Earlier today Barry Trotz revealed that the Nashville Predators will be (healthy) scratching Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn for Game 4 of their Western Conference semi-final series versus Phoenix. Their suspension is over, but they won last game, so they’re going to stick with the same roster.
This is incredibly stupid.
Yesterday I wrote about what it’s like to play without your best players. You ramp everything up, heighten your mental focus, and work your bag off to do enough to win. We see teams do this fairly regularly.
But there’s a reason they don’t leave their best players out every night. They’re their best players. In this case, two time KHL MVP and the Preds current leading playoff scorer Alex Radulov would have to fall somewhere in the “best forwards on the Preds” conversation. Andrei Kostitsyn is a top six guy for a reason too.
I feel like I’m explaining the world’s most obvious thing here, but it must not be, since the guy who actually has to make the decision doesn’t agree.
Take the New Jersey Devils: they were without Ilya Kovalchuk in Game 2 of their series with the Flyers, and playing in Philly. They took it to the Flyers and won, and Devils’ coach Peter DeBoer was very happy with the way his team played. So, does that mean they’re better without him? Of course it doesn’t. He’s one of their best players.
So, when Kovalchuk was available for Game 3, they put him in the lineup, and you may recall how that went. He threw the team on the herniated disc in his back, scored, assisted on two goals (including the game winner in OT), was plus two, took two shots, had a hit, grabbed two takeaways and played over 22 minutes of the game. He’s really good at hockey.
The other issue at risk here is the psyche of two players you need in the right frame of mind.
Those guys know they messed up, and they got suspended for it in a huge game. They did their time. After that, they may have played some of their best hockey. They would know all eyes are going to be on them in Game 4. They know that they need to show up ready to go, with something to prove. And now…now you put them in a position where they may end up thinking, “Well eff you too, then.” Players do pout, at all levels – ask any coach out there.
Why risk it? And why risk it with Radulov, who’s a restricted free agent this summer? Maybe they don’t want him back? Maybe what him and Kostitsyn did was worse than they’ve let on? I just can’t figure it other than it being the “lucky tie” phenomenon in roster form.
The Predators lost Games 1 and 2 with them in the lineup. They won Game 3 with them out of it. I get that. But three games is an incredibly small sample size. If you want to go back through the regular season schedule, I’m sure you can find games they won with them in the lineup, and games they lost with them out of it. But they kept dressing them both when they could because it gave them the best chance to win.
It’s not unlikely that Nashville beats Phoenix tonight – they are the better team, as we saw during the regular season (104 points to 97, plus the whole eyeball test thing). But it won’t make the decision to coach on superstition right. I know it’s the playoffs, but the routines should only go so far.