[Originally posted on PredNation.com 4/23/07]
To begin, I must congratulate the San Jose Sharks on a well played series. I obviously felt that Nashville would win this series in six games going in, but San Jose played a much better overall game and capitalized on their chances. They played a disciplined game, worked very hard, played an aggressive forecheck, and then used their size to finish the series. The series was much more evenly matched than last year, but that didn’t affect the final results- Nashville eliminated in five games, losing twice at home in the process.
After a painful loss like this, it’s only natural to search for all of the possible answers to the question “why?”. I have admittedly walked away from all of the message forums and articles (both online and in print) until today- a cooling off period so to speak. On the morning of the third day following the loss, I felt I had to get back on track and put my keyboard to electronic document. As I begin the day, the guys on sports radio talk try to address that issues involved with the latest failure to push hockey into the month of May. I felt that they hit on some things and missed on others. They also mentioned Leipold’s reference to injuries in the newspaper. Please see my earlier article regarding my feelings on our injuries- this team was more than capable of accomplishing their goals with their current roster.
So, what did ail the Predators? As much as the NHL has the worst group of officials and league office of any professional sport (which I will address in my next article discussing the NHL in general this Friday), the fans that believe that the officials handed this game to the Sharks are completely off base (although I must confess that I laughed a lot when the 3 foot stuffed shark, complete with referee apparel, hit the ice late in Game 5). The vast majority of the penalties taken by the Predators were legitimate and undisciplined. How a team expects to survive when they are forced to kill three five minute major penalties in five games is beyond me. The Radulov penalty is the only forgivable penalty since it could be chalked up to youthful exuberance. The Hartnell and Nichol penalties, however, were stupid penalties committed by veteran players. Both players have tremendous assets they bring to the ice, but both can also take stupidity to its highest levels.
Our newly found, for this year, lack of discipline was certainly the leading problem the Predators had on the ice against San Jose. Our PP, however, has been a problem all year long. This team, even during the toughest injury stretch, could always ice two talented PP lineups personnel-wise. It took more than half of the year before we saw any change whatsoever in our PP lineup (with Zidlicky moving to the second team). The strategy, regardless of personnel or formation, has really not changed all year. With no contracts for next year as of yet, and the early exit for three straight seasons, it makes sense to question whether it’s time to move on to a different coaching staff. I honestly haven’t gathered all my thoughts and formed any opinions yet with one exception- Peter Horachek. There is no excuse for the dismal performance of this PP for the entire year. This team should have averaged better than 20% easily, and this poor performance reflects squarely on the coach responsible for the PP schemes and personnel- Coach Horachek.
Lack of discipline? Check. PP futility? Check. Manhandled? I’ll come back to that one. Hustle and Awareness? Ah, yes. How many times did we see a Predator in the defensive zone stand and wait on the puck to come around the boards instead of moving to the puck? How many times did we see them do that (with their back to the blueline) and then either weakly push the puck back to the blueline or out to center expecting a teammate to either clear or start a rush? The answer is we saw both way too often. How many times was the puck not cleared? Again, way too often. At best, those plays show a lack of understanding of the type of hockey needed to win. At worst, and more likely, those plays show laziness and sloppy play that leads to turnovers and fatigued play. While the Predators have gotten more skilled over the years, they used to be known as a team that would outwork the other team. In the regular season, you can win with sloppy play. In the playoffs, it begins with hard work and hustle. Fail, and you can’t win regardless of the skill level you have. Combine a lack of hard work with a lack of discipline and you become an embarrassment on the ice.
We’ll close this series analysis by looking at the physical play and the Predators inability to handle it. The truth of this series was that Nashville had a difficult time separating a San Jose player from the puck. The problem comes from trying to assess why. In general San Jose has a bigger lineup, and that definitely exacerbated the problem. If two teams are equal in all ways (speed, offense, defense, hard work, penalties, etc.) except size, I would favor the bigger team. However, the team with the biggest players is hardly guaranteed the Stanley Cup. Ask San Jose in prior years, Calgary, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Edmonton, Buffalo, etc. To me, it begins with discipline and hard work. If you spend substantially more time killing penalties in every game than your opponent, then you’re going to get fatigued, and regardless of size, when a player is tired they will get beat on the ice. Similarly, if you can’t work at least as hard as your opponent and you continually get beat to the puck or make sloppy plays, you can’t beat anyone. A bigger team certainly has some advantages, but I feel our lack of discipline and hard work set us up to fail and exacerbated San Jose’s size advantage- not the other way around.
I will close this article by thanking everyone that has supported PredNation.com. The opportunity provided to me in the form of PredNation.com has been one that I’ve enjoyed. I can’t thank Jay, John, and Ray enough for welcoming me to PredNation.com this year and providing the opportunity to express my opinions and passions.
I am planning two additional articles: The State of the NHL (this Friday), and the State of the Predators (next week). After those articles, I will probably take a break until the beginning of free agency.
David Singleton ([email protected]
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