Only a few weeks ago, the Nashville Predators appeared left for dead, with debates raging who they should trade and how deep they should slash the roster for a much-needed rebuild.
As they ready to host the sputtering Dallas Stars on Tuesday, the Predators have flipped the script. A season-best five-game winning streak — capped by consecutive victories against the Chicago Blackhawks over the weekend — has the Predators sitting fourth in the Central Division, tied in points with the Blackhawks but holding the playoff position thanks to more regulation and overtime wins.
“With everything we’ve been through the whole year, to be in a playoff spot right now … it’s huge for us and definitely gives us a lot of energy going forward,” said captain Roman Josi.
As Nashville readies for a pair of home games against the Stars, it has won seven of eight games largely due to improved defense.
The Predators have surrendered only 11 goals in those eight games and their penalty killers have a 96 percent success rate (24-for-25). How big of a turnaround has it been? They are still just 29th in the league with a 73.1-percent kill rate.
Moreover, they have been without forward Filip Forsberg, who leads the team in goals (11) and points (29), has missed the past two games and is day-to-day with an upper body injury.
“For sure it’s different,” forward Viktor Arvidsson said of his team’s impressive turnaround. “We were in a slump, but a month ago … we really found our game and we kept playing it 100 percent. And of course you get confident when you win, but you’ve got to stay on an even keel and keep working hard and know what works.”
Dallas, which reached the Stanley Cup Finals last season, continues to struggle, with just one win(1-2-2) in a disappointing five-game homestand. The latest setback was Sunday’s 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, a clash in which the Stars surrendered four unanswered goals after taking an early lead.
“None of us in that room think we’re down and out,” forward Blake Comeau said. “I still feel like we’re a very confident group. We’ve just got to go out and play with that confidence. We’ve got a lot of games against teams that we’re chasing. There’s going to be big swings, and we still feel like we’re right there.”
The Stars sit seventh in the division, six points back of the Predators (and Blackhawks). This pair of clashes in Music City kicks off a six-game road trip that includes two games in Chicago. Considering that Dallas has four games in hand on both Nashville and Chicago means winning even half of those head-to-head games would make a difference.
Anything better than splits on the road would be a huge plus. An unsuccessful six-game trip, which also includes a pair at high-flying Carolina, could be disastrous.
“The road trip is there for us if we want it,” coach Rick Bowness said. “If we go on the road and win some games, we’re alive. We’re not that far out. … But it has to come now.”
Forward Jason Dickinson said the players need to “look inside yourself, get the desperation level a little higher. The coaches can’t go out and win games. They put out the game plan for us, but we’ve got to go out there and do it, ultimately. If we’re not willing to do that, then it’s on us.
“We’ve got a group in here that wants it,” Dickinson said. “Nobody is sitting back and saying ‘Oh, next season. Oh, we’ve got all these injuries.’ Nobody’s saying that. We want to go for it.”
–Field Level Media