Barry Trotz said on Tuesday that the Nashville Predators’ absence from the NHL playoffs for the first time in five seasons was hard to take. Nashville’s coach also noted, though, the postseason is particularly difficult to make.
“This league has become a very hard league to get in the playoffs,” he said. “I’ve been in the league 11 years and I have not seen it as tough and as grueling.
“We’re disappointed that we’re not preparing for an opponent in the next day or two. … We all want to be playing. We should be playing.”
The reasons they are not became obvious over the course of the 82-game season. They did not get the results early. They struggled to score goals for much of the season. They sustained a rash of injuries at an inopportune time.
Even with a surge following the All-Star break, the Predators finished 10th in the Western Conference.
“We’re very proud of how we finished (but) not satisfied with where were today … not in the playoffs,” general manager David Poile said. “It’s not acceptable for our organization, but we know to a man that we can do it. I promised the players that we will do everything we can to make ourselves a better team.”
What they said they will not do is run from what happened.
“We don’t look for excuses,” Trotz said. “We have no excuses sitting here today and not being in the playoffs. It’s reality and we have to go forward from here.”
First, though, there’s time to take a look back at some notable moments from the 2008-09 season.
5 High Points
1. Predators whip Detroit 8-0 (Feb. 28): Sure, the Predators were playing well (victories in their previous three) and they were scoring a few more goals (nine in the previous two) but the most lopsided victory in franchise history was stunning in its swiftness (five goals in the first 11 minutes) and in the fact that it happened against Detroit. The good news was that a sellout crowd was on hand to enjoy it all.
2. Arnott beats the clock (Feb. 12): Jason Arnott’s goal with three seconds to play in regulation forced overtime, and the Predators eventually won 4-3 in a shootout. It was the first of just two times Nashville scored with the extra-attacker and the third of seven victories in games it trailed after two periods.
3. Stayin’ alive in the Motor City (April 9): The 81st game of the season was a must-win for Nashville in a place it rarely had won – Joe Louis Arena. Behind by two in the closing minutes, Arnott scored with 6:42 to play and J.P. Dumont tied it with one minute remaining. Ville Koistinen’s successful attempt was the difference-maker in the shootout as Nashville won the game (4-3), won the season series (4-2) and managed to remain in the playoff hunt one more day.
4. Second-half jump-start (Jan. 28): The Predators came out of the All-Star break well aware of the fact that they needed to play well over the final 36 games. Just over 25 minutes into the first of those contests they trailed 3-1, but they rallied for a 5-3 victory on the strength of three power play goals.
5. Legwand tops the list (Dec. 4): David Legwand, the first draft pick in franchise history, became the Predators’ all-time leader in games played against the Colorado Avalanche. His goal with less than a second to play in the first period ended up as the 30th game-winner of his career – also a franchise record – in a 3-2 victory.
5 Low Points
1. Canucks thump Nashville (Dec. 9): It was not that Nashville lost 3-1. It was that players lost their cool after some questionable hits, and that Scott Nichol was lost for an extended period because of a concussion sustained on one of those hits. J.P. Dumont was another one who got rocked, and while he did not miss any games he had no goals and just two assists in the next nine contests.
2. Wildly penalized (Nov. 29): The Predators amassed a total of 16 penalties and a season-high 11 shorthanded situations. Minnesota took advantage with five power-play goals – the first two 35 seconds apart in the first period – and drilled Nashville 6-2. It was just the second time in franchise history an opponent scored five times with the man-advantage. Detroit did the same thing in February.
3. Slow start in St. Louis (Oct. 10): A season-opening 5-2 defeat in St. Louis might have seemed relatively harmless at the time, but it set a precedent that could not be overlooked as the Predators at Blues battled for two of the final three playoff spots. Ultimately, Nashville came up minus-four in points from head-to-head matchups, which was the exact difference in the teams’ overall point totals.
4. Thrashed by Atlanta (Jan. 17): Goalie Dan Ellis gave up three goals on the first four shots – through little to no fault of his own – and was pulled to no avail. A 7-2 defeat prompted a 15-minute post-game meeting directed by Trotz. By comparison, four of the five previous defeats were by a single goal.
5. Few goals, no wins (Jan. 6): A 2-1 loss to Colorado capped a streak of five straight regulation defeats. What was consistent throughout was a lack of scoring – a total of seven goals in those five games, and no more than two in any one of them.
5 Turning Points
1. Sullivan scores (Feb. 18): It was newsworthy when Steve Sullivan returned from a back injury, which caused him to miss nearly two full years. It was noteworthy, though, when he finally got his first goal in the 17th game of his return. His reemergence as an offensive force (he had 27 points in his final 25 games) gave the Predators some much-needed production, particularly late in the year when other important offensive players sustained injuries.
2. Arnott returns from injury (April 4): The captain went against the wishes of his wife and returned a couple days earlier than expected from a concussion, which had caused him to miss 11 games. He was the team’s leading goal scorer virtually all season, but when he rallied the Predators to a 5-4 shootout victory that night with two goals, he was transformed into a dominant player who scored seven times in the final four games.
3. Pekka plays (Jan. 28): Trotz made the decision coming out of the All-Star break to start rookie goalie Pekka Rinne and to ride him as long as the results warranted it. The ride lasted until the end of the season as Rinne recorded 19 of the Predators’ 20 victories following the break. Nashville never went more than two games without earning at least a point in the final two and a half months and Rinne turned into a Calder trophy candidate.
4. Weber winds up (Oct. 11): Shea Weber scored his first goal in the second game and set off on most complete single season by a Predators’ defenseman. Before Weber, Nashville’s most offensive blue liners (Marek Zidlicky and Andy Delmore) were defensive liabilities. Weber became an All-Star, nearly won the hardest shot competition and set a franchise record for defensemen with 23 goals on the season.
5. Deal? No deal (March 4): Poile worked the phone lines and entertained offers as usual but was unable to execute a deal prior to the league’s trade deadline. With the benefit of hindsight, he admitted that turned out to be a bad thing when injuries left the team with too few forwards for the stretch drive, and the team was forced to rely on minor-leaguers for a time.