Last Tuesday night, I sat in front of the computer and had to remember that after a four game sweep of Canada, the Nashville Predators returned home and suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the St. Louis Blues, a team that Nashville is chasing in the standings.
I was disappointed, but not deterred.
This Tuesday night, I sit again, reflecting on missed opportunity, and a dreadful 5-3 loss to Barry Trotz’ Washington Capitals.
I say dreadful because the team fell behind 4-1 before giving the fans a false glimmer of home with two mid-third period tallies. An empty net goal from the great Alexander Ovechkin, with a minute to go, sent the faithful home disappointed once again.
The team has now lost three of its last four games, and continue to find themselves fortunate that division rivals Colorado and Minnesota can’t seem to muster up enough momentum to pass them, and Pacific Division foes Arizona and Vancouver are also wildly inconsistent.
It should be noted though that Anaheim, once in last place, is now in the 3rd seed in the Pacific, and actually have a point more than Nashville. Times have changed!
While the “not” outweighs the “hot,” it does need to be mentioned that Filip Forsberg has been magnificent the past couple of games, with five points, including three goals.
Viktor Arvidsson, recalled after the All Star break, as 19 year old Kevin Fiala was returned to the Milwaukee Admirals in the American Hockey League, netted a pair of goals in the 6-2 pasting of the San Jose Sharks. Both of Arvy’s tallies were real skilled “goal scorer’s goals,” and gave him five to date, as he has shuttled between Nashville and Milwaukee.
Honorable mention has to go to Mike Ribeiro, who played in his 1,000th NHL regular season game over the weekend, and was honored last night in front of his teammates and the Capitals, a team he had played for during the lockout shortened 2012-13 campaign.
On the “not” side of the ledger, the team continues to struggle on offense, and special teams continue to be a disappointment with well over half the season in the books.
The Preds rank a respectable 12th (out of 30) on the power play at a clip of 19.5%, however their recent 5 for 33 slide is well below that pace, and has pushed them out of the top 10. The penalty kill is ranked 24th in the league, and conversely has actually improved recently thanks to a seven game stretch where they killed all 21 man advantages for their opposition. They have since given up 4 power play goals in the past three games.
Defense and goaltending continue to raise white flags, as veteran netminder Pekka Rinne has been in goal for the past four games at home. Back to back contests this Friday (in Tampa) and Saturday (in Miami/Sunrise) may bring backup Carter Hutton back into the crease.
The team next plays at home on February 15 as the Dallas Stars come to town. All Star rearguards Shea Weber and Roman Josi had their difficulties in the Washington game, and in the loss to Philly, both Barret Jackman (-3) and Ryan Ellis (-2) struggled mightily.
Tony Bitetto has been in the lineup the past three games, replacing Petter Granbarg, who played reasonably well in the four Canadian wins, and the 1-0 loss to the Blues. A substitution may be in order for one of the Floridian games.
As we now move into the final twenty-eight games of the season, it cannot be stressed enough how valuable each point is in the grand scheme of things. Teams that end their season on the outside of the playoff picture will often be able to point to a handful of games and missed opportunities that led to their premature demise.
Nashville is still generally considered a favorite to make the post-season, but the intensity needs to ratchet up, and commitment is needed on both sides of the puck, and in all three zones.
We are back next Wednesday with a look at the overall standings, and possible playoff matchups.