The morning after: Predators, on the brink of elimination, need fast starts moving forward
After taking Game 3 of their Western Conference Semifinal series against the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night, Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz decided to stick with the same lineup in Game 4 as the team looked to even their series on Friday night at Bridgestone Arena.
While the team got another solid goaltending performance from Pekka Rinne in nets and were able to limit the Coyotes scoring chances throughout the night, the Coyotes took the lead late in the 1st period and relied on Mike Smith and a no-goal call down the stretch to win Game 4 by a 1-0 final, taking the series back to Phoenix for Game 5 on Monday night looking to eliminate Nashville and move on to the Western Conference Finals.
Slow Start - Getting off to a quick start and establishing their forecheck early was a key to success for the Predators in Game 3 that they hoped to replicate on Friday night. Having to go on the penalty kill just 1:30 into the game was not what they wanted to do and gave Phoenix early momentum in the contest.
Nashville killed Jordin Tootoo’s interference minor in the opening minutes of the game, but the power play gave the Coyotes a chance to settle into their game early and proceeded to open up the ice with their pressure and counterattacking style to generate scoring chances in a wide open stretch following the power play.
The Coyotes got on the board first for the third time in the series late in the 1st period when Shane Doan applied pressure in on the forecheck against Hal Gill knocking him down and creating a turnover to Mikkel Boedker along the boards to Rinne’s left and proceeded to head to the net where he got a return feed from Boedker and threw a backhanded shot on Rinne that deflected off the shaft of Roman Josi’s stick and into the back of the net giving Phoenix a 1-0 lead at the 14:25 mark of the 1st period.
In the the playoffs, the Predators are 5-0 when scoring the first goal of the game and 0-4 when allowing it. For the season, Nashville is 40-3-4 when scoring the first goal of the game. Especially without Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn in the lineup on Friday night, the Predators could not fall behind.
Power Play Struggles – While the Predators power play came to life earlier in the series at Phoenix after struggling in the opening series against Detroit, Nashville’s power play continued to be unable to score at Bridgestone Arena in the postseason going 0 for 3 on Friday night to extend their scoreless streak to 0 for 23 in Nashville during the postseason.
The Predators got a prime chance to take the early lead at the 6:39 mark of the 1st period when Rostislav Klesla viciously checked Matt Halischuk head first into the boards in front of the Phoenix bench. Despite Halischuk having to leave the game to be checked out in the locker room, Klesla caught a break as the referees huddled at center ice, but only decided to give Klesla a minor penalty.
Derek Morris gave the Predators another opportunity late in the 3rd period when he sailed a long stretch pass over the glass from the defensive zone earning a delay of game minor.Phoenix did a good job taking away the points on the penalty kill and frustrated the Nashville power play keeping them to the outside when they had possession waiting till there was an opportunity to outnumber and challenge the puck carrier to get their clear. In order for the Predators to earn another home game in this series, the power play must come to life again in Game 5 as the series heads back to Phoenix.
Intent to Blow – For the fourth time during their playoff run and the third time in this series, the Predators had a goal waved off when referee Dan O’Halloran determined Mike Smith had control of the puck in the crease and blew the play dead with 7:12 remaining in the 3rd period, but on the other side of the crease, Smith never had the puck covered during the scramble and Patric Hornqvist pushed the rebound into the net thinking he had tied the game.The NHL’s situation room monitoring every game and responsible for replays initiated a replay on the play, but ultimately it is up to the referee’s discretion as to when the play is dead and that can not be overturned on replay.
While there was confusion after the game during Trotz’s post-game press conference when he said he was relayed the message that the goal was disallowed by O’Halloran because Hornqvist pushed Smith into the net, that too is a call that is up to the referee’s discretion and cannot be overturned on replay.
For the second straight game with the opportunity to provide the crowd and television viewers around the globe with the explanation of why the goal was disallowed, O’Halloran failed to provide a reason during his address to the crowd simply stating the call on the ice stood after review and no goal would be rewarded on the play.
Faceoff Struggles? - For the game, the Predators beat the Coyotes in the faceoff circle 30-29 (51%), but down the stretch as the team looked to tie up the score late in the 3rd period, Boyd Gordon frustrated Nashville in the dot winning 9 of his 13 defensive zone draws to not allow the Predators to establish possession deep in the Phoenix end. Paul Gaustad (1-1 against Gordon) and Nick Spaling (3-1 against Gordon) were the only two Predators to win over 50% of their faceoffs on the night, but sat on the bench watching late in the game as Trotz decided to go with David Legwand (3-5 against Gordon, 10-11 (48%) on the night), Mike Fisher (2-2 against Gordon, 5-6 (45%) for the game), and Martin Erat (0-3 in the game all against Gordon) for the offensive zone faceoffs choosing to put his best offensive players out for the draws.
Faceoffs have continued to be a sore point for the Predators in this series with Phoenix. While the team has shored up their defensive coverage off of faceoffs during the series, they continue to struggle in the offensive end putting the Predators on defense off the draw and needing to create a turnover before going on the attack.
Lineup Decisions – It is easy to second guess Barry Trotz’s decision to stick with the same lineup for Game 4 sitting out Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn again after they served a suspension for violating team rules. The Predators fell behind early, the power play struggled, and the 4th line featuring the replacements for his two offensive players failed to provide any impact against the Coyotes as the team looked to come back.Trotz made a tough decision in a “no win” situation facing the choice of rewarding his players for coming together as a team to win Game 3 with a total team effort by sticking with the same lineup or taking out two core players that made the best of their opportunity to help the team filling in for a pair of players that were added to the team late in the year and were unavailable to the team for Game 3 due to undisciplined selfish behavior prior to Game 2.
Jordin Tootoo took an undisciplined penalty to start the game interfering with a Coyotes forward as the Predators looked to move the puck up ice and Matt Halischuk wasn’t effective after getting thrown violently into the boards for the second straight game. Look for them to come out of the lineup as the series shifts back to Phoenix for Game 5 on Monday night.