Nashville Predators: Recapping a Wild, But Successful Road Trip

Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg (9) and center Ryan Johansen (92) and defenseman Dante Fabbro (57) Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Nashville Predators left wing Filip Forsberg (9) and center Ryan Johansen (92) and defenseman Dante Fabbro (57) Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

Everything came full circle for the Nashville Predators on this eight-game road trip that was the longest in franchise history, and one that could’ve really sank whatever hopes were left of this season.

The Predators showed resiliency and growth during the road trip that was capped off last night with a 4-3 win over the Dallas Stars via the shootout. Calle Jarnkrok did the honors with the game-winning shootout goal.

The reason this crazy long road trip came about was due to the makeup games against the Dallas Stars that occurred due to the ice storm back in February that caused massive power outages in the Dallas area.

This was a road trip that featured the top teams in the division, and one that was packed with very little rest for a Predators team that has so may key players on the shelf due to injury.

Best result for the Nashville Predators you could’ve expected

I would’ve never expected the Nashville Predators to come out of this road trip with a winning record. Not with two matchups each against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and Dallas Stars.

Here’s a full rundown of the results from the road trip that was just completed last night in Dallas, and also started in Dallas:

  • March 7: Predators 4, Dallas 3 (SO)
  • March 9: Carolina 3, Predators 2 (OT)
  • March 11: Carolina 5, Predators 1
  • March 13: Tampa Bay 6, Predators 3
  • March 15: Predators 4, Tampa Bay 1
  • March 18: Predators 2, Florida 1
  • March 20: Florida 2, Predators 0
  • March 21: Predators 4, Dallas 3 (SO)

Even though the Stars are drastically underperforming this season with injuries of their own, they’re still a tough matchup for the Predators in terms of manufacturing offense. That didn’t hold them back with two shootout wins over Dallas during this road trip.

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The Predators also got arguably their most impressive win of the season on the road trip by holding Tampa Bay to just one goal and scoring four goals in the March 15 win. The Predators were in danger of going on a long losing streak at that critical juncture when they took down the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The Hurricanes still have the Predators’ number as they won both meetings, but one did go to overtime at least.

As for the Florida Panthers, the Predators are starting to figure out how to have some success against this offensive powerhouse.

What this means moving forward

Now you have to ask yourself if the plans have changed for the rest of the season with this long road trip behind us. The Predators sit just four points behind Columbus and Chicago for the fourth spot in the Central Division. All three teams have played an equal amount of games.

You have the Stars lurking just one point behind the Predators and have played four fewer games. That makes the two wins over Dallas all the more important as the Predators try to make an improbable playoff push.

As great as it is to see the Predators refusing to give up on the season, my feelings haven’t changed that much. I see them as spoilers going down the stretch, but coming up just short of a playoff spot.

I still firmly believe that a rebuild is in order regardless of where they stand in the division. If they can add some valuable pieces through some trades that help them down the stretch, then so be it. There’s no rule that says if the Predators decide to become sellers that it means they can’t remain competitive as the season winds down.

Head Coach John Hynes is under scrutiny as not being the answer, but the more the Predators show this fight down the stretch, the more I think the organization is going to give him another season.

Maybe what could be the worst nightmare of Predators fans is the team somehow claws their way into a playoff spot only to be embarrassed in the opening round of the playoffs to Carolina or Tampa Bay, while also not making their necessary roster moves to facilitate a needed rebuild.

Biggest standouts from the road trip

I have to start this off with Pekka Rinne. His numbers are awful this season for many reasons, but he kept the Predators afloat starting six of the eight games. His best game was holding Tampa Bay to one goal on 39 shots faced.

Juuse Saros finally returned from injury and started both games against the Panthers, and did everything he could to get the Predators the two-game sweep. He gave up just three goals to that explosive offensive team, but only got two goals of support.

It’s just more and more clear that it’s not a goaltender problem in Nashville. Both Rinne and Saros are more than viable goaltenders if they get the goal support in front of them, and better special teams play.

Eeli Tolvanen is the only reason you need to keep watching the Predators the rest of the season. He finished off the road trip in Dallas last night with the game-tying goal to go along with three points, over 17 minutes of ice time, three hits and a blocked shot.

Tolvanen’s game is well-rounded and his future is blinding me it’s so bright. If nothing else, let’s ride the Tolvanen wave the rest of the season and see where the Predators land.

Finally, the road trip proved to me that this team has so much heart and determination. I’ve appreciated the response I’ve seen from veterans like Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, Mattias Ekholm and Calle Jarnkrok. They’re providing leadership as the roster around them gets younger and has more inexperience.

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Alexandre Carrier has taken charge as a top pairing defenseman and should remain in the defensive core for the remainder of the season even when Mark Borowiecki returns. Don’t take him out at this point.

Jeremy Davies also deserves a lot of credit for playing beyond his level of NHL experience, which is now just seven games. He made his NHL debut on the second game of this road trip against Carolina.

Up next the Predators have two-game sets against Chicago and Detroit. If they can win at least three out of these four matchups, then they’ll really start challenging for that fourth spot. But with that could come a bombshell trade that will shake the roster up even more.