Last week, the Nashville Predators got a little payback as they picked up wins at home against Vancouver and Boston, then went on the road and grabbed another two points after falling behind in Colorado.
What all three of these games had in common is that the “better team” came out on the losing end, and a sluggish, yet occasionally inspired Preds team managed to grind out victories when you thought all had been lost.
The Boston game stood out, as rookie goaltender Juuse Saros stopped 35 of 36 shots (vs. Nashville’s 19) for a 2-1 regulation wins. Then, with mechanical difficulties beyond the team’s control, they arrived in Colorado just hours before a Saturday afternoon affair against perhaps the weakest team in the league. With the Avs grabbing a 2-0 lead, the Preds dealt from the bottom of the deck until they found three aces, and turned the corner with a 3-2 win.
Would momentum sustain them on this five game road trip?
Tuesday night the team met the Canucks for the second time in eight days. At Bridgestone, the Preds took a 1-0 lead into the final minute of the third period, before surrendering the tying goal. Nashville did go on to win in dramatic fashion in overtime, but eight days later goals were impossible to come by on the other side of the Canadian border.
Actually, it looked like the Predators had scored first, when Derek Grant, a big centerman acquired via the waiver wire from the Buffalo Sabres, appeared to have put the puck past Vancouver goaltender Ryan Miller, but after lengthy review, it was determined the referee had “intended” to blow the whistle, and the tally was nullified. That being said, the Preds could never sustain enough offense to get one to count, and Vancouver put in a single goal for their 1-0 home win, ending the Predators modest three game winning streak.
Points are at a premium in this race for the playoffs. Each division sends their top three seeded teams, and then the top two point getters beyond those six are the conference “wild cards.”
Let’s have a look at where the Preds sit in the standings, and the games they will play this week as they continue their road trip.
Currently fourth in the Central Division, the Predators are 20-17-7, good for 47 points. Minnesota paces the division with 61 points in 43 games. Chicago also has 61 points, but has played four more games. St. Louis, with 45 games played has 51 points. So, a win tonight for Nashville, coupled with a Blues loss could move the team to within two points of that coveted third guaranteed post-season spot. Of course, St. Louis continues to have played that one extra game to this point.
In the Pacific Division, Anaheim holds a two-point lead over Edmonton (59 to 57) with both teams having played 47 games. San Jose, with a big win last night over Los Angeles, has 56 points, but has played two fewer games. These three teams should continue to be in a dogfight for the top three spots the rest of the way. Calgary at 51 points, and both Los Angeles and Vancouver, with 48 points are part of that wild card chase that includes Nashville, as well as Dallas and Winnipeg, who each sport 46 points to date. Scary times as it looks like six teams will fight for a wild card spot over the second half of the season.
As for Nashville, they come into Calgary following their shutout loss to Vancouver. The Flames hold a four-point lead on Nashville, but the Preds, having played three fewer games have the better percentage at this point. Calgary has had an up and down season, as have so many of the wild card contenders, Preds included. Winners of six consecutive games beginning in late-November and coasting through into the second week of December, the Flames have been inconsistent ever since. They come off a solid 5-2 win over Florida on Tuesday, but they dropped four of six prior to the Panthers game.
Goaltending remains questionable for Calgary, as they signed free agent Brian Elliott to a large deal in the off season, but it’s been back-up Chad Johnson who has received the bulk of the play due to Elliott’s inconsistencies. Goaltending has not been an issue for the Predators as both Pekka Rinne and the rookie, Saros give the team a chance to win on a nightly basis.
After Calgary, the team plays tomorrow night in Edmonton, where Connor McDavid recently notched his 100th NHL point in just his 92nd game, making him the fourth fastest player to reach said milestone. Edmonton, along with Columbus and Minnesota, has been one of the most-improved teams in the NHL, and will give Nashville all it can handle offensively.
With key Preds defensemen P.K. Subban, Roman Josi and Petter Granberg all on the injured list, the team has been forced to move players into positions of prominence with varying results. Newly acquired Brad Hunt, a waiver acquisition from St. Louis, who had his NHL beginnings in Edmonton may see action as soon as tonight in an effort to bolster the offense from the blueline. After a Sunday night contest in Minnesota, facing a Wild team that has won twice at Bridgestone, the Preds return home for a Tuesday night game against the Buffalo Sabres, who feature sophomore sensation Jack Eichel.
Lots of hockey coming up, and lots of chance to gain ground on that post-season playoff hunt. Let’s hope we see some exciting hockey from our men of gold! Go Preds!