Lost amid the dizzying array of Pekka Rinne saves and the breathless moments of late-game drama the Nashville Predators have crafted so far this postseason is the fact that Barry Trotz has made more moves that have worked out than ones that have not.
His latest sound decision came during Saturday’s second overtime, not long before Matt Halischuk’s goal gave the Predators a series-tying 2-1 victory in the longest game in franchise history.
Concerned with fatigue as the contest approached 100 minutes of play, Trotz slightly altered his use of his forwards. Rather than rely on four three-man units, he instead began a rotation in which fourth-line wingers Halischuk and Steve Sullivan took turns on the top three lines. The idea was to keep everyone a little fresher under mounting attacks from the Canucks,
Halischuk was on the ice with Nick Spaling and Jerred Smithson in place of Jordin Tootoo when he scored.
“Momentum changed 100 times in that game and there were 1,000 difference scenarios,” Trotz said. “You’ve got to live in the moment.”
It has been a startling emergence for the two-time Jack Adams Trophy (coach of the year) nominee who back in 2007 baffled even his own general manager when he could not find a way to get defenseman Vitali Vishnevski, a major trade deadline acquisition, on the ice during a five-game conference quarterfinal loss to San Jose.
Saturday’s victory was Nashville’s second in as many overtime contests this playoffs, which is two overtime triumphs more than the franchise had in all its previous playoff appearances combined.
In the first, Trotz took advantage of fatigue. Following an icing in the final minute of regulation in Game 5 at Anaheim, he could have called a timeout and designed a play. Instead, he forced the tired Ducks to remain on the ice and trusted his players to find a way, which they did when Shea Weber scored the game-tying goal off the ensuing faceoff — with 36 seconds remaining.
“I think he’s confident in the group of guys we have,” Weber said. “I think everyone’s on the same page and things are going in the right direction. We just have to keep it going.”
On Friday, Trotz violated one of his primary coaching tenets — with positive results.
He relentlessly has drilled into his players the need to live in the moment and to forget the previous game, win or lose, by the next morning. Yet following the dispirited effort in the opener against the Canucks, he conducted meetings and reviewed many of the critical details that escaped the Predators in that 1-0 defeat.
The result was a performance that was — at times — dominant the next night as evidenced by Nashville’s decisive advantage in shots (46-33) and faceoffs won (51-38), not to mention the fact that the Predators were called for just one penalty in nearly five full periods of work.
“Game 1 wasn’t what we wanted and we were even a little bit surprised by it,” Trotz said. “But we got our split, now we come back home and we have to try to be really good in our place.”
Unlike many of his counterparts, Trotz also has resisted the temptation to make changes just for the sake of change.
Anaheim’s Randy Carlyle used 23 different skaters during the six games of the conference quarterfinal series. Vancouver’s Alain Vigneault rotated three different right wings on his top line throughout Game 2 as he attempted to create some magic.
The only time Trotz altered his lineup was when Martin Erat missed the final two games of the Anaheim series with an injury. Then, he elected to use veteran J-P Dumont in place of Erat. Dumont was on the ice, helping to set a screen, on Weber’s game-tying goal in the final minute of regulation.
Then there was the decision that led to Halischuk being on the ice in place of Tootoo.
“You have to balance out your skill guys, your power play guys, your defensive guys, your hard guys and find a balance that will work for you,” Trotz said. “It’s been difficult to make wholesale changes. … Everybody’s accepted their roles and the most important thing is winning.”