Jan 3, 2014
Things could be a lot worse for the Nashville Predators. Granted, they could also be a lot better in that same regard. At the halfway point with 41 games played, Nashville stands at a very literal crossroad for the 2013-2014 season.
Their record of 18-18-5 is about as middle-of-the-pack as you can get, but they’re eight points out of the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference, good for 12th in the Western Conference. Yet, even though they’re three spots from the bottom of the conference, it’s a foot race for the final spot, where every point for the rest of the season will count.
Ahead of the Predators:
Winnipeg Jets – 43 games played, 43 points (19-19-5)
Minnesota Wild – 43 games played, 47 points (21-17-5)
Dallas Stars – 40 games played, 47 points (20-13-7)
*Phoenix Coyotes – 40 games played, 49 points (20-11-9)
*Vancouver Canucks – 42 games played, 53 points (23-12-7)
Phoenix and Vancouver represent the West’s two wildcard recipients as of this article, eight and ten points respectively, ahead of the Predators in the standings. Three of Nashville’s Central Division rivals make up the remaining teams vying for the final opportunity into the postseason. For a team that can’t find consistent offense and has been relying on a goaltending tandem that entered the season with a total of one game played at the NHL level, being only eight points at of a playoff spot is a near-miracle.
Head coach Barry Trotz continues to squeeze every ounce out of the lineup, which has already seen three frustrating losing streaks of four games or more. Over the past handful of games, though, Nashville’s always-maligned offensive production from it’s top forwards is doing something that they had not seen to this point in the season: consistent production.
While David Legwand’s point race has slowed significantly with zero points in eight of his last nine games, the Predators have seen the majority of their remaining top-name players start point streaks of their own:
Shea Weber has recorded eleven points in his previous ten games (3g, 8a) after starting the season with seven goals and six assists in 28 games.
Craig Smith, Nashville’s new goal-scoring leader, has eight points in his previous nine games (5g, 3a), including two two-goal games in that span.
Patric Hornqvist has a goal and three assist in his previous three games.
After starting the season with 13 points in 31 games, Mike Fisher has found his groove and scored eight points (3g, 5a) in his last three games.
Colin Wilson has two goals and three assists in his previous four games.
Nashville needs this kind of production from their top forwards if they want any chance of pushing towards that final playoff spot. They also did something against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night that they haven’t done much this year: tying a game late after giving up a lead.
The Predators entered the third period of their game against Boston with a 1-0 lead. Then, they found themselves in a 2-1 hole with a little over seven minutes remaining in the game. While they ultimately lost on a play by an opponent that would result in a turnover nine out of ten times, Nashville tied the game and earned a point before dropping the game in overtime.
Recent point production and an apparent change in confidence in the locker room is something that everyone can look to as a positive sign of things to come for the Predators, if they can keep things moving in that direction. They have two winnable games this weekend against Florida and Carolina before coming back to Nashville for five games in eight day where all but one team is ahead of them, point-wise, in the standings.
Nashville has a very significant opportunity over the next two weeks. If they can earn a modest chunk of points over their next seven games, it will go a long way towards their ultimate goal of a return trip to the playoffs, their first since losing to the Phoenix Coyotes in the 2012 Western Conference Semifinals.
There’s only one question: Will they sink or can they swim?