As in life, excuse me as I put on my philosophical hat, there are going to be ups and downs throughout the course of a hockey season. While we tend to maybe over-analyze things on a game by game basis, the good and the bad, the truth usually lies somewhere in between the extremes. This season hasn't exactly gone as planned for the Nashville Predators. As they stand today, the team finds themselves out of the playoff mix.
Everyone is looking for answers, including General Manager David Poile who has been scouring the waiver wire like a vulture looking for any scraps. There have been theories-a-plenty as to why the drop-off this season for the perennial hardworking Preds. Has the loss of Ryan Suter really damaged the squad this badly? Has the team lost its confidence? Could Coach Barry Trotz's message finally gotten stale within the Predators locker room? Why aren't the top forwards scoring like they should?
While perhaps these are all legitimate questions, I think it's wise we don't over-react. I understand that it's a shortened season because of the lockout, and I know it's tough to play the "What if' game, but if it was a normal season, we wouldn't be seeing this type of panic this soon into the schedule. There are some positives, that I'm sure the coaching staff would be quick to point out, to focus on moving forward as they build towards the playoff run and can give the team and fans some good vibes.
First of all, Pekka Rinne is still Nashville's goalie. And he will be for a while. That has to be a positive no matter what their record is. Most nights, as long as he is between the pipes, the Preds stand a good chance of being in the game. With five shutouts already in this season, Rinne is continuing to prove he is a world-class goaltender that a team can build around.
Another positive so far this season has been the emergence of some of the younger forwards, like Colin Wilson and Craig Smith in particular. We have been hearing from Poile and Trotz about these two youngsters for what seems like an eternity, and finally this season it looks like they may be gaining their stride. Colin Wilson is the teams leading scorer with 19 points and has at times, single handedly carried the play in the offensive zone. Craig Smith appears to be gaining his confidence as the season progresses, showing good speed and nice shoot-out touch of late. The coaching staff has been gaining confidence in both players and should be solid building blocks for the franchise moving forward.
Although Nashville hasn't been winning many games lately, they are getting some quality scoring chances but just can't seem to find the back of the net. (Cue, dude in the upper deck, "Put the biscuit in the basket!") One would hope it's only a matter of time before a couple of these start to go in. And I think it's been shown that if the Predators can get the first goal, they stand a much better chance. They have been coming into games getting opportunities for that first goal lately, and if they can just get on a roll, perhaps they can get hot.
Matt Halischuk has been the most recent positive over this past week. After starting the season off very quietly, Halischuk was sent to Milwaukee for conditioning and has responded very well. Since coming back he has been one of the Predators best forwards. That is exactly the type of maturity you want to see from one of your younger players. Hopefully he can help push some of the other forwards who have been struggling.
Even over this past bad stretch of games, I think it's safe to say there hasn't been any quit in the team. They have given up some goals early, but usually find a way to get our hopes up in the second or third period. That is a good sign that Coach Trotz hasn't lost the locker room and the players know what they need to do to get out of this funk.
And for people who are saying it's time for Trotz to go, I don't think I'm quite there yet. I want to know, who would be the one to make that decision? Would Poile fire Trotz? Would it be someone in the ownership group? I mean who would even be in charge of finding the new coach? These are things that I would want the organization to think about before doing anything drastic.
So all in all, this season has started out a little shaky, but it's not too late to still make a run. Every team in the Western Conference is just so close, it's impossible to call anyone completely out. There are still 20 games left and Nashville has yet to play its best hockey. There has been times in the past where I remember thinking, there is no way this team will make the playoffs and yet they did. If the Preds can get healthy again and weather the storm until Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist come back from injury, they can still have a good run in them. And as we have seen, if you can make it in the playoffs, it's anyone's Cup.