NASHVILLE – Predators coach Barry Trotz sounds like a man who might take a sledgehammer to his lineup.
In Games 1 and 2 of their Western Conference Semifinal series in Phoenix, Nashville got away from the kind of play that has brought it this far and as Trotz contemplates changes for Game 3 on Wednesday with the Preds trailing 0-2, it sounds like a lot of options are on the table.
For one, the defensive pairs could change. The pair of Kevin Klein, who had a great opening-round series, and rookie Roman Josi has gone minus-2 in each of the first two games. Meanwhile, the pair of veterans Francis Bouillon and Hal Gill went plus-2 each in Game 1 and even in Game 2. For the most part, Josi and Gill formed a pair after the Preds acquired Gill from Montreal in February, but after a good series against Detroit Trotz elected to keep Josi and Klein together. Gill did not play in the first round, owing to a lower-body injury, while Bouillon ranked among the leaders in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a plus-5 rating after five games.
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Incidentally, the team's top pair – considered by many the best in the League – is not on the plus side of the ledger. All-Stars Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, named a finalist for the Norris Trophy for the second straight season earlier in the week, each went minus-1 in Game 1 and minus-2 in Game 3.
Trotz said he would "absolutely" consider changing the defensive pairs.
"As I said, our best players have to be our best players and they weren't in the first two games," he said. "For spurts they were, more so in the first game than the second one. We're going to need production from everyone in the lineup. Our top players have to be our top players and so far, that's not the case. We're getting beat with our own formula: good goaltending, a healthy dose of team defense and a healthy dose of work ethic and we've got to get back to our game a little bit."
Then there is the matter of the forwards, perhaps most prominently Alex Radulov, whose defensive shortcomings were the subject of surgical criticism during the Game 2 broadcast on NBC Sports Network by analyst Keith Jones, who backed up his points with video clip after video clip of Radulov's mistakes. Trotz confirmed that he held a meeting – reported to be a lengthy one – with Radulov, but would not discuss the specifics.
Trotz agreed that the criticism was warranted.
"Yeah, absolutely," he said.
Trotz was asked if Radulov would be in the lineup for Game 3, but he said he could not answer because he did not know yet. He said the Predators have so many players he could change that he has not had time to think about it. One player who has been out of the lineup but who could return is veteran winger Jordin Tootoo, who would bring energy and a physical element. Matt Halischuk, who brings solid defensive play and some scoring, also is an option. Neither has played in the first two games of the series.
"One thing, we can put a lot of blame in – I know Rad took a lot from the NBC crew – but there's a lot of guys who have to look in the mirror right now who aren't playing as well as they've played, who aren't contributing in any significant way in the last couple of games here be it scoring chances, be it defensive play, be it momentum be it physicality -- all the things -- it's just not good enough," Trotz said. "We've got to up our game, plain and simple."
Trotz gathered his leadership group this morning at the team hotel before the Preds departed and addressed them. Weber, the team captain, was asked about Radulov. He said he had spoken to the forward, who had played the last four years in the KHL before returning in March.
"He'll be fine," Weber said of Radulov.
A number of players said that Nashville was too focused on scoring goals against Phoenix and goaltender Mike Smith, who has arguably been the best at his position in the playoffs so far.
"Maybe with Phoenix we thought we could just out-run-and-gun-them and outscore them," center Mike Fisher said, "and we've kind of got away from just solid (defense) first and scoring will come."