The basic expectation was that the Predators would avenge the pain of the Winter Classic by crushing both basement-dwelling Southern California teams this past weekend. The Preds certainly had us fooled when they soundly crushed the Kings 4-1 on Saturday, and then balanced it out with a disappointing-but-not-surprising 5-4 shootout loss against the Ducks on Sunday.
Coming out of the road trip with three out of four possible points isn't technically bad, but when you're a (supposed) Stanley Cup-caliber team playing against the two teams at the very bottom of the Western Conference, all four points shouldn't be that hard to obtain.
We'll start by reviewing the Kings game.
The first full game without Ryan Ellis could have gone a lot worse, all things considered. Not only was Ellis out with a likely concussion, Dante Fabbro was out with an upper-body injury, and Matt Duchene sat the game out with the flu, as he would do against Anaheim on Sunday as well. With Ellis and Fabbro out, Saturday's defensive pairings were.... volatile at best. Outside of Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm, the Preds' defense featured Matt Irwin, Dan Hamhuis, Yannick Weber, and Jared Tinordi- quite possibly the worst bottom four D-men in the NHL. Luckily for the Preds, this shaky defense was tasked with parrying the fifth-worst goal scoring team in the league.
Rocco Grimaldi and Craig Smith stood out on Saturday. Both had a goal and an assist apiece on just seven collective shots on goal. Yakov Trenin recorded his second goal of the season, giving the Preds a clutch 3-1 lead in the third period.
The Preds' power play sputtered again, failing to score on five opportunities against a Kings' PK unit that is fourth-worst in the league. No judgement though- the Preds have the third-worst PK.
Most importantly, Josi kept his point streak alive for a ninth straight game, tallying assists on Grimaldi and Ryan Johansen's goals.
Now let's look at Sunday's five-round-shootout Ducks game.
Craig Smith capped off the road trip having scored three goals and one assist in just two games. He scored the Preds' second and third goals of the night, the former being on the power play. The Preds only got two power play chances all night, and Smith was able to make the PP look somewhat threatening by scoring on one of them.
Roman Josi extended his point streak to a franchise-record 10 games, nabbing an assist on Rocco Grimaldi's diving late goal that knotted the game at four. Josi's success has put him in serious contention talks for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman along with Washington's John Carlson and Carolina's Dougie Hamilton.
The Preds' second period in the Ducks game was one of their most atrocious 20 minutes of the season so far. They allowed one even strength goal and two power play goals within six minutes. This, for an Anaheim team with a 27th-ranked PP unit. Oh, and you know how the Preds have that affinity for allowing opposing players their first goals of the season? Well, they did it again, this time for Anaheim's Daniel Sprong. Sprong also recorded his first assist of the season on Adam Henrique's first period goal.
The Ducks have recorded the third-least Goals-For in the league so far this season (106). Allowing them to score five goals in a single game is very nearly impossible. Up against the Preds, however, anything is possible. The extremely weakened Preds defense that held strong against L.A. totally collapsed in Anaheim. Juuse Saros faced a total of 47 shots (not including the shootout) and saved 43 of them. League-wide, the Preds are actually allowing the least shots to be put on their net, with only 1,212 getting past the defense this season. That reflects pretty horribly on the goaltending, but the numbers don't lie- Preds' goaltending has seen an all-time low this season. The Ducks' 47 shots is the highest single-game Shots Against total the Preds have allowed this season. The Preds, on the other hand, only tallied 26 shots against John Gibson.
The Preds now sit second-to-last in the Central Division and are four points outside a wild card spot. They will come home to play the Bruins, who lead the Atlantic Division with 59 points, on Tuesday. Boston is tied with St. Louis for second place overall in the league, behind first-place Washington. The Preds beat the Bruins in overtime on Dec. 21.