The Nashville Predators rookies fell 4-1 to Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon at the Panthers IceDen in South Florida, dropping to 0-2 in the prospect tournament.
But it's not all doom and gloom for the Preds, as the improvements were still evident throughout the lineup, giving Milwaukee Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason and staff something to build on before Tuesday's finale.
"Every guy, we thought, was a little bit better," Evason said. "We thought [Kevin] Fiala was our best forward, [Vladislav] Kamenev was way better than he was last night moving his feet, and it's the second game. A lot of these guys are getting more comfortable and feeling better about their games. We have a real young lineup, but were evaluating a lot of them not on the team game, but on the individual game."
The Predators were less than pleased with their start on Saturday against Florida, and they responded with a controlled and effective effort from the opening puck drop on Sunday.
After a scoreless first period, Nashville got the game's first tally courtesy of defenseman Trevor Murphy, who capitalized on a shot from the point through traffic for a 1-0 lead. Tampa Bay evened the contest before the second stanza was out when Christopher Paquette beat goaltender Jonas Gunnarsson with a snapshot top shelf.
The third period saw the Lightning take their first lead of the day with a goal from Otto Somppi and an insurance marker came from Cameron Darcy later in the frame. The Lightning added an empty-net tally, leading to a 4-1 victory.
"It was kind of a reversal because we started really well, got the puck deep, we forechecked right away, and that was our game for two periods," Evason said. "Then, for whatever reason, our third was a real lull right away… But we thought we played a better individually; we liked pretty much everybody more than we did last night."
Gunnarsson stopped 26 shots on the afternoon in what was essentially his first taste of game action in North America. The 24-year-old Swede signed with the Preds this summer, and he looked sharp in his debut.
"He played very well," Murphy said of his goaltender. "He was calm in net and looks like he's been here for a while. We could've helped him out a little more in the defensive zone, maybe below the goal line, but I thought he played really well."
The Preds have a scheduled day off on Monday before they face Washington on Tuesday morning to close out their portion of the tournament. It's one more chance to continue to improve individually, and as a team, before heading back to Nashville for training camp.
"It's hard to bring a group together within a number of days," Murphy said. "A 0-2 record isn't where we want to stand, but we have one more game to end on a good note."
Notes: The Preds had three shooters score in the postgame shootout, which occurs after every tournament game, regardless of the score. Max Gortz, Eric Robinson and Gabryel Boudreau each found the back of the net. Video of the goals can be see below.