For Nashville Predator coach Barry Trotz, the nightmares of October had nothing to do with the ghouls and goblins of Halloween.
Trotz was troubled by the Predators’ six straight losses after opening the season with back-to-back wins. He admits that during that stretch he wondered if the Predators would win another game, much less be one of the eight Stanley Cup Playoff teams in the Western Conference.
“We got off to such a terrible start,” said Trotz. “I didn’t know if the streak was going to go to eight or nine games or if we were going to win another game.”
Trotz and the Predators got some relief Oct. 25 and 26 when they beat the Atlanta Thrashers 3-0 and the Florida Panthers 4-3 at the Sommet Center.
“About the 10th game I thought we started to get an identity,” Trotz said.
But nothing has come easy for the Predators this season, and there were more difficult times ahead. They went to Canada and beat Ottawa 6-5 Nov. 29 and Montreal 5-4 on Dec. 1. They closed out the trip with a 3-1 loss at Toronto. Then from Dec. 10 to Dec. 19 they went on a five-game losing streak.
“After that five-game losing streak, we really solidified our identity,” Trotz said. “But I knew after the Canadian trip that we had what it takes to be a playoff team.”
The Predators closed out the regular season with a 3-1 loss at Chicago Friday night after clinching a playoff berth the night before with a 3-2 win over St. Louis. They will open quarterfinals play in Detroit on Thursday at 6 p.m. — against the No.1-seeded Red Wings. The Predators were 3-3-2 in the regular season series with the Red Wings.
The distractions off the ice this week will become as much of a challenge for the Predators as preparing for the game on the ice. An increase in media demands will be coupled with the increased demands of relatives and friends who want to be a part of the postseason experience.
“We will try to keep things the same as much as we can,” Trotz said. “Monday we want to get all of the clutter out of the way. Family members and friends want to see us play the Red Wings. They want tickets and help with travel and places to stay. They mean well, but they are distractions.
“We have a small media group in Nashville that does a great job covering us. The extra media and the demands of that are a little different than what we usually deal with. Everything will be magnified the rest of the way. What we say, what we do, how we play, how we win or how we lose will all be magnified. We have to be able to navigate being on a bigger stage.”
Trotz gave the Predators Saturday and Sunday off to rest up both physically and mentally from the rigors of the regular season.
“We have been in a playoff mode for the last two months,” Trorz said. “There were so many situations where this game or that game could have knocked us out of the playoffs. We did a good job dealing with that pressure. That experience should have prepared us well for the pressures of the playoffs.”
Trotz has completed his 10th regular season for the Predators and is on the short list when talk centers around who should be the coach of the year in the NHL. He overcame the loss of forwards Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya, Scott Hartnell and Scottie Upshall, defenseman Kimmo Timonen and goaltender Tomas Vokoun. He endued the possibility of the team moving to another city and he helped sail the team through the uncertainties of a new ownership group.
But Trotz, who has been with the Predators since before the first players were selected, stops short at calling this his best coaching performance.
“Each team I have coached has presented different challenges,” Trotz said. “I might have done a better job in year one or year two when we didn’t have that much talent.
“But from a fulfillment standpoint this has been one of my better years as a head coach. Last year we had 110 points, but I look back and think there were things that could have been done differently in the last part of the season. But this season from where we came from to where we are now is amazing.”