By Jim Diamond
Five straight losses, and ten straight game allowing the first goal. There is no joy in Smashville right now.
Still atop the Central Division standings with 89 points, the Predators suffered their fifth loss in eight days Thursday night when the visiting New York Islanders escaped snowy Nashville with a 4-3 win.
“It’s not time to panic,” forward Craig Smith said. “Sometimes you are going to have to roll with it. Sometimes you are going to get some bad bounces. It’s just the small things, just a change in perspective and mindset.”
After falling behind 3-1 at the 8:39 mark of the third period, Mike Ribeiro and Smith scored goals 31 seconds apart to draw the game even 3-3. Bridgestone Arena came alive and the Predators seemed to be on their way to possibly ending their recent slide.
But then, another one of those bad bounces happened.
The rebound of Michael Grabner’s shot from the outside came to the slot, right toward Nashville defenseman Seth Jones. But that puck hopped over Jones’ stick and right to Brock Nelson, who squeezed one through Pekka Rinne for the eventual game winner at 13:52.
“I think we create our bounces,” Colin Wilson said. “We’re getting guys to the net like we did on a couple of those goals, that’s how you create your bounces. We’re outshooting them, but we’ve got to get rolling here.”
Wilson scored Nashville’s first goal. That came with just two seconds remaining in the first, a period where the Predators outshot the Islanders 15-5. The problem for Nashville was that the Islanders scored on two of those five shots, once again falling behind as they had in their previous nine games.
“We’ve just got to stop getting down in these games,” Wilson added. “We keep starting off behind and then we keep having to battle back. We keep having great efforts, but we’ve got to start and get those goals.”
It hasn’t helped Nashville’s cause that Rinne has looked human during the team’s recent slide. He allowed New York’s four goals on 26 shots against. The guy many talked about being the frontrunner for the Vezina and possibly even the Hart Trophies for most of this season has dropped four straight decisions an six of his last seven.
Asked if he was concerned about his goaltender and some of the goals that he has allowed recently, Predators head coach Peter Laviolette focused on the group as a whole and not just the 6’5” Finn.
“I really think we’ve got to look at the team,” he said. “We’ll get out of this together. Our guys have done an excellent job of staying tight as a group. There’s lots of things that could have been better tonight as well. We still gave up scoring chances, chances from point-blank in front. There’s things that we could do better and I think it’s important that we stick together right now. It’s probably the most important thing.”
And with 16 games still remaining in the regular season, the Predators have time to work out what is ailing them. They are all but assured of a playoff spot, but limping into the playoffs is not something they want to do.