I said this the other night when the Nashville Predators lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets, and I wanted to put it here just to hold myself accountable because it’s not the kind of statement that should be made lightly:
Trust me when I tell you that I don’t like feeling that way about the team. There’s plenty of talent on this roster. Maybe not as much pure talent as other rosters in the league, but still enough to win a lot of hockey games. They just haven’t put it together this year. Nearly all of the veterans on the team have simply failed to show up for stretches that could have disappeared into the statistical ether over the course of 82 games but end up standing out in just 48.
I really think those four straight losses on the road against relatively weak competition were the dagger in the Preds’ chances this season. Not because the team is terrible, but because the short season just doesn’t leave them enough room for error the rest of the way. They got off to a wobbly start on a runway that is only so long. There’s no time to recover. And it’s OK. Under the new CBA they’ll have a chance at the #1 pick in the draft, and even if they don’t get it they’ll have a good position in a deep draft season.
But a lot of other people out there are still holding on to hope. And I understand that. The Preds have had their backs to the wall before and responded to the challenge. So let’s look at what they need to do over the last 17 games, and who they’ll have to do it against.
In order to make the playoffs, the Nashville Predators will have to avoid injuries; have players who return from injury begin contributing immediately; have their underperforming veterans step up; and get top-flight goaltending from Pekka Rinne. All of those factors will have to come together in one of two ways: either winning outright more than 70 percent of the time, or winning at least 58 percent of the time while keeping the the majority losses close enough long enough to earn a point.
Here’s who they’ll have to do it against.
NASHVILLE PREDATORS REMAINING OPPONENTS
Nashville needs three wins against Columbus. (PHOTO: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
3 games, 3/23, 4/4 & 4/27
Plain and simple, Nashville needs to win all three of these.
Last game, 3/25
Nashville shut the Oilers out one game and let them run all over them in the other. Their defense is terrible, which makes this a must-win.
Last game, 3/28
These two teams split their first two games, swapping shutouts. Pretty much impossible to call, but the Preds need to win it.
Losing two points to Colorado in February still stings in late March. (PHOTO: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports)
2 games, 3/30 & 4/2
If you got an honest moment with the Preds’ vets and asked them which one game they would take back this season if they could, my bet would be on the 6-5 regulation loss to Colorado on February 16th. That was a winnable game on every front against one of the worst teams in the league. Nashville needs to take both of these.
Four games against Chicago is a tough assignment for the Nashville Predators. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)
4 games, 4/1, 4/6, 4/7 & 4/19
The Hawks have been cruising all season and shut the Preds out in their only previous game – and that’s when Nashville still had Colin Wilson. The best case scenario sees Preds go 1-2-1. If they go 0-4-0 against the Hawks, they’re done.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
Last game, 4/9
Nashville took three points from the first three games with the Blues. It’s technically a winnable game but I don’t really like the Preds’ chances.
Last game, 4/12
This is a must for the Preds.
2 games, 4/14 & 4/25
Nashville was shut out by the Red Wings in a competitive game and then won the other in overtime. The chance of competitive games in both of these is good.
Last game, 4/15
Nashville has been shut out and blown out by the Canucks, who seem to have their number even if they themselves haven’t played great. At their best the Preds can beat Vancouver.
Last game, 4/23
A must-win against a bad team.
Can Shea Weber lead the Nashville Predators to the playoffs again? (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)
Nashville needs 24 points in its last 17 games. That would give the Preds 54 points, which is likely to be the lowest total with which a team can make the post-season. The easiest way to do that would be to go 12-5-0. In Nashville’s case, they could conceivably get there by a record more like 10-3-4 or 9-2-6. So even if the Preds win all eight games where I would count them as solid favorites if they’re playing at the top of their game, they’re going to have to pull off several wins either in one of the four games where they’re huge underdogs or the five where it’s too close to call. And if they lose one or two of those games where they should be favorites, the games where they’re not favorites just become that much more important.
And all of that is dependent on them playing at the top of their game. Remember, they’ve shown plenty of reason to doubt whether they even have that gear this season. One goal given up in the dying seconds of a tied game, one turnover in overtime, or one shootout loss can carry an awful lot of weight this time of year.
I really do hope the Nashville Predators can outperform my expectations. I’m just not going to hold my breath waiting for them to do it.