The big screen kept pleading in the final period for Smashville to come to life and make noise, but there was no response.
Much like the team that was on the ice.
With the Predators, Saturday night’s 3-0 whipping by the visiting Vegas Golden Knights would have been surprising if this sort of thing hadn’t been happening all season.
This game had arrived with promise. The Predators had won two in a row on the road, results that felt big, perhaps heralding that much-needed change under new coach John Hynes for a team badly in need of a spark and points in the standings.
The Predators had every reason to bring their best at home Saturday night, and they didn’t come close.
Instead, they spent most of the evening playing as if they’d rather be someplace else. Very little intensity or cohesion. No urgency on offense. Poor body language. Just an uninspired, dismal effort. They were going through the motions against an opponent that had much more energy despite having played the night before. And the Predators were dominated because of it.
The Golden Knights fired 29 shots on goal in the first two periods to the Predators’ eight. In the first period, the Predators had three power plays and two shots on goal.
The final score should have been worse. Were it not for a strong performance in goal by Pekka Rinne, it would have been.
Afterward, there were few answers. That’s a trend, too.
“Another home loss, and I guess the way it happened, too,” Rinne said. “They had a back-to-back, and it looked (like) they were the more fresh team. It’s just disappointing.”
As the guessing game continues of why the Predators stink, maybe there is no cure. Maybe this is just a bad team. We all look at the roster and know that shouldn’t be the case, of course, but the gap between what this team should be and what it is simply isn’t narrowing. By February, you are what your record says.
It’d be premature to write off the Predators’ chances to somehow get hot at the right time and make a playoff run as a low seed. That still could happen. But the sad truth is they’ve done nothing to inspire confidence that a sustainable shift in fortune is out there for them this season.
If talent is not the problem, then that means effort is the culprit.
And that’s what is so troubling.
Basically, this is a soft team. That’s not just physical. It’s mental, too. When things get tough, they often fold. Mental toughness, in fact, was the diagnosis from Hynes, who said addressing the Predators’ mind-set has been his first priority.
“When you come in as a coach because something happened to the previous coach, then something’s wrong,” Hynes said. “Sometimes it’s not all the coach. … Usually, it’s because results aren’t there, and when results aren’t there, then usually there’s a mentality, too. Teams become fragile. The mental toughness veers off. Sometimes a team isn’t as tight-knit as it needs to be. The pushback in the game isn’t there. The belief in what you’re doing isn’t there.”
Players are noting a changing mind-set under Hynes. They’ve agreed it was needed, that Hynes is near the bull’s-eye.
“Yeah, 100%, I think it was just our mind-set. It was our intensity, our work ethic, showing up to play, being ready to play,” said Rocco Grimaldi, one of the players whose effort is not in question.
This is clearly on the players at this point. They are professionals, and many of them are being paid a lot of money to give their best.
If they’re not, can you coach effort? Or mentality?
Hynes is trying. And he was understandably encouraged by the two games prior to Saturday night, both hard-fought, emotional road victories in which the Predators didn’t play fantastic hockey but showed toughness and overcame adversity. In Washington, they handed a tremendous Capitals team two goals with their own miscues and still managed to win. The next night in New Jersey, they fought back and won a shootout.
These were meaningful results. You could sense some momentum finally building.
But then … nope. Just kidding.
These Predators have teased like that too often, making you think they’re turning a corner before tossing out an uninspired dud like Saturday night. That has to be immensely frustrating for this team’s loyal, passionate fans, who are simply not seeing that passion consistently returned.
And as inexplicably poor showings pile up, it’s becoming less “What’s wrong?” and more “What’s next?”
A reckoning, sooner or later, is nearing. The NHL’s trade deadline is in about three weeks. There might not be a lot of flexibility in this roster for sweeping changes if things don’t improve, but for an underachieving team that already has fired its coach, the logical next step for general manager David Poile would be to try to deal players not performing up to expectations and salaries – and there are more than a few.
Either that or maybe you start scratching some bigger names and look at promoting more members of a Milwaukee team that is tearing up the AHL.
They’d at least care and play like it means something to them.
For too many of these current Predators, that is not a given each night. And that remains the most worrisome problem in a season that has been full of them.
Reach Gentry Estes at email@example.com and on Twitter @Gentry_Estes.