It’s hard to be optimistic after the past two gut-wrenching losses on home ice. The standings don’t look favorable as 2016 comes to a close. But the outlook on the season isn’t as bad as one might think.
The Predators have been wildly inconsistent through the first three months of the season. There’s no disputing that. One great month of November sandwiched between two months of hockey many would like to forget.
Coming into the season, the question was whether Pekka Rinne could bounce back from a poor year and if his backup would be good enough to give them a chance to win. Rinne has been better, and Juuse Saros has shown he is capable even at a young age. Goaltending, surprisingly, can’t be blamed for the team’s lack of success.
The defense, however, can be. Chemistry between the defensive pairs hasn’t flourished, but Nashville has yet to play a full game with their best six defensemen in uniform. Defensive breakdowns have been too common, and opponents have found themselves in open space too often.
But are the defensive struggles more about a lack of continuity and familiarity with three new defensemen added in the off-season or did supremely talented players such as Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm forget how to play good hockey?
I’m leaning towards the first conclusion. Until P.K. Subban and Anthony Bitetto get a chance to return to the defense core, it’s impossible to assess the unit’s effectiveness at full strength.
The offense for Nashville has been spotty. A lot of the Predators’ forwards make their living on hot and cold streaks throughout the season. We’ve seen what Colin Wilson can do at times. Craig Smith isn’t productive right now with just six goals to his name, but that’s likely to change considering his 20-goal season pedigree.
After an abysmal start to the year in the goal department, Filip Forsberg has kicked it in with goals in four out of five games.
The December woes of the team can be largely placed on special teams. The PK is ranked 25th for the month, and the PP is sitting at 29th. That’s the same units that were 8th and 4th in the league, respectively, for the first two months.
Even after a rough start to the season, Nashville is fourth in the league in possession with a 52.65 CF% per Corsica hockey. That doesn’t take into account goaltending, special teams, or finishing ability, but a team that controls the play more often than not finds success.
If the power play and penalty kill can find their way back on track, Nashville is going to start putting games in the win column. They’ve yet to enjoy an elongated winning streak, and that’s the consistency element they’ll need to find at some point.
What can spark that? Perhaps it’s getting over the mental hump in 3-on-3 OT where they’ve played well lately but have not be rewarded.
Hockey has a larger element of luck to it than many people want to admit. A bounce here, a deflection there (or a great acting job by a goalie) all change the outcome of a game. The last two contests are a pretty good example of that.
Until this team gets consistently outplayed or their playoff chances become out of reach, it’s hard to write this team off given their talent level and fixable problems they’ve encountered.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but Nashville needs to reach it.