Ask any player on the 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 Nashville Predators schedule started with an overview of a seven-game road trip the Preds will take at the end of January, just as the season gets going. I continue here with a spotlight on a three-game stretch against two of its Western Conference playoff opponents from the recent past.
Nashville Predators Schedule – Tough Spots
Red Wings and Canucks: February 19th – 23rd
Beating up on Detroit is Shea Weber’s responsibility now. (PHOTO: Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports)
To kick off the second third of the 2013 NHL season, Nashville gets three games against the Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks in a five-day span.
The Detroit Red Wings have been an elite team in the NHL for close to two decades at this point, with 13 Central Division titles and four successful Stanley Cup Playoff campaigns since 1993-94. Their last Cup win came in 2007-08, followed in 2008-09 by a seven-game loss to Pittsburgh in the Cup Final. Since then the team has fallen short of the Western Conference Finals three years in a row, including last year’s first-round exit at the hands of the Nashville Predators – the first time the Wings had left that early since a six-game upset loss to Edmonton in 2005-06.
The Vancouver Canucks haven’t lifted a Stanley Cup, but they have won the Presidents Trophy two years running and the Northwest Division for five of the last six seasons (and six of the last eight). They have two Sedins, two top-flight goalies (for the moment), and a reputation as a perennial pre-season favorite to go all the way. The Predators faced off with them in the 2010-11 Western Conference Semifinal and lost in six games, while the Canucks went on to lose the Cup Final in seven games to Boston.
The Canucks always play a tough game against the Predators. (PHOTO: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)
If the first truly tough spot in the 2013 Nashville Predators schedule was a test of the team’s stamina and familiarity, the next one will be a test of its will to win. The Predators see themselves as a conference contender in their window of opportunity to become a true conference power, especially now that all their free-agency drama is out of the way and Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne are locked in for the long haul. Three games in five days against two of the most consistently successful Western Conference franchises in recent memory is the perfect opportunity to show that you mean business. That’s especially true given that Nashville has already played both teams tough the last two seasons: they’re 4-3-1 against the Canucks and 7-4-1 against the Red Wings in that time.
Games against teams like Detroit and Vancouver call for your entire squad to be working together for all 60 minutes. In other words, they call for championship-caliber hockey. One inopportune slip can make all the difference when facing a team like Vancouver or Detroit. If the Predators could win all three games in this stretch of the schedule by staying away from mistakes and playing their A-game, they would send a clear message to the rest of the Western Conference that they are a force to be reckoned with. It won’t be an easy assignment by any means but it’s the one that Shea Weber signed up for, and Nashville Predators fans are eager to see him live up to it.
Nashville has a chance to put Detroit’s winning ways behind it in February. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)
Even if they don’t win all three games, they could still send a powerful message to their divisional foes by winning both of these February games against Detroit. This year’s Red Wings squad has a very different look than in recent years, but they think they’re more than equipped to deal with the loss of some veteran leaders and contributors. Henrik Zetterberg is the team’s new captain, Pavel Datsyuk is still its most skilled player, and Jimmy Howard is a solid presence in goal. And the team’s fans are sure that up-and-comers like Gustav Nyquist, Jakub Kindl, and Brendan Smith are ready to step up for the Wings.
Nashville could kill two birds with one stone by taking both games from Detroit in February. They could dent the Wings’ confidence by extending that recent winning record, taking half of this season’s games between the two clubs in a span of five days. And they could lay claim to crucial points at the expense of Central Division rival. The absolute minimum that the Preds should walk away with here is one win, and preferably it should be in one of the games against Detroit. Anything less than that and they miss out on a golden opportunity to strike two Western powerhouses from their perches atop the conference.