I won’t be doing a Good, Bad, and Ugly for Game 4 because — let’s be honest — it was all ugly. The Predators did exactly zero good things, and it would be a compliment to call that performance bad. Instead, we’ll look ahead to Game 5 and discuss what the Predators need to do in order to regain some kind of pulse in this series after getting beaten to a bloody pulp in Dallas.
The Predators were able to get the split in Dallas, but make no mistake about it. Dallas was the superior team in both of those games. Pekka Rinne was just the far superior goaltender in Game 3. So, what went wrong? It was a pretty tight checking series in Nashville with both teams playing outstanding defense. As the series shifted to Dallas, the two teams went in opposite directions. The Preds’ defense parted like the Red Sea, and the Stars’ defense closed up like… well the Red Sea on the Egyptians pursuing the Israelites.
What happened was that we saw what we’ve seen from the 2018-19 Nashville Predators since the calendar flipped to December of 2018. This team, which has the potential to be great, has been average for any number of reasons. Average will get you smacked around in the playoffs, and that’s exactly what happened in Games 3 and 4, despite the win. A highly touted top four defense got pinned in their own zone and struggled to come up for air, especially the pairing of Ryan Ellis and Roman Josi. A forward group that has proven NHL talent up and down it couldn’t enter the offensive zone to save their lives. A power play that has reeked at historic levels all year continued to reek. A penalty kill that had carried the special teams burden for a while finally broke. The only one who did their job in Dallas was Pekka Rinne, and what the team did to him in Game 4 was borderline criminal. I’m pretty sure presenting an innocent man in front of a firing gallery like that violates the Geneva Convention.
This Predators team has appeared to be in cruise control for a while now, and that has carried over to the playoffs. That’s why we’ll see what this team is actually capable of in Game 5. It goes without saying that this is far and away the biggest game of the season, so the Predators can’t afford to sleepwalk through the first period.. or the second… or the third. I’m not saying the Preds should dominate the Stars for a full 60 minutes. That won’t happen against any team. But you just can’t get punked for 40-60 minutes like you did in Dallas. Most of this team went to the Stanley Cup Final in 2017. It won a President’s Trophy in 2017-18. It won the Central Division in 2018-19. Don’t get it twisted. This is a great team, but they just don’t look like it at times.
So what do we need to see from the Preds in Game 5, besides a win? For starters, the offense needs to do something. Anything. Since Mar. 1, the Predators have averaged 2.49 goals per game. The number of high-danger chances they have created in that time has tumbled, and that has gotten worse in the playoffs. Take a look at this shot chart from The Point.
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) April 19, 2019
That absolutely will not cut it. Dump-and-chase and getting caught up in board battles won’t do the trick. The top line, which was nearly unstoppable in the regular season, has to break through. The rest of the lineup, whatever it may look like, has to find a way to chip in and supplement that scoring. Stop the chip passes into the neutral zone. Keep the puck on the ice, and keep it moving from one stick to the next. Once they’re into the zone, somebody needs to get into the slot come hell or high water and *try* to create a dangerous scoring chance.
Of course, offense starts with great defense. And that would explain the Preds’ offensive struggles in this series. Nashville has been incapable of exiting the defensive zone with possession — or successfully exiting its own zone at all. Dallas has been aggressive on the forecheck and has pinched along the wall to keep the puck in the zone. The Predators have been flat-footed and careless with the puck, and that’s led to several quality chances for the Stars. Nashville has to be more prepared for Dallas’ aggressiveness in Game 5 because they weren’t in Games 3 and 4.
In terms of special teams, all I can say is stay the hell out of the box. At this point, I don’t expect the power play or the penalty kill to perform at a high level. Just be far more disciplined than you were in Games 2-4.
At the end of last season’s playoff game, this team went to David Poile and said that they wanted to stay together for one more run. They had unfinished business. If you’re going to do that, you have to perform in the postseason. Poile has put together the roster. Now it’s up to Laviolette and the players to get the job done in a big moment. The Preds’ “championship window” is right now, and the urgency needs to be ratcheted up one or two or 20 notches.
As for my own confidence level, my expectations for Game 5 are so low that you could trip over them if you’re not careful. If the Predators do anything positive, I will be pleasantly surprised. I don’t want to be that negative, but what reason has this team given me to believe that they will string together a strong 60-minute game on Saturday afternoon?
My own expectations aside, we’ll find out what this team is made of in Game 5.