“Everything that follows is a result of what you see here.”
Sound like a quote that seem a bit ominous? Well it should be in the case of the Nashville Predators. Nashville is 22 games into the condensed 48 game season. They have 9 wins and a combined total of 13 losses; 8 by way of regulation and 5 by way of a shootout/overtime loss. They’re barely holding onto a spot in the top 8 of the Western Conference, and for all intents and purposes shouldn’t be there at all based on their play over the last 3 weeks. However, they’re holding on, albeit by the skin of their proverbial teeth.
Nashville is at a fork in the road and they need to make a very serious choice: is it time to take hold of the season and the work they’ve accomplished so far or is it time to just mail it in for the rest of the year and build for the next one?
Nashville has 4 regulation wins all season long, having a league-high 10 game make it to extra time to decide a winner (Nashville being 5-5 in extra time, 3-1 in OT and 2-4 in the shootout). The Predators have the worst goal differential of any team in playoff position with -8. The only teams with a worse goal differential are Winnipeg, Colorado, Buffalo, NY Islanders, Calgary, Columbus, and Florida: all teams not in the playoff picture (and in most cases, not even close).
Nashville is the worst in the NHL in terms of shots on net, their powerplay and penalty kill aren’t close to what they were recording last season, and their only savior right now is coming in the form of Pekka Rinne, who is trying to carry the entire team on his shoulders.
By all accounts, Nashville (on paper) is a really bad team.
However, they’re still alive, clinging onto that 8th spot in the Western Conference playoff picture, with just a little more than half the season left to go. They have brief flashes of the potential for great offense (a breakaway here, a beautiful tic-tac-toe play there), however the Predators can’t put it together consistently for a stretch of good 60 minute efforts. With a record of 4-5-1 in their past 10 games, and all but one of their 4 wins came in regulation (a 3-0 win against Phoenix at home), they’ve scored 2 total goals in their past 4 losses (also being shut out twice in that span).
So, the question remains: what do we see here? Where do the Predators go from here?
It’s a question that will have to be answered internally, some soul searching will have to be done from the youth and the veterans both. Some of their usual mainstays haven’t contributed much in the term of offense. David Legwand has 7 points on the season, Mike Fisher and Shea Weber with 8, Kostitsyn with 9, and only Martin Erat (11) and Colin Wilson (15) have eclipsed double digits for the season. The surprising Matt Halischuk, who contributed 15 goals and 13 assists has 1 point (an assist) in 15 games this season.
Something is wrong. Something is direly wrong with the Predators.
The Predators have relied heavily on their goaltending this season, and it’s finally beginning to show. 13 of their 22 games have been decided by one goal, where Nashville has a record of 5-3-5. The other 9 games? 4-5-0, winning their 4 by a combined score of 15-2 and losing their 5 by a combined score of 19-1. Through their 8 regulation losses, they have been outscored by a total of 28-7, 5 of those coming in the 6-5 loss against Colorado.
There comes a time when a team has to decide how they want their season to be remembered, I have a feeling that time has come this year for the Predators. Not next week, not last week, now. They have to figure something out over the next 3 games (@ Los Angeles, home vs Edmonton, home vs Minnesota) before they venture out on their last major roadtrip of the season: a 5-game travel swing against Dallas, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, and Columbus.
While all 5 of those are very winnable games, we’ve said the same for quite a few games already this season with unexpected results.
Nashville’s youth needs to step up and contribute like they always have.
Nashville’s veterans need to step up and contribute like they are expected to.
Nashville’s defense needs to become the stingy defense they’re known for, allowing close to the least number of goals in the league and owning the 1-goal victories.
Because right now? The team is at the fork at the road, scratching their heads trying to figure out which path is the right one. And everything that will follow? It’ll be a result of what they decide to do. Not you, not me, not the coaching staff, no one will be able to force them down either path.
This is something the players have to decide and they need to make that decision quickly.