By Joe Rexrode (The Athletic)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Andrew Brunette sat alone at the head of the long table in the Nashville Predators coaches’ room on Feb. 14, Preds cap on his head, gory footage of the previous night’s home loss to New Jersey playing out on the big screen in front of him, fingers working furiously to put written word to the clips he would be showing his team the next day.

His spoken word lent a soundtrack to the footage. It was more analytical and less colorful on this Wednesday morning than the words he used in a sluggish practice two days earlier — the morning after Super Bowl festivities — that gave him a bad feeling about the week to come.

“See, we’re retreating here and we should be swinging in and trying to cut him off.”

“That’s just too far back.”

“When you’re soft on pucks against a team like Jersey, you’re feeding the beast.”

“I don’t know what he’s doing there, laying off the puck — imagine if he would have gone in right there.”

The theme was consistent. The sense was clear that this season, Brunette’s first coaching Nashville, was about to be defined. But he didn’t know one of the ugliest losses in franchise history was coming a day later. Nor that the first 5-0 road trip in franchise history would follow.

Nor that, in between those two things, he would get a text from his buddy Paul Stastny about the U2 concert at the mesmerizing Las Vegas venue Sphere. Preds GM Barry Trotz and Brunette decided to eliminate a planned team outing to that concert in the wake of the 9-2 home loss to Dallas. This denied at least one U2 enthusiast in the Preds organization an opportunity to see Bono and the boys rock out in an immersive 4D experience supported by a 16K resolution wraparound LED screen.

“FYI,” Stastny wrote to fellow U2 fan Brunette, “it was unbelievable.”

The Preds’ play in response, including a 5-3 win on the Vegas Golden Knights’ home ice a few blocks from Sphere, has softened the blow. Nashville is back in a playoff spot after collecting all 10 possible points on a westward swing and on Tuesday start a five-game home stand — where the Preds are 14-15-0, compared with 18-10-2 outside their building. That’s one of the things that befuddles Brunette the most in this debut season of the Trotz/Brunette era.

There are other things, because he is pressing forward with an aggressive system despite a roster that isn’t yet ideal for it, learning his players and meshing the daily grind of trying to win at hockey’s highest level with long-term considerations. At times in this first non-interim NHL head coaching job of his career, Brunette has questioned himself.

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