Four games into their season-high seven-game road trip, things were looking pretty bleak for the Nashville Predators. They had managed to get just one win in those four games, scoring only five goals in the process and allowing 11 goals. Pekka Rinne had yet to capture his first win of the season, and the Predators were having trouble generating shots on goal on a consistent basis.
Well, the Predators are still having trouble generating a lot of shots on goal, but Rinne and company rattled off three consecutive wins to close out the seven-game road trip with a respectable 4-2-1 record.
Collecting nine out of a possible 14 points is a successful road trip. Nashville sits in sixth place in the Western Conference standings as of Wednesday morning and are only one point behind the St. Louis Blues for second in the Central Division.
The biggest difference in the Predators team that began the road trip and the one that thrashed the Blues by a 6-1 score Tuesday night is the return of Rinne’s dominance. He wasn’t getting much help throughout the first four road games of the trip, but Rinne also was not on his A-game. That has changed drastically in the last three games.
Rinne has allowed just three goals in the last three games, and all three of those allowed goals came while the Predators were shorthanded. That means Rinne hasn’t allowed an even strength goal in over three full games. That is stellar goaltending.
Sure, Nashville’s defense definitely showed a lot of improvement across the lineup over the course of the last three games of the trip. Forwards were a lot more tenacious on the forecheck, and the defensemen were winning more one-on-one battles for loose pucks that led to better breakouts. However, Rinne held the Predators in the game every night. The Predators were out-shot in every single game throughout their seven-game road trip and still came away with four wins.
Offensively, the Predators were inconsistent with their ability to capitalize on their opportunities. They were shut out by St. Louis and Phoenix, scored just one goal in regulation against Los Angeles and San Jose, scored two against Anaheim, three in their first game against Minnesota and then broke out for six goals against the Blues. The Predators are still not creating enough scoring chances and shot opportunities, but their defensive improvement allowed them to grind out two critical shootout victories in Los Angeles and San Jose.
What Does This Road Trip Mean?
It’s hard to expect much more than a 4-2-1 record on a grueling, two-week road trip at the beginning of the season. The Predators had no identity for the first few games of the season, and they really looked to be in a bit of disarray in Phoenix especially. Now, the Predators are beginning to recapture the identity that has made them successful over the past two seasons. Sound defense, great goaltending and opportunistic offense — otherwise known as Predator Hockey.
The Predators, currently at 4-2-3 with 11 points, are sitting in pretty good position in the Western Conference. They were able to survive perhaps the most intimidating part of their schedule this season and now have the opportunity to roll off wins in front of their home crowd. The Predators are the only team in the NHL without a home win so far, having only played two games and posting an 0-0-2 record.
Nashville will play five of their next six games at Bridgestone Arena, and most of them will come against the very same teams they just played on the road trip. They start with the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings on Thursday night and then travel to Minnesota for the second time this season. After that, the Predators play four straight home games against Chicago, San Jose, Phoenix and Anaheim.
The only thing that will be getting easier for the Predators over the next few weeks is their travel schedule. They’re still playing pretty much every other night, and they still have some very tough opponents coming up. Their 4-2-1 seven-game road trip could prove to be the launching pad for the rest of the season. It was a grueling grind.
But in the end the Predators sit right in the thick of things in the Western Conference, which is a better outlook than what the first half of the road trip had to offer.