Pop recording artist Andy Grammar burst onto the scene a few years back with his debut hit, “Keep Your Head Up.” That sentiment should serve as the Preds inspirational theme song as they travel to St. Louis for a single game road trip Thursday.
Returning home after a stinging defeat in Chicago last week, the team was at their best as they faced the Blackhawks at Bridgestone. In the rematch that turned the tables on the seemingly hot Hawks, the team came out strong taking a 3-0 lead in the first period. Though Patrick Kane kept his scoring streak in tact, when the final whistle blew the Predators had delivered a 5-1 crowning of the Hawks.
Thousands poured out onto the street with the exuberance of a fan base that had just won the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately, the excitement proved to be short term.
Colorado came to town Saturday, and the Preds fell behind quickly after two penalties led to Avalanche goals in the first period. Only a Nashville tally with seven seconds left in the opening stanza stood in the way of the period being a complete washout. The teams battled even in the second, with Colorado being heavily outshot, but there was no change in score.
The Preds tied the game early in the third, but Colorado came back and scored midway through the period and that goal stood up as the game winner. Once again the team lost a game in which they had outshot their opponents (36-25) but in this instance they were not the better team on the ice for much of the game.
Tuesday night brought Pacific Division also-ran Calgary to town. The Flames, however, had won five in a row to bring them back into the division race, although still on the outside looking in. Nashville started strong and dominated play throughout the opening minutes. A questionable penalty shot call gave Cody Hodgson a chance to give the Preds the lead and his shot slipped past Flames goaltender Karri Ramo, and Nashville held a 1-0 lead.
Late in the period, the Flames began to push back and as the two teams came out for the second, things felt decidedly different than they had been in the first. Although the shot totals were just 6-4 in favor of Calgary, one of those six made it past Pekka Rinne and the teams headed into the third period tied at one. While fans may have expected a different result, they did not get one from a Predators team that mustered a mere five shots for the period.
Overtime would decide it, as Calgary capitalized in the extra frame and although the Predators got an all important point in the Central Division standings. They fell to a record of 15-10-6 overall, which means that after thirty-one games, the team has actually lost more than they’ve won – surprising for a team that got off to such a fast start.
Mike Fisher, Gabriel Bourque and Colin Wilson all remain injured, and while some may point to their absence as reason for the lackluster offense, the fact is the team struggled with the three forwards in the lineup as well.
Thursday’s matchup against the Blues should be a soul-searching affair, as the Blues are coming off a strong 4-3 victory vs. division rival Winnipeg and now have 40 points, good enough for second in the Central.
The Preds return home for games on Saturday (Minnesota) and Monday (Montreal) before taking the obligatory Christmas break that sees the team off until Saturday the 26th when the Detroit Red Wings come to town.
The team has maintained a good attitude through this rough patch, and the coaching staff continues to praise the effort. However now they are starting to admit that losing games and valuable points at this juncture could spell trouble come April as the league gets set for its second season, the run to the Stanley Cup.
Will the injured players return make a difference? Will the team start to win more of the games they dominate on the shot clock? Is the team that gave such a sterling effort against Chicago this past Thursday the team that can show up and dominate over the remaining fifty-one games? There are a lot of questions about personnel, preparation and execution, and hopefully General Manager David Poile, Coach Laviolette, and his assistants are watching carefully and can right the ship before someone cries, “ICEBERG!” as opposed to “FORSBERG!!!”