Nashville Predators: A Scary, But True Outlook to Rest of the Season

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 16: Ryan Ellis #4, Kevin Fiala #22 and Colton Sissons #10 of the Nashville Predators wait for a faceoff in the second period of a game against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on February 16, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Predators 5-1. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - FEBRUARY 16: Ryan Ellis #4, Kevin Fiala #22 and Colton Sissons #10 of the Nashville Predators wait for a faceoff in the second period of a game against the Vegas Golden Knights at T-Mobile Arena on February 16, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Predators 5-1. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) /

There’s no more sugar-coating the way the Nashville Predators are playing right now. They’re in store for a first-round exit if things don’t change.

We might be in store for a rocky and stressful playoff experience as Nashville Predators fans. Without pushing the panic button, the Predators currently look like a team that’s lacking the depth you need to be successful in the playoffs. Depth scoring got them to the Stanley Cup Final just a couple years ago. They look like a one-line team destined to take an early exit in the playoffs.

There are 21 games left for the Predators in the regular season, which is fewer than every team in the NHL, other than Vegas. They’ve got 21 games to find a remedy to what is holding them back. That’s enough time to change the momentum and give us reason to have Stanley Cup aspirations again. You’re lying to yourself if you think the way they’re currently playing will get them anything but a first or second round exit.

So what’s really holding them back? What’s keeping them from being where Tampa Bay, a team they swept back in November, is currently at in the standings? The shuffling of lineups certainly isn’t helping. We can’t lean on the injury excuse anymore. Let’s dive into what’s hurting this team, and the strengths they still have that can change the vibes back into positive ones.

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What has to be fixed?

The elephant in the room is the power play. The dead last power play in the NHL at just over 12 percent. Other than Montreal, that percentage is nearly three percentage points behind the next team. In other words, this power play probably can’t fully be repaired in just 21 games. We have to hope that it shows mild improvement in time for the playoffs and understand that it’s not going to be something we can rely on to win games. Tough pill to swallow, but it’s the truth.

Newly-acquired Brian Boyle will continue to make the power play a little more robust as he gets more comfortable with his new team. He’s not the only answer, but I do think his presence frees up more space for other players to turn their power play luck around.

Another glaring concern is for a while now the Predators have morphed into a one-line team. Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, and Ryan Johansen continue to do brilliant work and carry this team. There are nights when the Predators have no business being alive in the third period, but the top line carries them to two points. It’s a major factor as to why the Predators sit just three points back of first place in the division despite not playing very well as a team. That won’t work in the playoffs.

(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The good news with this problem is that at any given time other lines can catch fire and everything will be great again. The talent on this roster never left. I’m most focused on the Kyle Turris line eventually waking up from its slumber and finding a groove to take some of the load off of the top line. Kevin Fiala has just three goals in 2019. Turris has zero points in his six games back from injury. Craig Smith has just two goals over his last 18 games. These guys have to wake up for the playoffs.

If any of these three can get on a hot streak heading into the playoffs, suddenly the Predators’ odds of going deep in the playoffs looks much better. Suddenly we don’t have to rely on just the top line of Arvidsson, Forsberg, and Johansen. One thing I know is the current way this team is playing could get beat by any other current playoff team in the Western Conference. It’s stacked up more than ever with formidable teams.

The usual suspects out West

The top two teams that are in much better shape right now than the Predators are Winnipeg and San Jose. They may not be too far ahead in the standings, but they’re playing a much better brand of hockey that translates to the playoffs. If a seven-game series started tomorrow for the Predators against either two of these teams, I’d, unfortunately, have the Predators losing in six games. That doesn’t mean my thoughts won’t change over the next 21 games. It’s how I feel with the Predators’ current state.

Winnipeg has balanced scoring and several guys who can beat you. They have a great combination of size and speed. The Predators are still searching for that. In a head-to-head series, Winnipeg is going to pile up the goals. It’s going to force Nashville to win with four or five goals on the scoreboard. With an absence of success on the power play, that’s going to be extremely difficult to pull off. The JoFA line isn’t going to beat Winnipeg alone, as brilliant as they are.

San Jose, in similar, fashion can put up a ton of goals with their size and speed. Their power play is near the top of the NHL, and arguably have a better defensive core than the Predators. Objectively speaking, I can’t put the Predators ahead of the Sharks in a seven-game series. Not until the Predators start getting more contributions from the bottom six of their roster.

The Predators are going to be in for a dog fight to get out of the first round against a host of teams that are all catching fire at the right time. Everyone should be fearing St. Louis as the playoffs approach. They’re suddenly in the top-three of the division, and just six points shy of the Predators. They recently had a back-to-back sweep of Nashville and looked like the far superior team. For the longest time we were just focused on Winnipeg, but now we have to worry about pretty much everyone.

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The remaining schedule is daunting and has more worried that the Predators could slide further down. It’s gotten to that point for me until I start seeing more support for the top line. Pekka Rinne is doing everything he can to keep this team within striking distance in the standings. He’s kept Nashville from getting blown out of the building far too often in recent memory. With 21 games left, it’s not time to jump off the cliff or mash the panic button. However, I’m extremely concerned with their current state.