6-foot average for the season. He may have allowed five goals, but that was fewer than the 5.5 goals he was expected to allow given the quality of chances he faced. Meanwhile, the Predators didn’t challenge Subban much with an average shot distance of 40 feet and were only expected to score two goals in the game.

Juuse Saros, Malcolm Subban
Charts locations for shots faced by Juuse Saros (left) and Malcolm Subban (right) in the Feb. 16 matchup between the Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights. (Courtesy of Sean Tierney @ChartingHockey).

In total, it wasn’t a good week for the Predators. Their offense has been anemic apart from the top line and the occasional depth goal, and their defense is allowing far too many chances. Rinne and Saros stood on their heads, but they can only do so much. Luckily, the trade deadline hasn’t passed yet, which gives Poile the chance to add some much-needed help, but some of the issues won’t be addressed via trade acquisition. There’s an effort problem that needs fixed, and that starts by looking internally.

Will the Trade Deadline Address Issues?

The Predators have been connected to everyone from Matt Duchene and Wayne Simmonds to Artemi Panarin and Kevin Hayes. While they won’t acquire all four of those players, it seems one thing is certain: they’re going to add a forward. It’s an area of the roster that needs addressed as they have turned into a one-line team, and when one of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen and Arvidsson doesn’t score, the Predators struggle to generate enough offense. If the team has visions of making a deep playoff run, and ultimately winning a Stanley Cup, they’ll need offense from every line.

Related: Predators’ Trade Deadline Strategies

News, Top Performers and the Week Ahead

  • Fiala played in his 200th career regular-season game against the Canadiens
  • Rinne won his 20th game of the season against the Canadiens. That gives him nine seasons with at least 20 wins, fourth-most among active netminders.

Top Performers

  • Ryan Johansen – 3 assists
  • Viktor Arvidsson – 2 goals
  • P.K. Subban – 1 goal, 1 assist
  • Pekka Rinne – 2 games, 1-1-0, .935 save percentage, 2.02 goals-against average

The Week Ahead

  • Feb. 19 – at Dallas Stars
  • Feb. 21 – vs. Los Angeles Kings
  • Feb. 23 – vs. Colorado Avalanche
  • Feb. 25 – vs. Edmonton Oilers

All stats from Hockey-Reference and Natural Stat Trick