Four games into the shortened season, the Nashville Predators have four points. Not terrible, but not the start they were hoping for, especially with the first two games coming on home ice. The next five games, though, are crucial for the Predators.
Thursday’s 3-0 loss in St. Louis was a less-than-stellar performance to say the least. The Predators only generated 13 shots in the loss, albeit against arguably the NHL’s top defensive team. But it was a bad loss nonetheless.
With five games in the season’s first eight days, we knew this would be a tough stretch for the Predators. The good news is that despite not playing with much consistency they are in a decent position sitting at 1-1-2. It could be better, but it could also be worse.
With an eight-day west coast swing on the immediate horizon however, this is an important time in the young season for the Predators.
The forwards haven’t generated much offense dating back to the third period of Monday’s game against the Blues. The top line of Martin Erat, Mike Fisher and Sergei Kostitsyn has a combined three points at even strength through four games. That’s not good enough. In fact, changing up all four lines wouldn’t be a bad idea. Why not put Colin Wilson, the Predators’ best forward thus far, on the left wing with Erat and Fisher? Kostitsyn has been particularly ineffective early on.
In any case, the offense needs a spark of some sort. The way it’s going right now isn’t going to cut it when they face Anaheim, Phoenix, Los Angeles and San Jose on the road. The Predators’ defense hasn’t been sharp, but it hasn’t lost them any games. Pekka Rinne is still searching for his A-game, but he hasn’t lost the Predators any games, either.
It falls on the group up front. Barry Trotz’s gang needs to regain that Predator Hockey mentality where all four lines are forechecking and generating scoring chances. We saw glimpses of it in Minnesota, but none of it in St. Louis. Locating that identity is important in the final five games of this road trip.
Though the Predators have had Anaheim’s number of late, Bruce Boudreau’s Ducks are lighting up the scoreboard to start the season. For a Predators team that doesn’t quite have their game in order, Saturday’s tilt against the hated Ducks will be difficult.
Next week’s slate offers challenges as well. Monday the Predators will face off against the Phoenix Coyotes, who Trotz and company have had a tough time against in recent years, including last spring’s playoffs. They travel Thursday to Los Angeles and Saturday to San Jose, two places that have been a black hole of sorts in the past.
The road trip concludes the following Tuesday in St. Louis, where the Predators have been beaten by a total of 6-0 in their last two trips.
In short, the Predators are about to face five teams that should be vying for playoff spots come April. If they conclude the road trip playing the way they did in Thursday’s shutout loss, it could be tough to simply flip the switch in the final 39 games.
With a home-laden February on deck, the Predators have to finish the road trip on a good note – and they can do so by regaining the Predator Hockey identity that has been mostly idle in the season’s first four games.