Ask any player on the Nashville Predators roster about the easy spots on the 2013 schedule and you’re sure to get the same answer: “There are no easy games.” But there are, without a doubt, some stretches that pose clear challenges from the beginning. Our look at some of the toughest spots on the Predators schedule started with the seven-game road trip in January and continued with a three-game stretch in February against elite Western Conference teams. We wrap up our look at these tough spots today with a nine-game span that will determine the finishing order of the competitive Central Division.
Nashville Predators Schedule – Tough Spots
Central Division Throwdown: April 1st – April 27th
Last year St. Louis, Nashville, Detroit, and Chicago all finished with more than 100 points, making the Central Division one of only two divisions in the entire NHL to do so (along with the Atlantic). Half of Nashville’s 18 games against their divisional opponents in 2013 will come in the final month of play, making it the most crucial phase of the entire season. Each of the Predators’ division rivals will visit town once during the month, which looks sure to be full of sellout crowds.
|Apr. 1st||at Chicago||7:30 PM CT|
|Apr. 4th||Columbus||7:00 PM CT|
|Apr. 6th||Chicago||2:00 PM CT|
|Apr. 7th||at Chicago||6:00 PM CT|
|Apr. 9th||St. Louis||7:00 PM CT|
|Apr. 14th||Detroit||6:30 PM CT|
|Apr. 19th||at Chicago||7:30 PM CT|
|Apr. 25th||at Detroit||6:30 PM CT|
|Apr. 27th||at Columbus||6:00 PM CT|
The Chicago Blackhawks are one of the two Nashville will face five times, and four of those games fall in the last month of the season. In just the first week of April the teams will meet three times, including a home-and-home in Nashville on April 6th and in Chicago on the 7th. They close out their season series on April 19th in Chicago.
Sweeping these four games is highly unlikely since three of them are in Chicago, but it would be a boon to the Preds so late in the season. Likewise, losing all or most of them would be a heavy blow to take with so little time remaining to catch back up. If the Preds want to have a chance at winning the Central, they absolutely can’t come out of April with anything less than a split with the Blackhawks.
The bulk of Nashville’s games against St. Louis come early in the season, so when the Blues visit town on April 9th they’ll wrap up the season series. Nashville will be coming off one day’s rest following the home-and-home with Chicago. The Blues will be on a single day of rest as well, having played games against Chicago, Columbus, and Detroit in the previous four days.
The other team Nashville will play five times this season is the Columbus Blue Jackets, and two of those games will be in April. The first comes in Nashville on April 4th, and the last is the season finale for both teams on April 27th. Nashville should be heavily favored in both games but they can’t take the Blue Jackets lightly. Any team that will account for more than 10 percent of your total season’s record has to be respected regardless of what you think your chances are against them. Still, winning most or all of the games with Columbus would serve as a sort of insurance policy against the variance involved with playing against the stronger Central Division teams.
The other two divisional games in April will come against the Detroit Red Wings. Their only other games against Nashville come in a five-day stretch in February. The Red Wings have always been a measuring stick for the Predators franchise, and they will be again this year. In the past it’s been Detroit’s Central Division dominance that the Preds measured themselves against. This year it will be whether they can finish ahead of the Wings for a second straight year and possibly win their first division title. Both teams lost a key defenseman and are looking for young players to step up. By this point in the season it should be clear how well that strategy is working out for both of them.
Controlling Their Own Destiny
With the schedule falling the way it does, it almost doesn’t matter how the first three months of the season go. Unless the team is beset by something horrible and is out of the hunt in the early going, their nine games against Central Division opponents in April will allow them to control their own destiny. And that’s exactly the position every team wants to be in.