Predators ready for Game 2 in Vancouver
You don't have to look any further than behind the benches to see why the Nashville Predators and Vancouver Canucks have had so much success this season.
Good players do make for good teams, but the right coach can be a difference-maker, too.
Predators coach Barry Trotz and Canucks counterpart Alain Vigneault joined Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma on Friday as finalists for the Jack Adams Award, given to the NHL coach of the year.
The votes are already in, so neither Trotz nor Vigneault can boost their cases as they face off in a Western Conference semifinal series. Moving on from this round won't be easy as both are coaching against goalies, who are up for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top netminder.
Vigneault has the upper hand, so far, as Roberto Luongo and the Canucks earned a 1-0 win in the series opener on Thursday night.
Game 2 will be back in Vancouver on Saturday night.
For Trotz, the most important thing he might have to do is simply wake up his forwards who were a no-show in the opening shutout. Luongo faced only 11 shots the first two periods — few of them tough — en route to a routine blanking.
The hardest part for Trotz after the loss was watching the game again on tape.
"I started crying," Trotz joked after a short practice Friday. "You almost have to put a tent over that circus when you start watching it."
After six tries and a 12-year wait to advance to the second round, Trotz was at a loss to explain why the intensity was missing in Game 1. The forwards lost 22 of 25 faceoffs in the first period, an unexpected and alarming showing for a team that takes pride in outworking opponents.
"I was almost at a loss for words," Trotz said. "I wasn't in a good place."
The good news is his players are well aware of the problems, which started and ended with a lack of effort. Veteran forward Steve Sullivan said there isn't a need for a long, in-depth review.
"We had front-row seats to it for 60 minutes," Sullivan said. "If Pekka Rinne is not the Vezina Trophy goalie he is, it's a massacre out there. You can't correct Xs and Os if you don't have effort. It doesn't really matter what your game plan is if you are not going to put the effort behind it."
The Canucks, who survived overtime of Game 7 against archrival Chicago in the first round, seem ready for a better effort from the Predators.
"We've seen better and we've got to expect better," forward Mikael Samuelsson said.
Vancouver is also promising better against Rinne, who made several spectacular saves among 29 stops. Many were with his glove, which he uses more actively to catch and freeze pucks than any goalie in the league, even scooping low shots off the ice like a shortstop to prevent the kinds of rebounds and second-chance opportunities the Canucks want to create.
"He tries to catch everything, even across his body, so anytime you can keep it away from his glove there's a better chance of getting that puck sitting out front on more rebounds," Canucks forward Tanner Glass said. "Tips and traffic are huge."
Not that Vigneault and his coaching staff didn't point that out before Game 1.
"[Goaltending coach Rollie Melanson] had a meeting with the players on a couple of Rinne's tendencies," Vigneault said before breaking into a laugh, "Obviously it didn't work real well. But we're going to try and improve that."
Not that Vigneault wants the Canucks, who led the NHL in regular-season scoring, to think too much about where to shoot.
Vancouver has scored only four goals in regulation time in the past four games.
"You can tell players different things about goaltenders, but at end of the day they have to trust their instincts and what they see on the ice," he said. "If they think too much, they can't play."
After the series opener, Trotz is counting on his players to remember to play the way they usually do.
"What we need to do is get back to our identity, and you didn't see that [Thursday] night," Trotz said. "You saw a team that didn't play to their identity. As a group we take that personally."