By Amanda DiPaolo
Nashville Predators 33-24-9
San Jose Sharks 38-22-6
How important is Tuesday’s game against the San Jose Sharks?
After Sunday’s 3-2 loss to Calgary, the Predators are stuck at 75 points, falling off pace from not only last year’s points total but also in the Western Conference standings.
According to Sportsclubstats.com, the Predators have a 53% chance of making the playoffs going into Monday night’s games. If Nashville goes 12-4 or 11-3-2 to close out that regular season, the Predators will secure themselves a playoff berth. If not, the Predators will need help.
Despite boasting a 2-0-1 record against San Jose this season, Tuesday night’s game will be no easy contest. The Sharks recently had their 8-game winning streak snapped Saturday night at the hands of the Dallas Stars. San Jose has been one of the hottest teams in the League. Nashville won’t be an easy opponent either, however. San Jose leads the Pacific Division and Nashville is 8-3-1 against teams that currently lead their division.
A season that started with such promise has now come down to a fight for a playoff berth with just five weeks left to play in the regular season. The Predators have sustained insurmountable injuries this season, injuries to key components of the Nashville Predators puzzle. That the Predators are still in contention for a playoff spot in the ever competitive Western Conference is a testament to both the work ethic of the players as well as the coaching of Barry Trotz.
If the Predators are going to win Tuesday night, they need to score goals. If the Predators are going to make the playoffs, they will need to score a lot more goals. Easier said than done.
The Predators are 30-4-1 when scoring at least three goals. That impressive record is largely due to the stellar play of goaltender Pekka Rinne.
Rinne has played 31 of the Predators last 34 games and ranks second in the League in both goals-against average (2.10) and save percentage (.929). Since December 31st, Rinne has 15 wins, has posted an impressive .938 save percentage and an impeccable 1.89 goals-against average.
While the Predators defense has found the back of the net recently, with the exception of David Legwand and Martin Erat, it is the Predators forwards that have faltered. Erat has 6 goals and 13 assists for 19 points in his last 22 games. Legwand has 11 points, four goals and 7 assists, in his last 12 games. Two players that are often criticized for not earning their paycheck have been doing just that as of late when, arguably, it matters most — the push to the playoffs.
Despite the injuries, Nashville has the talent to win their games. Other forwards need to step up, or in some cases step up, again.
Earlier in the season, it seemed Nashville won or lost based on the performance of Sergei Kostitsyn. But Kostitsyn’s play has suffered since losing his regular linemates, Marcel Goc to injury and Martin Erat to a different line.
Though it is only a matter of time, Mike Fisher has yet to produce any consistent offense since being traded to Nashville. The team needs to figure out who Fisher gels with and rearrange the lines accordingly. Neither Fisher nor Kostitsyn have yet to provide consistent offense since being on the same line together.
Patric Hornqvist has a team-high 18 goals but that is a far cry from his 30 goals a season ago.
Colin Wilson has seen his minutes reduced as of late, playing on a line with Matt Halischuk and Blake Geoffrion, but the sophomore is expected, and has the talent, to be an offensive threat every single shift.
Finally there is the curious case of JP Dumont. Dumont has been a healthy scratch for several games in a row now. Dumont gets paid $4.5 million to not play. Once among the team leaders in points, Dumont was first relegated to fourth line minutes and then no minutes at all.
Nashville needs to get on a roll, and they need to do it now. After the game Tuesday night in San Jose, Nashville returns home for a five game homestand. There is no better way to start a serious push for a coveted playoff spot than a five-game homestand, and there is no better way to start that homestand than with a decisive win to end a tough four-game road trip.