“That’s life, that’s what people say
You’re riding high in April,
Shot down in May
But I know I’m gonna change that tune,
When I’m back on top, back on top in June
I said, that’s life, and as funny as it may seem
Some people get their kicks,
Stompin’ on a dream
But I don’t let it, let it get me down,
‘Cause this fine old world it keeps spinnin’ around”
THAT’S LIFE –
(Songwriters KAY, DEAN / GORDON, KELLY L., Published by Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group)
You know the song, you’ve heard it a thousand times. While it’s only the first week in March, you have to know that this week’s Nashville Predators four game losing streak is merely a slice of National Hockey League life, although, not a slice that Preds have served up since the forgettable 2013-14 season. After two disappointing losses at home (Minnesota and Detroit), the team flew east, landed in New York, and proceeded to lay eggs at Madison Square Garden against the Rangers, and then the following night, at the Prudential Center in Newark against the Devils. In doing so, the Predators find themselves in scramble mode to keep the lid on the pressure cooker and not blow themselves out of the dominant position they had handily placed themselves in with their nearly unbeatable play over the prior five months.
What’s gone wrong with a team that prior to this past week had not lost two consecutive games in regulation time all season long? First, I have to offer the opinion that in the home games against the Wild and the Red Wings last week, the Predators played well enough to win either of those games, but both Minnesota and Detroit played near perfect games smothering their opposition at crucial moments and limiting Nashville’s chances, and protecting their team’s netminders (Dubnyk and Gustavsson respectively.)
In the two recent road games, the Predators fell prey to slow starts, including allowing two goals on the first three shots in New Jersey last night. Playing from behind, the Preds outshot the Devils 31-14 over the final 40 minutes of the game, but could not muster up the equalizer before the Devils’ Mike Cammalleri was credited with an empty net goal, sealing the fate of the visiting Predators.
Over the last eight games, the Predators have a 2-5-1 record. Their play with the extra man has regressed back to early season futility, with the power play netting just two goals in 27 opportunities. In Buffalo, Mike Ribiero’s power play tally brought the team even with less than five minutes to go against a Sabres team that has essentially gone wire to wire in last place, and is certainly a front runner to receive the top pick in this coming season’s entry draft. Against Detroit, at home this past Saturday, it was Shea Weber’s bomb with the extra man that gave the Preds a 3-2 lead heading into the 3rd period, but two Detroit goals in the final stanza sent Nashville packing for the second and final time in the regular season. Special teams can win games for a hot team, but in this case, there’s been a big disconnect when big goals were needed.
Despite fan finger pointing, the two newest acquisitions, Mike Santorelli and Cody Franson, should not be considered prime suspects in this particular collapse, although it’s true that neither has done much on the positive side of the scoring ledger in their first seven games with the Preds. The two former Maple Leafs have been integrated into the team’s lineup and not looked horribly out of place with their new (and sometimes old) teammates. Both Santorelli and Franson were Nashville draft picks that played briefly for the team a few seasons back.
We will also keep a watchful eye on the injury list. Erik Nystrom left last night’s game with a lower body injury and was listed as day-to-day. Taylor Beck, who had a sensational assist on the lone Preds goal on Monday in New York was the healthy scratch the next night in New Jersey as Calle Jarnkrok returned after his one game exile. On the blueline, Ryan Ellis had returned for the game against Minnesota, and played over eleven minutes, but has been back on the shelf the past three games, as Victor Bartley has slotted in in his place.
With both Ellis and Volchenkov out, the team is not carrying a spare defenseman (Ellis is technically not on the Injured Reserve list, and is eligible to play.) If Nystrom is unable to go on Thursday at home vs. the New York Islanders, Beck should slot in, though a call up from Milwaukee to have an extra healthy body could mean the return of a veteran like Viktor Stalberg or Rich Clune, or possibly a cup-of-coffee merit promotion of one of the kids (Aberg? Arvedsson? Salomaki? Sissons? Watson?) as the team did earlier last month, bringing defenseman Taylor Aronson up for a game (though, dressing in warmups, he did not actually dress for the game.) Of course, similar to Nashville, Milwaukee, the Preds AHL farm team, is in the midst of a five game losing streak of their own. Reward seems unlikely, as the Admirals have games tonight in Cleveland (Lake Erie), and then at home on Friday and Sunday.
The schedule is not favorable for Nashville, as both home games this week feature opponents very much in dogfights for playoff position. Thursday night sees the Islanders come to town, and they handed the Preds a 5-2 loss on Long Island in mid-February. Saturday features the Winnipeg Jets, who have dropped three of four to the Preds this season, but have been bolstered by trade deadline acquisitions, and find themselves currently clinging to one of the two “wild card” positions in the Western Conference playoff race, a race that sees recent Stanley Cup champions, the Los Angeles Kings on the outside looking in. The Preds will face both the Kings, and the Ducks in Southern California later this month. These games will be real tests of the Preds road mettle, as, in fact, will just about every game from here to season’s end.
Final note: We offer congratulations to Predators center Mike Fisher and his lovely wife Carrie Underwood, on the birth of their first child, son Isaiah Michael Fisher, born on February 27th.
Stay with us, as we continue to support our team through the post season. As always, find me on Twitter and find us on Twitter and Facebook. It’s encouraging to know you’re reading, and liking. Let’s hope for some wins this week!