Roughly 20 minutes after the final whistle, coach Barry Trotz could still see it all in his mind.
Protecting a one-goal lead late in Monday’s preseason game against Atlanta, the Nashville Predators faced a critical defensive zone faceoff. The Thrashers added to the drama of the moment when they pulled their goalie and injected an extra attacker into things.
“We drew up a little bit of a play for what we wanted on the draw being down 6-on-5 when they pulled the goalie,” Trotz said. “A couple of great plays – (Ryan) Suter over to (Martin) Erat, Erat over to Legwand who made a great play to (Joel) Ward.”
That’s when Trotz saw something he did not want to see.
Ward, with a chance to put the game out of reach, flipped the puck softly toward the open net – and watched it slide harmlessly past.
Seconds after Ward’s miss, captain Shea Weber made no such mistake and pounded the puck into the net from beyond the blue line. The only problem was that not all of his teammates had cleared the zone. Thus the play was offside and the goal was disallowed.
“That had to finish the game off right there,” Trotz said. “We made a mistake like that in Carolina and it almost cost us. Then we all know what happened in the playoffs.
“… When you have an opponent down, you have to finish them.”
What happened in the playoffs, of course, was that the Predators led Game 5 and were in position to take a three-games-to-two lead in their first-round series with the Chicago Blackhawks. Then Chicago tied it with 14 seconds to go in regulation and eventually won it in overtime.
The Blackhawks closed out the series in the next game and went on to claim the Stanley Cup.
Nashville finished tied for seventh in the NHL with 47 victories last season, but was one of just five teams that lost four times or more when it led at the start of the third period. Its seven empty-net goals was tied for 13th with four other teams (Anaheim, Montreal, N.Y. Rangers and Philadelphia), none of which won more than 41 games.
The good news was the Predators finished second in the league with 28 victories in one-goal games. They also finished tied for first in wins by two goals, but that number was half as many.
Apparently Trotz would like to see those numbers get a little closer this season.