Nashville Predators: Mapping Out Rest of Season After All-Star Break

Ryan Johansen #92 congratulates Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
Ryan Johansen #92 congratulates Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images) /

There’s some time to exhale and make adjustments for the Nashville Predators players and coaches during the All-Star break. Can they make a playoff push?

That was a huge win the Nashville Predators got by defeating the Buffalo Sabres before the All-Star break. The difference between going into the break with another crushing loss or a gritty win can’t be overlooked.

There’s just no consistency with this team for much of the season. They get us excited and hopeful and then turn around and lay an egg, or multiple eggs in a row. This can’t keep happening after the All-Star break because the margin for error is shrinking big time.

As we sit right now, the Predators are the only team with a positive goal differential in the Western Conference who aren’t in a playoff spot. That should give you some hope that things can turn around and even back out.

What’s most frustrating?

It’s one thing to know your team isn’t overly talented and will have to play near-perfect to have a chance. Most of us don’t see that when we look at the Predators. Instead you see a roster that has all the necessary pieces to make a deep playoff run, and most definitely at least make the playoffs in relatively comfortable fashion.

Nashville Predators
Nashville Predators /

Nashville Predators

This entire season has been a grind. After a hot first couple of weeks to the regular season, the Predators fell into a deep hole. The most glaring issue is poor defensive effort, very little discipline and the team seeming like they have no drive whenever they fall behind.

Rocco Grimaldi illustrated this recently in a very eye-opening way with this quote he gave from The Athletic:

I personally applaud Grimaldi for stepping up and calling it like it is. That’s what fans want more of is personal accountability from the players, and that’s what the team needs as well to make a strong second-half push.

There is no doubt that the Predators have the necessary players to make the playoffs. However, the NHL trade deadline is a little over a month away. They have a surplus of forwards and need some help defensively. This is where GM David Poile needs to make a move if it makes sense.

You’ll see the frustration level go down if the Predators start playing more consistent and stop taking periods and entire games off, which is leading to losses to teams they should be blowing out of the building.

Will they do it, and what it will take?

Obviously the Predators have to avoid anymore long losing streak. That will bury them. They may only be six points out, but they’re competing with several other teams for those two wildcard spots.

There’s an outside chance they finish in the top-three of the division, but I’m not focused on that at all. Just get in.

The Predators come out of the All-Star break with a three-game stretch against the Eastern Conference, starting with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They’ll then face one of the best team in the NHL in the Washington Capitals. They’ll cap off the month of January against John Hynes’ former team, the New Jersey Devils.

You need to win at least two of those three before going into February and opening it up at home against the Vegas Golden Knights.

Furthermore, the Predators have to start taking care of business against divisional opponents. That’s how you make up the most ground and surge up the standings. They have five divisional games in February, and another six matchups in March. Plenty of opportunities to get key wins and get back into the thick of things.

As for what they have to improve upon, it starts with special teams for me. The penalty kill is such a liability. When you struggle the way the Predators have been in this area, it changes the way you play. You’re not as aggressive because you’re afraid of taking a penalty and gifting the other team a likely goal.

If the penalty kill shows some dramatic improvement, you’re naturally going to see Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros‘ numbers improve. Rinne’s save percentage on the power play has been dismal this season, but it’s not all completely on him.

The power play has shown modest improvement from last season when it was last in the NHL, but it needs to make more strides. It’s currently 24th in the league, and I’d like to see it creep up towards the top half.

It’s also going to fall on the big named players to start taking over games and living up to their names. Guys like Matt Duchene, Filip Forsberg, Viktor Arvidsson, Ryan Johansen and Roman Josi are the ones I think about first.

Josi is already taking over games and having a Norris Trophy type of season, but he needs help from the other stars of the team.

Next. Remembering the Best All-Stars in Nashville Predators History. dark

I’m feeling confident that Hynes knows what areas need to be fixed, and he’s going to zero in on those during this break to help them sneak into the playoffs in the last week of the season.

After they get in, anything can happen. As bad as it’s been, the Predators are very much still alive and have as good of a chance as any of the other teams fighting for a playoff spot.