Predators Prowl: Season-Long Road Trip Finally Ends

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

This week, the Predators’ season-long six-game road trip finally came to end with a blowout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. But more on that in a bit. The road trip consisted of two back-to-backs, including one this week against the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets. On the surface, the road trip was successful with a 3-1-2 record and they collected eight out of a possible 12 points. However, three games went to overtime with two ending in defeat. Although the trip started great, the team came back down to earth over the past week.

The week started with a 4-3 overtime win over the Blackhawks in which the Predators controlled play, especially in five-on-five scoring chances. They even scored on the power play, but special teams’ play is something that will also be covered later. Filip Forsberg scored two goals, one on the man advantage and the beautiful game-winner in overtime.

Pekka Rinne was average in net and stopped 28 of 31 shots, including 10 of 11 medium-danger shots and four of six at high-danger. What’s interesting is that 16 of the even strength shots Rinne faced originated from his left while two of Chicago’s three power play shots were taken from his right.

Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi were on the ice for all three Blackhawk goals. In particular, Josi stood out in a negative manner on Jonathan Toews’ shorthanded goal. On that play, Josi over-committed twice, once on the pass from Toews to Marcus Kruger and again on Toews’ shot. On Chicago’s third goal, scored by Artem Anisimov, nobody covered him, which allowed him to glide into the low slot and snipe the puck past Rinne.

On a positive note, the Predators controlled the three-on-three overtime from the puck drop and allowed Forsberg the opportunity to score a masterful goal a minute into the extra frame. Another positive was that Mattias Ekholm continued his great play with two points and was on the ice for three of Nashville’s four goals.

The next night, the Predators were in Columbus to face the Blue Jackets. Juuse Saros was expected to get the start in net but went down with an illness and Rinne made a second-straight start. The Predators once again controlled play, including a 14 to 9 advantage in five-on-five high-danger chances. Despite this, they were down 1-0 after the first period and down 3-1 with under seven minutes to play in the third.

Pekka Rinne Predators
Rinne got the start in net for the second night in a row and struggled against the Blue Jackets. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Goals from Viktor Arvidsson and Ekholm within 38 seconds of each other forced overtime before an Artemi Panarin power-play goal made it 4-3 to end the game. Ekholm continued his strong play with another multi-point effort. Rinne looked tired in the game as he had a sub-.900 save percentage (SV%) and gave up two power play goals on two shots. But he also received little help from his defense.

A loose puck was kicked through Ekholm’s skates from the corner and onto Boone Jenner’s stick for Columbus’ first goal. On the Blue Jackets’ second goal, and their first on the man advantage, a Columbus player was allowed to park in front of the net and Josi provided an additional screen for Rinne.

Just 11 seconds later, the Blue Jackets scored again, this time the result of Rinne being slow to get back in net and P.K. Subban falling on his backcheck, which allowed Jenner to be alone in the low slot. Finally, on the overtime winner, Panarin scored a beautiful goal that was more the result of his talent than it was a failure by Nashville’s penalty kill. Afterwards, the Predators had two off-days, enough to return to Nashville and get a practice in before traveling to Raleigh to face the Hurricanes.

A Debacle in Raleigh

On Sunday, Jan. 13, the Predators suffered one of their worst losses of the season, a 6-3 drubbing to the Hurricanes. The Predators never really had a chance in this one as they were down 2-0 after the first period and Rinne was pulled midway through the second after the Hurricanes scored three straight goals to make it 5-1. Blame it on being an 11:30 am start (relative to the Central Time Zone), on goaltending, even on the team underestimating the Hurricanes, but the truth is that it took the entire team to lose that badly.

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Rocco Grimaldi
The Predators suffered one of their worst losses of the season Sunday against the Hurricanes. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

The six goals allowed by the Predators tie for the most they’ve given up this season. They were outshot 23-34 and the resulting 40.4 shots for percentage was their second-lowest of the season. The same holds true in control of five-on-five scoring chances, of which the Predators had a 10-20 disadvantage, or 33.3 percent, also second-lowest in 2018-19.

Rinne was not good in net as he stopped 15 of 20 shots for a .750 SV% and just six of eight medium-danger shots and six of nine high-danger shots. Saros relieved Rinne in the second period and stopped all 13 shots, including each of the eight medium or high-danger shots he faced. But poor goaltending from Rinne wasn’t the only culprit for the loss.

The Predators allowed 15 unblocked even strength shots while they attempted six. In special teams situations, it was a similar story as the Hurricanes had six unblocked shot attempts from the low slot while the Predators had three of their own.

