Why Nashville Wins

by | Feb 27, 2024

Why Nashville Wins

by | Feb 27, 2024

Anaheim, CA – Nashville isn’t quite there, yet. Where? In the premier group of teams who will make the playoffs with reasonable expectations of a run. They did hold a wildcard spot as of Sunday evening and their game with the Ducks in SoCal, by two points over both St. Louis and Minnesota. St. Louis had a game in hand on them, though, so gaining a win over Anaheim would seem to have been advisable. And they did it, stretching their advantage. How’d they manage it?

They last played the night before against San Jose, a 4-2 win. Over their last ten games coming in, the Predators were 5-4-1, only marginally better than the Ducks’ 4-4-2. The Ducks last played the night before this game, a 2-1 shootout loss to the Kings.

A few observations are in order. First, about the Nashville power play. It’s lukewarm. They rank in the bottom half of the league, and it was apparent why versus the Ducks. It took most of the first minute of man advantage to get set up on the first PP. A later one, they passed it inaccurately around at their blueline, putting no pressure on Anaheim at all except for a late high wrist shot snared by goalie Lukas Dostal.

Second, about their ability to score. Beyond Filip Forsberg with his 27 goals (turned to 28 Sunday), nobody has broken 20, though defenseman Roman Josi, who is near the top of the tables in a number of categories for blueliners, has 42 assists to go with his 12 goals after he tallied Sunday. As a team, the Predators are sitting right above the halfway point in the league in Goals For. Same with Goals Against, actually. It’s hard to judge on one game, but it sure looks like the team is anxious for that one more pass near the net mouth, something California fans are familiar with from watching the Kings. That extra pass is oftentimes a bad idea.

Third, about their work ethic. No problems noted on this tack. Perhaps they could have taken a win against Anaheim as automatic, given the Ducks’ relative weakness in the talent department and the fact that they played a long and somewhat emotional game 22 hours prior to their meeting Sunday night. Nashville did not take anything for granted. They, too, after all, had played the night prior. But the bounces were going equally each way, and two periods brought only a goal apiece.

The Ducks have a few problems of their own. Tops on the list—taking stupid penalties. Radko Gudas is leading the charge here. He tripped a player early in period two Sunday evening. He high-sticked a guy while they were both lying on the ice, earning a penalty. He wrapped a guy up and took him into the boards in the defensive zone for no apparent reason, right in front of a referee. Penalty number three, none of which passed muster with the “Did it prevent a scoring chance?” test. This is just a lack of discipline. All happened in the second period.

Period three began tied at ones in goals and in shots at twenty for each side. Before halfway, it was 3-1 Nashville. The first goal was a long wrister that should not have eluded Dostal. The second one was pure work. The Ducks monkeyed around with the puck behind their net, letting Nashville storm in and take hold of it. They played with it in the Anaheim zone for a long time, and eventually a slapper from the point was swept in by Michael McCarron, for whom the cage was a yawning, empty hole.

Coach Andrew Brunette described the scene in the locker room before the third period: “The message was, it’s going to be hard, and for us, it’s do we want it more or do they? I think the team that wanted it a little bit more got it in the third period. It was a great test for the group, and they responded, and obviously they [his guys] wanted it a little bit more.”

So in the end, it was excellent goaltending and a solid fourth-line performance led by McCarron, whose goal was the winner, that did the trick for Nashville. McCarron was generous with his comments after the game. “That was a hard road trip. We really rallied around each other after that big loss at home. Ruffled some feathers in the room, and we really answered that,” he said.

Nashville came away with five games out of five during the road trip. McCarron credited the tenacity of the team, hearkening back to an earlier point in this story, for the success. “We wear down teams, and by the third period, they really don’t want to go back for pucks. It’s really annoying when you’ve got guys in your ear, on your back all game. I think we were able to do a pretty good job of that on this whole road trip. It feels good [for his line] to help our team win.” He said that the Preds have proved a lot of people wrong with their success and potential playoff participation.

Goalie Kevin Lankinen said that the road trip was “a good wake-up call for us. Kind of realized what we need to do to be a winning team, just a huge, huge week for us playing some tough opponents on the road, so the boys are feeling good, but still being humble and keeping working on it.”


The Ducks play away in San Jose this week and then return for several games at home. Nashville faces five games at home, where they have struggled at times this year.

Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association and the author of Growing Up Hockey, among other titles.

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