The Nashville Predators better hope a return home helps them put their defence back together, or their second straight Western Conference semifinal will end much quicker than a year ago.
The Predators flew home Monday trailing Phoenix 0-2. A team so confident after ousting the Detroit Red Wings in just five games let the opener slip away in overtime in the desert, and then the Predators made mistake after mistake in losing Game 2 on Sunday night 5-3.
Coach Barry Trotz is considering lineup changes to get his Predators back on track. He needs something going into Game 3 on Wednesday.
“The positive things are our power play is hitting pretty good,” Trotz said. “We’re back home, where we can be very comfortable and get this thing back on the rails, which is really good. We know what we have to correct, it’s just a matter of getting it done. We know the Coyotes are a good opponent, and we need to focus on what we need to do.”
The Predators were sixth in the NHL at home in the regular season with a 26-10-5 record. They also outscored opponents 124-103 on home ice.
But the Coyotes are pretty comfortable in Nashville, too, having won three straight in Music City. They also have yet to lose on the road this post-season after taking all three games in Chicago in the first series. Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said on a conference call Monday that the key for the Coyotes is their game doesn’t change at home or on the road.
“We defend well. We rely on everybody to do the job for us,” Tippett said.
“The other thing is that sometimes it’s fun to go in to play in a hostile building. When that national anthem goes in Chicago, you get excited to play and I’m sure it’s going to be the same in Nashville.”
Perhaps the thing most galling to the Predators is that the Coyotes are beating them with their own style: Good goaltending, team defence and hard work.
“We have to get back to our identity a little bit,” Trotz said.
The Predators can trace each of Phoenix’s goals in Game 2 to mistakes by themselves, and the worst may have been when David Legwand threw the puck out into the slot from behind the net rather than tossing it into the corner. That led to a goal seconds later.
Centre Mike Fisher said the Predators turned in an “unacceptable” effort in Game 2, thinking too much about offence and not protecting their own zone. But he pointed out the Predators won three straight in taking their first-round series against Detroit, which they can now do against Phoenix.
“It’s gut-check time for us,” Fisher said. “We really have to focus on turning things around and getting back to our identity and to get back to those things we’ve done to be successful in the past. … We have to be much better at home, and we know we will be.”
This is the third time overall that the Predators have fallen behind 0-2 in a series, the first since 2008. They lost both of those series to Detroit but did tie it up 2-2 by winning both games on their own ice. Legwand was on those teams and said the key is one game at a time.
“Our focus now is Wednesday, and the guys that were here for those past series against Detroit know that we have to try to make it a three-game series,” Legwand said. “We can’t do that unless we get Wednesday, so we have to win Wednesday night. What has happened so far is in the past, and we just have to come back and make it a three-game series.”
It won’t be easy now that Phoenix is coming off its biggest win of this post-season. The Coyotes avoided overtime for only the second time in eight games, and Phoenix defenceman Keith Yandle said they know Nashville has a tough building. Going up 3-0 is very tantalizing for a franchise that has gone through so much turmoil off the ice. Phoenix has been owned by the NHL the past three seasons.
Yandle said taking the crowd out early is key.
“You can only control what you do the first game, so we have to focus on that and focus on Game 3 in Nashville and not get ahead of ourselves,” Yandle said.
Nashville will focus on better defence to help out goaltender Pekka Rinne, who already has given up as many goals (nine) in this series’ first two games as he did in all five against Detroit in the first round. The Coyotes have outscored Nashville 8-3 five-on-five.
“Right now, it’s keeping them out of our net,” Nashville defenceman Kevin Klein said.