Carolina Hurricanes, Nashville Predators
Shot chart for unblocked even strength shot attempts by the Hurricanes. Notice the concentration in the low slot, including the red markers which indicate goals. (Created by Micah Blake McCurdy at

Ellis and Josi were on the ice for all three of Carolina’s even strength goals and Josi was directly responsible for the game’s opening goal which was scored on a Sebastian Aho breakaway. Entering the offensive zone, Josi attempted to pass the puck to an open Calle Järnkrok, which was the right decision. However, the pass was behind Järnkrok and deflected off his skate and directly onto Aho’s stick. Josi, in an attempt to backcheck, tripped over the skate of the linesman, who was at the blue line, which resulted in Aho having an even more clean breakaway.

Nashville Predators, Carolina Hurricanes
Shot chart that shows the Predators’ unblocked even strength attempts against the Hurricanes. Notice the absence of a shot pattern and that the majority of shots were taken from low-danger areas. (Created by Micah Blake McCurdy at

On the Hurricanes’ second goal, the Predators allowed too easy of a zone entry and Saku Mäenalanen was left alone in the slot after Phillip Di Giuseppe failed to cover his man. The puck arrived on Mäenalanen’s stick and he placed an accurate shot over Rinne’s shoulder. The third goal occurred on the power play and was the result of Nashville’s penalty kill over-committing to the puck side of the ice.

The fourth goal was a two-on-one between Lucas Wallmark and Jordan Martinook. Josi generally made the right read as he attempted to play the pass. However, Wallmark made Rinne look silly and scored to make it 4-1. On the fifth goal, another power-play tally, an Aho point shot was blocked by Austin Watson, resulting in the puck pinballing around the offensive zone before going off Justin Williams’ stick and into the net.

Ultimately a lack of effort from Predators’ penalty killers allowed that goal to occur. Aho finished off his hat trick with a shorthanded empty-netter to make the game 6-3. The lack of effort in general is what caused this blowout and hopefully Peter Laviolette and his coaching staff can get the team back on track. Although the game was rough for the Predators, I learned that the Hurricanes are a fun team to watch and there is something special going on in Carolina.

Special Teams Blew It

But the biggest issue from the game against the Hurricanes and throughout the past week was a failure on special teams. Even earlier in the season, when the power play struggled, the penalty kill still succeeded. That wasn’t the case in their three most recent games.

Peter Laviolette, Nashville Predators
Peter Laviolette and his coaching staff have to work on the team’s struggling power play and penalty kill units. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

In those games, they scored one goal on 11 power play opportunities for a conversion rate of 9.1 percent. Meanwhile, their penalty kill succeeded on four of nine times shorthanded, or 44.4 percent. In the three games, their power play went one-for-two, zero-for-two and zero-for-five and their penalty kill went one-for-two, zero-for-two and three-for five. As a result, their power play now ranks 26th in the league at 14.7 percent and their penalty kill is 17th at 79.6 percent for the season.

Something has to change with both units. On the man advantage, they struggle to cleanly enter the offensive zone and often rely on dumping the puck around the boards to gain possession. However, this often leads to them giving up possession, negating an opportunity to create a scoring chance. I’ve long been arguing that they need to use four forwards and one defenseman as opposed to using two blueliners. Perhaps they currently don’t have the personnel to make that happen, but something needs to be altered.

Related: Predicting Predators’ 2019 Storylines

On the penalty kill, they struggle to cover the open man and often allow clean shooting lanes from the low slot and fail to defend cross-seam passes. In recent games, I’ve noticed them over-committing to the puck side of the ice, which works as long as the puck is on that side. However, this is the NHL and opposing power plays recognize the open man on the opposite side and take advantage of the aggressive penalty kill. It’s something they’ll want to fix with the Washington Capitals and Winnipeg Jets rolling into Nashville in the next two games.

Washington Capitals Alex Ovechkin
With Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals coming to Nashville, the Predators’ penalty kill will have to be better. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

News, Top Performers and the Week Ahead

Following the game against the Hurricanes, the Predators waived Di Giuseppe. I’m uncertain if this decision was the direct result of his lackluster defensive play, but it likely didn’t help things. He has since cleared waivers. Ekholm had four consecutive multi-point games to tie a franchise record for defensemen before being held off the scoresheet against Carolina.

Related: Predators’ Ekholm Deserves Norris Consideration

Top Performers

  • Roman Josi – 4 assists, played at least 25 minutes in two of three games
  • Ryan Johansen – 4 assists
  • Filip Forsberg – 4 goals, including 1 power-play goal, 1 shorthanded goal and 1 game-winning goal
  • Mattias Ekholm – 1 goal, 3 assists

The Week Ahead

  • Jan. 15 vs. Washington Capitals
  • Jan. 17 vs. Winnipeg Jets
  • Jan. 19 vs. Florida Panthers
  • Jan. 21 at Colorado Avalanche

*All stats from Hockey-Reference, Natural Stat Trick, Hockey Viz and Corsica Hockey