Ask any player on the Predators roster about the easy spots on the 2013 schedule and you’re almost certain to get the same answer: “There are no easy games.” There are, however, some stretches that pose clear challenges from the moment they’re announced. I’ll be taking a look at some of the toughest spots on the Nashville Predators schedule, starting with a beast of a road trip very early in the season.
Nashville Predators Schedule – Tough Spots
Seven Games On The Road: January 22nd – February 5th
|Jan. 22nd||at Minnesota||7:00 PM CT|
|Jan. 24th||at St. Louis||7:00 PM CT|
|Jan. 26th||at Anaheim||9:30 PM CT|
|Jan. 28th||at Phoenix||8:00 PM CT|
|Jan. 31st||at Los Angeles||9:30 PM CT|
|Feb. 2nd||at San Jose||9:30 PM CT|
|Feb. 5th||at St. Louis||7:00 PM CT|
The longest road trip of the 2013 Nashville Predators schedule covers a span of seven games in 15 days.
The only comparable stretches to this one during the 2011-12 season also came early in the schedule. At a point when the Nashville roster was at arguably its weakest state of the entire season, the Preds played five road games in a row twice in November. On the road from Halloween to November 9th, they went 3-1-1. All three wins (3-0 at Phoenix, 4-3 at San Jose, and 4-2 at Anaheim) came against teams the Preds will face in their seven-game trip this month. Then they played five more on the road from November 23rd to December 1st. The Preds were 1-3-0 on that trip before booking a hard-fought and memorable 6-5 win at Vancouver to return home with a 2-3-0 record.
Neither of those road trips is a perfect road map for this season for a number of reasons, of course. They were both shorter than the seven games on this year’s long trip, and both were played with slightly different rosters. The good news for Preds fans is that a fair share of the offense in the road wins on those two trips came from some of the young players the Preds are expecting to chip in more offense this season. Craig Smith in particular was very effective in the early part of the season. He bagged 7 goals and 7 assists in his first 15 games, including two goals in the road win against Anaheim; with David Legwand out injured that night, Smith played on a line with Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist. It should be exciting to watch Smith and Wilson now that each has another year of experience under his belt.
This mammoth road trip will be the first big test of whether the team’s roster stability pays dividends – and, by extension, a test of Shea Weber’s leadership now that he’s a $110-million Captain For Life. After resigning Weber, the team brass made it clear that it saw the retention of 19 players on a team that had the third-best record in the Western Conference as an off-season victory because they kept him at the core. If familiarity helps to dampen the effect of missing out on four months playing together due to the lockout, the Preds could be sitting in solid position with a fifth of the season complete.
Besides the pressure to keep themselves from falling behind the pack early, the road trip carries some added weight for the Preds in that two of the games are against last year’s Central Division champions, the St. Louis Blues. Nashville went 4-1-1 against the Blues last season and will be looking to build upon that success to get their season off to a good start. Following on the heels of a home game on the 21st against the Blues, this stretch will knock out 75 percent of Nashville’s games against their division rival for the entire season. They won’t meet St. Louis again until April 9th, making this stretch a crucial opportunity to get ahead early in the Central by beating one of its best teams.
If the earliest portion of the Nashville Predators schedule sees the team walk away from its road trip with a winning record, they’ll have a leg up on a strong Central Division. If they can break even or close to it they’ll still be within striking distance. And if the road treats them harshly, they’ll be scrambling to make up ground from the early going.