Up to this point in the season, the Nashville Predators have compiled an unimpressive 25-23-9 record, good for sixth in the Central division. However, as of Feb. 3 they are tied with the Dallas Stars in points (59) and are only four points out of the final Wild Card spot.
Considering there have been times this year that the postseason was considered a pipe dream to even the most optimistic of fans, that short of a gap will at least make for a compelling final push. The biggest thing standing in Nashville’s way? The schedule.
Before the Olympic break, the Preds square off against the Minnesota Wild and the Anaheim Ducks. Nashville has only won one of the three games against the Wild this season and was shut out in the other two. They have only played Anaheim once so far this season but were lit up to a tune of 4-3. All four of those goals were scored in the second period which happens against the best team in hockey. It won’t be an easy path to the break.
Nashville is only sending three players to Sochi: Shea Weber (Canada), Roman Josi and Simon Moser (Switzerland). Moser has only played one game in the NHL this season and will most likely stay in the AHL for the rest of it. Patric Hornqvist was apparently on the short list to replace injured Johan Franzen for Sweden, but Gustav Nyquist made the team instead. That leaves almost the entire rest of the team a couple of weeks to relax and nurse any wounds they have. It will also allow Matt Cullen and Victor Stalberg (who haven’t played for a few games) to get back into the lineup.
They’ll need it. After the break, Nashville only has 23 games remaining and 13 of those are again teams currently in the playoffs. But those 10 games against non-playoff teams is a bit deceiving. Half of them are against teams that are still very much in contention for a playoff spot, including the Washington Capitals, Ottawa Senators, Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas. The other half include a Winnipeg Jets team that is playing markedly better since Paul Maurice took over, ditto for the Buffalo Sabres and Ted Nolan and the Edmonton Oilers. Despite their lowly point total, they have outscored Nashville 8-1 this year.
If there is one thing hockey fans know it’s that anything is possible. Just because the climb is steep doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The problem lies with Nashville’s inability to so far to string together multiple wins at a time. It’s been nothing but two steps forward, two steps back this campaign. A nice break to clear their heads along with the possible return of Pekka Rinne could do wonders to cure them of that ill. There is still a lot to be decided, so don’t count the Predators out just yet.