Instead of peaking at the right time, the Nashville Predators seem to be coasting into an inevitable first-round exit. Is there any hope?
It’s been a long and gradual downfall for the Nashville Predators as they have been erratic and unpredictable for much of season. A hot start to the regular season is a distant memory, and the fact is this team has been average at best since then. Not a good sign with the playoffs nearly here.
The postseason picture is starting to take shape, and it’s looking more clear on who the Predators will draw in the first round. First off, we can kiss the thought of retaining the Central Division title goodbye. Winnipeg is up four points with an extra game to play. Unless the Predators reel off six wins to cap the season, there’s no reason to get hung up on first place anymore.
More from Editorials
- Captain Candidates if Nashville Predators Didn’t Have Roman Josi
- How the Nashville Predators Have Trended over Past Five Years
- Three Reasons Nashville Predators can Shock the World in 2023-24
- Three Different Outcomes for Juuse Saros’ Future with Nashville Predators
- Top-5 Nashville Predators Home Games to Attend for Upcoming Season
However, St.Louis is now just two points behind Nashville, also with an extra game to play. Not only have the Predators’ inconsistency faded them from winning the division, but it looks very likely they’ll slip to third place and lose home-ice advantage. If not for a great start to the regular season, the Predators might be hanging on by a thread to even make the playoffs. That’s how mediocre they’ve truly been since December.
Who they’ll face in the first round
There might not be a worse team for the Predators to draw in the first round than the Blues. This team has simply owned the Predators this season, often times making them look obsolete. Nashville lost to the Blues three times in February, with the most recent meeting being a 2-0 shutout loss. An overtime 5-4 loss is all Nashville could manage against the Blues in that critical three-game stretch.
Nashville’s lone win over St.Louis this season came back in November, a 4-1 win at home. With the way things are currently looking, Nashville might have a hard time stretching a seven-game series past six games against St.Louis. What makes the Blues so dangerous heading into the playoffs? Well, they have a streaky young goaltender in Jordan Binnington, who handed the Predators a goose egg in their last meeting. Binnington is the goaltender you don’t want to run into in the playoffs. He’s 20-4-1 with five shutouts and a save percentage of just under 93. It’s going to force Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros to match that effort, and both haven’t looked their strongest as of late.
These two teams know each other well. The Predators aren’t going to do anything that fools the Blues, and you can say vice versa for the Predators. However, Peter Laviolette has to come up with something new if they’re going to reverse their fortunes against them. It’s the worst opponent you can hope for. This scenario isn’t set in stone, but the probability is very high they meet unless Dallas somehow catches one of them.
It’s not all doom and gloom
The one thing we have to hang onto is the talent on paper remains. The prospect of these guys finding their groove and going on a hot streak is still conceivable. It happens all the time in the NHL postseason. It can definitely happen again for the Predators. It has to start with the veterans like Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Nick Bonino and Kyle Turris doing their part of playing sharp and mistake-free. Leading by example with disciplined hockey. We know the goals are going to come from Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg. That’s all well and good, but it’s not enough to ensure the Predators get out of the first round.
My confidence remains high that Rinne can play well enough in net to keep the Predators alive. He hasn’t been as sharp as last season, but most of the Predators’ troubles don’t fall in his lap. Turnovers and lapses in defense have been worse than I can ever remember from this team. Outside of Josi and Mattias Ekholm, I have not been very impressed with the play of the defense. However, these guys are veterans who have the skills to ramp it back up for the playoffs. In a do-or-die situation, perhaps they can make naysayers like myself eat some crow. It’s just hard for me to see that happening in this current state.
Then you have a remedy that could change everything. It seems like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but can the power play be fixed? Brian Boyle and Wayne Simmonds have helped some with their physicality in front of the net. When the slate is wiped clean for the playoffs, can the Predators reverse their luck on the power play? Let’s stay focused on the most-likely playoff opponent, the Blues. They’re sixth in the NHL in penalty kill, killing off nearly 82 percent of their penalties. The Predators aren’t too far behind them, just by a couple of tenths of a point.
On the flip side, the Blues aren’t world beaters on the power play, sitting in the middle of the pack. If the Predators can even show mild improvement on the power play, perhaps that can tilt the scales a bit. They have to take advantage of power play opportunities against teams that seemingly have their number. I don’t see the Predators winning a low-scoring series against anyone in the playoffs. It’s going to take three to four goals per game to offset the other issues. To do that, the power play can’t stay below a 13 percent success rate. Six games left to change my sour mood on this team.