Pekka Rinne has shined in his five shutouts but hasn't been able to carry his team. (PHOTO: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Nashville Predators At The Tipping Point

Through the month of March so far the Nashville Predators have won two games, both of them via shutout. The only real problem is that they’re 0-4-1 in the other five games they’ve played this month. The current road trip that began with the Nashville Predators beating Dallas in style has turned ugly with a quickness thanks to back-to-back defensive meltdowns against Vancouver and Calgary. Most other teams in the league would savor a road trip that ends in Edmonton and Columbus, but beating even those teams look like a stretch right now for a battered and bruised Nashville team.

The first big test the 2013 Nashville Predators faced was a seven-game road trip, one of the longest of any team in the NHL during this lockout-shortened season. After stumbling at the beginning they found their feet and finished the trip with a 4-2-1 record, setting them for a stretch where they would play five of the next six games at home. By the time those were done their record was 7-3-4 – not ideal, but a lot better than it could have been.

Since then it’s all been downhill. Nashville is 4-8-2 since February 16th, bringing their overall record to an uninspiring 11-11-6. They sit in fourth place in the Central Division, and 10th in the Western Conference. Four of the teams behind them in the West have games in hand, and two of them have handed the Preds embarrassing losses during their long decline.

NHL: Vancouver Canucks at Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators have not defended home ice the way their fans are accustomed to. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s easy right now to look back and see where things could have gone a lot differently. They’ve lost two of their best penalty-killers and two of their top scorers. Their three shootouts losses in January were all games that were well within reach. And had February seen the Preds finish better than 6-5-3, they would have had a little bit of a buffer to work with. The only buffer now is the fact that plenty of other teams in the Western Conference have struggled similarly. Otherwise there’s little keeping this team within sight of the annual goal of making the playoffs.

Only 20 games remain on the Nashville Predators’ schedule. Sixty percent of them are at home, but this year’s team is just 6-2-4 on home ice. The other eight games are on the road, where the Preds’ overall season record is 5-9-2. The 4-0 win over Dallas earlier this week was their only road win since the opening trip.

Nashville Predators forward Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson’s 19 points lead the Preds this season. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s too early right now to say definitively that the Preds aren’t up to the task of making the playoffs, especially if Colin Wilson, Patric Hornqvist, Paul Gaustad, and Hal Gill can get back on the ice for a significant portion of the remaining schedule. But there is no doubt now that the team is at a tipping point. Nashville is going to have to string wins together, and at a time when the fan base needs hope, there isn’t much to offer. The Preds have enjoyed just two winning streaks this season, a four-game stretch from January 31st to February 7th and back-to-back home wins on February 12th and 14th.

Those six games saw the team give up a total of three goals. By contrast, eight different opponents have scored at least that much in a single game since the end of the last Nashville winning streak. In fact, the Canucks and Flames both more than doubled that output in each of the last two games. With things as they stand right now the team’s essential character is going to have to change dramatically just to earn a chance of facing the conference’s number-one seed in the playoffs. If something doesn’t change in the eight games between now and the trade deadline, it might be time for Preds fans to start studying up on this year’s potential draft picks.

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Tags: 2013 NHL Season Nashville Predators

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