It’s been up, it’s been down, and it’s been down further, but as of today’s writing, it’s time to give the Nashville Predators a pass and set our sights on the future.
There are 25 remaining games in the regular season schedule, culminating in April, when the post season begins.
The team is decidedly “middle of the pack” given the aforementioned ups and downs, but this is not to say they are without hope heading into the final months of play.
On the upside, the team boasts the 10th best power play in the league, although much of it has been a bit of a one-trick-pony with blasts from the point from defensemen Shea Weber and Roman Josi. The penalty kill, which had been as low as 29th in the league (out of 30 teams) is now ranked 23rd, and that upswing has helped the team garner points in four of their last five games (again, despite the fact that they only won two of those contests.)
The Predators sit 16th in goals scored, and 16th in goals against. Here’s the area that has been troublesome all year. Goal differential.
The Preds are traditionally a very stingy team on defense, and this year between inadequate starting goaltending at times and questionable defense from what is usually a solid core of six, has led to breakdowns that saw the team slide from their 11-3-3 start to their current 26-21-10 and a fourth place standing in the Central Division.
The good news? The team has been treading water in the playoff hunt, and with Minnesota losing eight consecutive games and relieving head coach Mike Yeo of his duties, and Colorado playing at a similar pace to Nashville after starting a few points behind due to a dreadful beginning of the season, the Preds are holding onto the first of two wild card spots the Western Conference holds for the post-season.
This week’s games are not walks in the park, but with two home games (Boston on Thursday and Los Angeles on Saturday) and two road games (back to back; Monday in Montreal and Tuesday in Toronto,) the Predators need to maintain an intensity that says “every game is a must win.” You know you can’t win ‘em all, but in this instance, the mindset has to be that.
Pekka Rinne and Carter Hutton may share more time down the stretch, with Hutton having posted big wins in two previous starts before falling in overtime to Dallas at home on Monday. Despite the loss, Hutton was brilliant in net and continues to provide quality backup minutes behind Rinne, who has yet to come around to the form that gave the team their early season dominance.
Craig Smith is coming off of a two-point game in that 3-2 loss against the Stars, and will need to stay hot this week, as the team faces NHL superstar defensemen like Zdeno Chara (Boston), Drew Doughty (Los Angeles) and P.K. Subban (Montreal), as well as offensive juggernauts like Patrice Bergeron and Anze Kopitar.
For the Predators, defenseman Roman Josi continues to lead the team in scoring, and James Neal has already cracked the 20 goal barrier (he has 21) with Filip Forsberg right behind him at 19. Newly acquired center Ryan Johansen continues to move at a point-a-game clip, and the team’s play has been better over the past week.
This is where it begins to get interesting, and after next week when we crunch the numbers, we can begin to see potential playoff matchups and how the Preds could surprise the field as they inch towards the common goal that all NHL players aspire to… the capture of the (Stanley) Cup.