The Home Stretch
After hosting what many believe was the greatest All-Star spectacle this generation has ever seen, Tuesday turns the page to business as usual for the Nashville Predators.
The club completed their schedule before the break with a 4-game winning streak, sweeping every Western Conference Canadian team in their own barns, finishing the month with a respectable 6-5-1 mark. Not terrible considering they played just 3 games at Bridgestone Arena during that time. The team will be hosting 18 games the rest of the way, 8 of which in February.
Last February, the club got off to a blistering start, winning 8 of their first 9. But the brutal schedule seemed to wear the team down as they subsequently lost 8 of their next 10, and 17 of the final 25 overall. This year the schedule is a bit more spread out with 13 games in the month as opposed to 15 in 28 days that they faced a year ago.
However, just because the games are spread out, don’t expect this year to be any easier. Out of those 13 games, 10 will be against teams that currently sit in a playoff spot, with 7 vs teams in either 1st or 2nd place in their respective divisions. I know they went into the break on a high note after giving up just 4 goals during the western Canadian trip, but those are games that they should’ve won. Frankly, anything less than 6 or 7 points would’ve been a major disappointment.
You want to know what I DID notice during that roadie?…… GETTING TO THE FRONT OF THE NET! Those of you who follow me on Twitter have noticed a certain change in my appearance and it’s because of my frustration with the club. Aside from the Calgary game, the Preds scored at least one goal in each contest by getting into and around the blue paint. It felt like it’s been a month since I saw them cash in on rebounds or deflections in front. I don’t care how much you’re outshooting teams, I can stop 90% of shots if all you’re doing is firing away from the perimeter all the time. If nothing else, their recent winning streak may have given them the confidence to make a strong push towards the postseason.
Perhaps the two biggest games in February are against the Blues, whom the Preds both open and finish the month with. Although Nashville sits what appears to be a distant 8 points behind them in the standings, the Preds have two games in hand, and the Blues are missing their number one netminder Jake Allen for the foreseeable future. In 176 minutes played this year vs Nashville, Allen had given up just 2 goals before surrendering 2 in the final 4 minutes of their last meeting when the Preds forced OT and salvaged a point. Brian Elliott is no slouch when facing the Preds however, posting a career .927sv% and 2.20 gaa against them.
We can only hope that the Preds we last saw in western Canada is the same group that finishes up the season. No, it wasn’t always perfect and some would argue it wasn’t their best hockey. But good teams… PLAYOFF teams… find ways to win. The formula of getting 35-40 shots on goal with no traffic in front has failed them thus far. It may not be pretty, but maybe what has been missing all year is more of the Trotzian-Era Preds that get the gritty, greasy goals at opportune times.