Just a mere two weeks ago, the Predators were on top of the hockey world. Every major outlet had the team either No. 1 or 2 in the power rankings on the week of Oct. 25, giving them props for being the last team without a regulation loss. They had the most points in the league at the time, sitting on top of the powerful Central Division.
Ever since, it has been a long two weeks for Nashville.
After dropping a 3-0 decision on home-ice to the red-hot Blues, the Predators have gone on to lose four in a row on the road, looking anything but the team that was 5-0-3 on October 24th.
It doesn’t get any easier for Barry Trotz and company as they will take on the Blues and Blackhawks this week. The Preds have fallen back in the pack, watching the other four divisional foes pass by. They are actually closer to the Oilers in the standings than they are to Chicago, and currently sit seven points behind St. Louis.
The biggest weakness during this five-game skid hasn’t necessarily been the offense. Though tied for 28th in the NHL in scoring, the Preds’ back end has struggled mightily.
In these last five games, they have surrendered 21 goals… very un-Nashville like. The backbone of the Preds is defense and goaltending – led by Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber. Neither has come close to playing to their potential. Rinne hasn’t been the same since returning from a knee injury suffered on opening night against Anaheim. Aside from a stellar shutout in Dallas, Rinne seems to be fighting the puck, leading some to believe he may not be fully healthy. ‘Peks’ has recorded a 4.57 goals-against average and .857 save percentage in this current skid.
Meanwhile, Captain Weber boasts a minus-6 rating in this losing streak, registering only one point. The whole blueline has looked uncomfortable – especially lately – in Ryan Suter’s absence. Defensemen have been out of position on a frequent basis, which is something you usually don’t see with the Preds.
These next couple weeks will be a true test for Weber, facing adversity for the first time as captain.
Injuries have really bit Nashville in the rear, as well. Suter has now missed eight games with a knee injury, and there doesn’t seem to be a definitive timetable for his return. The same goes for forwards Martin Erat (back) and Matthew Lombardi (concussion). Others – most notably Francis Bouillon, Marcel Goc and Rinne – have already missed time.
Special teams – a major focal point for Nashville this year – have gone dry, too. In the last five games, the power play is 1-for-20, while the penalty kill has been an average 15-for-20. This is something they need to fix sooner rather than later, but it seems like we’ve been saying that for two years now.
For Barry Trotz and company to get the train back on the tracks, they must start playing Predators Hockey again; they have steered away from their ‘20 men for 60 minutes’ mentality recently. At times during this road trip, they have looked defeated.
The goaltending needs to be consistent, whether it’s Rinne or Anders Lindback. The defense also can’t continue to leave them out to dry.
I also feel like the forward lines must be changed up, outside of the top unit of Steve Sullivan, Patric Hornqvist and Cal O’Reilly. Of course, getting healthy will help, too.
While there seems to be some panic in Pred Nation, the Preds have been here before. They lost six in a row last October, which was the low point of the 2009/10 season. Trotz’s gang rebounded to get 100 points.
But will the task be tougher this time around? Injuries have plagued the lineup in the early going and the division is better. That’s why games against St. Louis and Chicago this week are so critical with Nashville seeking to make up for lost ground.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.