Thursday, April 8, 2010

Predators Shrivel Under the Desert Heat

I had initially sat down to recap this game last night, but decided that maybe sleeping on it would soak up some of the bile.  I've been a hockey fan for most of my life, and I've seen enough ups and downs that I'm able to subdue some of the sky-is-falling inclinations that sometimes befall less battle-scarred fans. 

Unfortunately, this loss doesn't look any better, 8 hours later.

While there are more than enough facets of this game to pick out and apart, it's tough to get past the most concerning point of all:  the injury to top scorer Patric Hornqvist.  Hornqvist was injured like many before him, cut down by the unfriendly fire of a Shea Weber slapshot.  The damage might have been avoided, if not for two slashes from Phoenix defenseman Ed Jovonovski immediately prior to the shot, which caused Horns to fall directly into the blast.  Trotz was characteristically vague about the injury, using the nebulous "upper body" tag, and went on to say that the extent is unknown at this time, and that Hornqvist will be evaluated today.  An injury to Hornqvist is especially devastating not only because he's the Predators' top scorer, but because of the role he plays and the way he scores those goals.  Hornqvist is the type of player that makes those around him more successful.  Weber's pointshot becomes more dangerous with Hornqvist screening the goaltender.  His linemates are rewarded with assists, due to the garbage he's able to scoop in.  Without Hornqvist in the lineup, we simply don't have anyone that's willing to play in that danger zone in front of the goal, and we become what you saw from the point of his injury on:  a perimeter team.

While the Hornqvist injury was definitely the low point of the night, I'd be remiss not to mention some of the other frustrations experienced by the Preds in the loss.  The Coyotes' first two goals were "gifts," in the words of Coach Trotz.  Unfortunately, for all of our giving spirit, the Coyotes did not return Nashville's generosity. You couldn't help but have a good feeling about the night's prospects when the game began with a goal for Shea Weber just 12 seconds in (second fastest goal in franchise history, by the way), but due to an untimely\sluggish line change, Lauri Korpikoski was handed a wide-open breakaway just two minutes later, which he converted through the five-hole of Pekka Rinne.  The second Coyotes goal came in the second period, when Wojtek Wolski was allowed to slip undetected behind coverage.  Smithson was too far up ice to get back in time, and Hamhuis arrived too late to stop Wolski from making a nice move across the body of Rinne to complete the score.  The backbreaker was, of course, the Pyatt goal that would serve as the eventual game-winner.  Wolski drew coverage down into the left corner, leaving Ward to cover Pyatt between the circles.  Rather than "cover" Pyatt, he made a desperate attempt to disrupt the shot, which served to deflect it past Rinne.

Also filed under "ugly things we'd like to soon forget..."

Which is worse:  a minute of 5 on 3 that looked like a perimeter passing drill and resulted in ZERO shots, or the fact that after Phoenix scored the go-ahead goal with about 9 and a half minutes remaining in the game, the Predators registered only two shots? 

Apparently Jason Arnott returned last night.  I'll have to take their word for it; I didn't see him.

The Predators' loss coupled with Detroit's win pushes the Red Wings into a tie with Nashville at 98 points.  Contrary to what Pete and Terry stated in the postgame, the Red Wings are in fifth place for the time being, as they have a game in hand--the de facto first tiebreaker.  Should the Preds and Wings be tied at the end of the season, we would hold the first tiebreaker, which is wins.  Saturday's finale versus the Blues now becomes that much more pivotal.  With the Blackhawks' win last night, they have reclaimed the top spot in the west, which pushes the Sharks down into second.  With the Red Wings and Kings both nipping at the Predators' heels and with games in hand, a seventh place finish is not out of the realm of possibility.  This would of course play out the worst possible scenario in the minds of most Preds fans, including my own: ANOTHER first round matchup with the San Jose Sharks.

On that subject, I had hoped that we would sufficiently take care of business and that the Blackhawks would find a way to stay behind San Jose, so that writing the dreaded final installment of our prospective playofff opponents would become unnecessary, but it seems that fate has dealt us that unfortunate possibility.  Look for that update later today, after I've had sufficient time to brainstorm the "Reasons Why We Want to Play the Sharks" component. 

My chances of coming up with something of substance should roughly equal those of the Predators in the last half of the third period, last night.

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