by Forechecker on 11/11/08 at 01:27 PM ET
Yesterday, Brandon Felder over at Hockeybuzz cautiously raised the specter of whether “fire the coach!” needs to be the question of the day in Nashville, and while I don’t believe that’s even close to being in the cards at this point, he does draw attention to serious concerns that are plaguing Predators fans. Tonight, the team staggers into Shark-infested San Jose, on the heels of three straight losses to open their current road trip.
First, the ability of this team to adjust their play over time is a glaring problem thus far. After an opening series of six games that included chronic defensive zone mishaps, the team had five full days before the next home game against Calgary, the perfect opportunity to have a series of practice sessions to address those flaws. Coming out of that break, however, they dropped an awful 5-3 home loss to the Flames, in which they gave up a 3-0 lead in slapdash fashion, and nearly did the same two nights later in a 5-4 victory over the Kings. The Goals Against average was 3.67 before that Calgary game, and has been 3.5 since then.
The bottom line is, we still haven’t seen a solid defensive effort out of this team, which is supposedly built for that type of game. Saturday night’s 1-0 loss in Colorado came close, as Dan Ellis stood tall in goal and backcheckers did a better job locking things down, but a sequence of sloppy penalties (9 minors in total, including 4 in the 3rd period) kept the team from gaining any momentum. The Avalanche also put three shots off the goalpost, and this could just as easily have been a 4-0 loss like the one in Vancouver last week.
Secondly, the roster juggling appears to have reached an all-time high. Kevin Klein and Ville Koistinen alternate just about every game, and the forward lines are in constant turmoil, due to more than just injury. Barry Trotz has, out of neccessity, given role players an opportunity alongside Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont on the top line, but they often last less than a period before things get shuffled around again. Everyone understands that players need to be prepared to take on different responsibilities, but constant line changes like this undermine team chemistry.
Basically, what we’re seeing so far looks like an extension of the pre-season. Players are auditioning for parts, and Trotz is pushing all the buttons to find a combination that seems to click. Instead of being ready to compete right from Game One, it appears that the Predators are still trying to figure out what they’ve got to work with.
That’s not to say the cause is lost, however; offensive production is wide-spread, and the team is obviously hustling, as evidenced by a strong comeback from 5-0 down in Calgary last week to make it a 7-6 game. The guys haven’t quit on Trotz, and their record at this point (6-7-1) isn’t far off last season’s (7-7-0). Of course, the road ahead is still difficult; Nashville needs to steal one of these upcoming games in San Jose or Anaheim, along with closing out the road trip with a win in Los Angeles, to keep pace with Western Conference playoff rivals.
There is one other silver lining to these murmerings of unrest among the fan base; they’re the result of increased expectations, and that’s a very good thing. While the mainstream media in Nashville continues to largely ignore the Predators, the fanbase is engaged, and knows that this team is capable of playing much more consistently than what we’ve seen so far. The coaches may not be in danger quite yet, but it’s completely fair to question their performance as much as that of the players on the ice.
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