Last night’s 5-4 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks was the best the Nashville Predators have looked since the trade deadline. That they still lost the game isn’t really of much consequence, though, unless you’re one of those people who’s been hoping the team will “suck for Seth” or endure “no winnin’ for MacKinnon.” In that case you’re probably furious that they were able to take the lead in the third period and eventually earn a point by pushing the Blackhawks to overtime for the second time this month.
Gabriel Bourque, Mike Fisher, Paul Gaustad, Patric Hornqvist, and Colin Wilson have all missed significant time this season, and most of them won’t be returning at all. This rash of injuries to starters has essentially turned the end of the 2013 season into an extended training camp. Three of the 20 players on the active roster had never played an NHL game before last week. Two more had never played in the league before last month, and two others had less than a full season of NHL experience heading into this year. Throw in two others who have spent time in the minors this year on conditioning assignments and you have yourself a motley crew playing out the string in Nashville.
One of the bright spots here is that knowing you’re playing with half a roster of AHL players soothes the pain of constant losing – at least for those of us who recognized what was happening here a while back. If you’ve held on to irrational hope there’s probably not a lot that can be done for you.
It also allows us to see which fringe players are the most motivated to make Nashville their permanent home.
- Kevin Henderson has spent one game with the Preds – his first in the NHL – and scored a goal in it.
- Taylor Beck hasn’t been quite as reliable lately and his seen his ice time drop some as the compressed schedule begins to catch up with him, but nobody is going to forget the six points he notched in his first eight NHL games. He’s played alongside David Legwand and Filip Forsberg lately, a vote of confidence from Coach Barry Trotz.
Bobby Butler and Matt Halischuk – both of whom will become restricted free agents at the conclusion of the season – have made very strong cases for themselves lately. Butler has four points in his last four games and has shown a knack for finding the net when much of the rest of the team has gone silent. Halischuk showed last night that he’s eager to stay in Nashville with two goals and an assist against the league’s top team.
Victor Bartley has made the most of the time since his call-up in early March, especially lately. Four of his seven assists this season have come in the last week. He has worked out much better paired with Kevin Klein than Klein’s old partner from the start of the season, the now-departed Scott Hannan.
- Chris Mueller has done an admirable job filling in for Paul Gaustad in the faceoff circle. His 52.2-percent winning rate is second on the team behind Goose on the entire season, and the four points he’s posted in 15 games are just one shy of his predecessor’s five point in 23 games.
When actual training camp arrives before the next season, Barry Trotz is already going to have a big batch of notes on players who under normal circumstances might be a bit mysterious. With any luck at all that will build a strong foundation for a rebound year after this clown-shoes 2013 NHL season.