From now until the end of the month, the Predators are almost exclusively playing either teams from their division or teams at the top of the standings. Sometimes both.
It would be foolish to think they'll go undefeated in that time, but if there was ever a time to string some wins together... it's now. Nashville hasn't done so in a month, and up next on the playlist are two teams they are directly competing with in the standings and a conference bottom dweller.
Tonight they start with the latter, but the standings are deceiving when it comes to the Calgary Flames right now.
The Calgary Flames
If it weren't for the Edmonton Oilers, the Flames would be the NHL's hottest team. (That is an actual true sentence, if you can believe it.)
They start the night on a five-game winning streak, and have won seven of their last 10 overall. During their streak, they have wins over the Stars, Bruins, Sharks, Sabres, and Rangers. However, they're still 13th in the conference with 28 points.
After being the next poster child for REGRESSION, they added a few pieces that looked like they may stave that off. Michael Frolik chose to relocate from Winnipeg, and Brad Treliving/Brian Burke absolutely stole Dougie Hamilton away from Boston. Well, Frolik has been OK and Hamilton had an awful start to the year. More importantly, their possession numbers didn't improve, sporting a 47.3 CF%, which is tied with other notably bad teams Edmonton and Buffalo.
Then their goaltending got worse. The Flames are 29th in the league with an ugly 90.1 5v5 Sv%. Jonas Hiller is a tire fire, Karri Ramo is better but still bad, and Joni Ortio was strung along as the third goalie until finally being sent back down to the AHL.
Their star is scoring, though. Oversized baby Johnny Gaudreau paces the team with 31 points, which also stands at seventh in the league. After that, Sean Monahan brings up second with 23 points, but the the scoring is really done by committee. Calgary scores 2.66 goals per game (13th) and have 11 plays with 10 points or more. While only Gaudreau and Monahan have cracked double digit figures in goals, 18 players who've suited up for the Flames have found the back of the net.
For whatever reason, whether Calgary is playing well or not, they always seem to have Nashville's number. Last year the Flames swept the season series. The year before Nashville held the edge 2-0-1, but that shootout loss was the infamous Eric Nystrom Pants Trick Game. That should count as twelve losses at once
While many of you are starting to lose your heads, pull our your hair, or engage in other cranium-related harm, we've been trying to tell you not to be so hard on yourself. Yes, the Predators aren't playing to their potential. Yes, there are glaring weaknesses with the team. Yes, they should be higher in the standings despite dominating shot totals and having a stifling defense.
That last point was the basis of an excellent Tom Willis joint on the Predators website. From the mouth of the coach himself:
"Looking at a lot of things we’re doing on the ice, I think it will turn," Laviolette said of the Preds poor results despite superior shot statistics. "That’s how we play. That’s how we do it here. It’s led to a lot of success and a lot of wins. Right now we just have to find a way to cut down a goal or find one more goal for us to swing these one-goal games that aren’t going our way."
Stay the course. Keep playing how you're playing. Peter Laviolette has this team cranking out at an elite rate. The problem stems from the fact Pekka Rinne is playing below his talent, and his shooters couldn't hit net if they were dolphins swimming with tuna.
Roman Josi agrees, and I dare you to disagree with whatever comes out of his face:
"[We] know what makes our team successful, and that’s getting a lot of shots to the net and scoring dirty goals," defenseman Roman Josi said. "It can be frustrating, especially when we had that stretch where we didn’t score, and we really thought we played well in some of those games. It gets frustrating, but I think you just have to stick to the process."
Get more traffic to the front of the net, and do everything else the same. It really will do wonders. Lest you worry more, remember that Nashville is closer to 2nd place in the division than they are to being bounced out of their current spot in the second wild card. Even through all the bumps in the road, they're three points behind the Blues. They hold all the cards right now, but that's a point coming up for later this week.
Now about that penalty kill...
Reasons to Watch
- Paul McCann will interrupt the game at some point with an announcement over the PA that Gaudreau's parents are waiting for him at the customer service kiosk.
- Mark Giordano has been a sexy pick for Norris over the past few years. Does Josi finally have enough to overtake him?
The Important Stuff