Between now and Nov. 15, the Nashville Predators will travel nearly 7,000 miles across North America to play seven games in 17 days. It’s a franchise-record road trip in terms of time away from Nashville, as the Predators did have a seven-game trip in 2002-03.
This road trip will certainly put the Predators to the test. They will play games in all four time zones during this continent-wide expedition spanning from coast to coast. The Predators will also be playing some good teams along the way, including Colorado, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh.
It’s the kind of road stretch that could make or break their season.
“I think everybody would agree that this [road trip] is too long but it is what it is. You’re going to have to find a way to make the most of it,” said veteran center Matt Cullen, who has never been on a road trip this long in his 16-year career. “For us it’s a critical time. We’re going to have to hold our own on the road trip and try to pile up some points.”
“Obviously this is an abnormal road trip but we don’t control the scheduling. We just have to take care of business. We know this is a huge part of our season. We can’t make excuses. We just have to go and win games on the road,” Eric Nystrom said.
The road trip, caused by the CMA Awards taking over Bridgestone Arena, starts Thursday in Phoenix and then heads to Los Angeles on Saturday. After games against Colorado and Winnipeg next week, the Predators will make their way to the east coast to face the Devils, Islanders and Penguins before returning home for a Nov. 16 contest against Chicago.
In total, the Predators will travel approximately 6,750 miles in 17 days.
“I said to the guys that this could be the best trip we’ve ever had based on what we do,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said. “We’ll be making a North American tour. We’ll see every climate, both sides of the country. If you look at it in a positive way versus it being a negative, we’ll be fine. I have no doubts this team can play well on the road.”
When you look at the trip on paper, it looks like a daunting task to come away with a lot of points. But as Trotz and a few players have pointed out this week, the key is there are no back-to-backs on this trip until the team returns home. Plus the team has played better on the road thus far this season compared to last, as they won in Montreal and Winnipeg two weekends ago, which gives them a little more optimism.
“Everyone talks about the length of the trip, but there is enough rest in between games because we have no back-to-backs,” Mike Fisher said. “The quality of opponents is obviously going to be good. We want to be good and hard to play against on the road. We had a good trip last time and we just have to keep playing that way.”
This marathon cross-country jaunt comes at a time in the schedule where the Predators in the past have found their stride. In six of their seven playoff appearances, they have had an above-.500 record in November. Most of those months were the time the Predators took off and strung together a number of wins.
This November it will be a tough task. They only have five home games in the month and won’t feel like they are truly back home until almost Thanksgiving. That means the Predators will have to get the job done away from home, not to mention without the services of star goalie Pekka Rinne.
However, the Predators are expected to get defenseman Roman Josi back in the lineup on the road trip, possibly as soon as Thursday in Phoenix. Josi was recently cleared for contact and has been practicing with the team since last Thursday. Trotz mentioned that he expects to ease Josi back into the lineup and keep Shea Weber and Seth Jones paired together.
“Players can practice all they want, but it’s how they play. We have to see how Josi plays,” Trotz said. “He’s a good player and he’ll get back to form in time, but will it happen right out of the gates or will it take a couple games? I can’t answer that until we play the games. I would say he will be in the second or third pairs.”
No matter who is in or out of the lineup, this is going to be a difficult road trip. Seventeen days is a long time to be away from the family, living out of a suitcase and sleeping in hotel beds. The Predators will try to make the most of it.
“It’s going to be a challenging trip, but hopefully we can look back at the end of the season and say this trip is what made our season,” Cullen said. “This could be one of those things where you get hot, you’re together as a group on the road – I’ve seen teams do that. You get on a roll and have a great road trip and that sets up your whole season. We’re hoping for that.”