The Western Conference playoff race is anyone’s game.
Currently, only eight points separates the 4th spot from the 15th. The Predators, as of this writing, reside in 10th with 20 games to go. They didn’t do themselves any favors with the back to back against Vancouver and Calgary, but there is still time.
Will they able to pull away from the pack? Are the Predators a playoff team?
Looking at the 20 games remaining, 12 are in the friendly confides of Bridgestone Arena, where they have had success picking up points season with a 6-2-4 home record.
While only eight come on the road, Nashville’s road record has been less than stellar this season at 5-9-2 and three of those games come in Chicago. While the Hawks have fallen down to Earth a bit recently, those games are going to be the biggest hurdles.
For what it’s worth, half of the remaining games are against teams currently under Nashville in the standings. However, given the parity of the conference and the position the team in, it shouldn’t be taking any team for granted, regardless of the standings.
Injuries certainly aren’t helping the club, and it remains to be seen whether they are going to be buyers or sellers at the deadline. Without getting into too much trade speculation, one would have to think David Poile is making calls to find some sort of scorer. In the past the team could rely on their “scoring-by-committee” mentality, but with a league worst 2.15 G/G their offense needs some sort of spark.
There is no magic cure for it, but here’s a tip: jump on teams early. The Predators are 10-0-5 when scoring first and undefeated in regulation when leading after either period. (6-0-3 leading after 1; 5-0-1 leading after two) But they are just 1-9-1 when getting scored on first. This team is talented enough to hold a lead if they get one early, which is what they are going to need to do from here on out.
The good news is the defense has been lights out, allowing only 2.15 goals against before this weekend’s games, third in the league. That number grew to 2.46, but part of that was due to the uncharacteristically shoddy play of Pekka Rinne. Don’t count on that continuing.
Going forward, here’s what needs to happen:
The Predators need to focus on taking advantage of their fans and home cooking to rack up wins. Seeing them coming away with an 8-2-2 would be ideal and definitely doable.
They have to go .500 or better starting Sunday. This shouldn’t be out of the question, as half those remaining road games come against the current bottom three teams in the conference. (Edmonton, Colorado, Columbus
Finally, on top of all the above points, there are four absolutely must-win games left on the schedule given where this team is in the standings and who is around them:
March 28 vs. Phoenix, April 9 vs. St. Louis, April 12 vs. Dallas, and April 14 vs. Detroit.
With Phoenix and Dallas hovering in and out of the last spot, the Preds can help put them away along with closing the distance in the Central with wins against the Blues and Wings.
If the team can find its mojo on the road, beat up on the last place teams, and steal some points away from the division, they are more than capable of making the playoffs. They are still in the hunt, but if they don’t start acting fast, the gap between the 8th spot.