The Nashville Predators are two points on the outside looking in at the Western Conference playoffs, but a closer look at the numbers are even more positive for the Central Division team.
Having played just 61 games, Nashville (68 points) holds games in hand over the clubs it’s chasing in the wild-card standings. The Calgary Flames, who occupy the top wild-card position, have 70 points in 63 games, and the Arizona Coyotes, owners of the second wild-card spot, have 70 points through 65 contests.
The Jets are next in the standings with 69 points, but Winnipeg has played 64 games.
Nashville plays game No. 62 on Tuesday night when it hosts the Ottawa Senators. The meeting will close the two-game season series.
The Senators won the first matchup, 5-4 in overtime in Ottawa on Dec. 19. They held a 4-1 lead in the third period, but Nashville’s Rocco Grimaldi, Ryan Johansen and Roman Josi tied the game to send it to overtime. Anthony Duclair scored a power-play goal in the extra session to give goalie Marcus Hogberg (3-7-8 in 21 games) his first NHL win.
Hogberg stopped 33 shots in the game.
The Predators countered with goalie Juuse Saros, who made 19 saves in the overtime loss. Saros (12-10-4 in 32 games) has shouldered the bulk of the goaltending in place of starter Pekka Rinne, starting seven of the past 10 games and going 5-2-0.
At Monday’s trade deadline, Nashville general manager David Poile made just one acquisition, picking up Anaheim Ducks defenseman Korbinian Holzer in exchange for defenseman Matt Irwin and a 2022 sixth-round pick. Poile also extended Grimaldi for two more seasons on a $4 million deal.
The Predators are 8-4-1 since beating the Capitals 5-4 on Jan. 29 in Washington. The Ottawa contest is the seventh in a stretch of playing eight of 10 games at home in Nashville.
“It’s been a grind,” forward Colton Sissons said of the Predators’ push. “But we’re right there in the hunt at this time of year, and honestly, it doesn’t get much better than that.”
The Senators played the only game on the NHL schedule on Monday, and after trading away forwards Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Vladislav Namestnikov and Tyler Ennis, they found themselves short-handed — starting just 10 forwards — when the puck dropped in Columbus for what turned into a 4-3 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets.
Forward Matthew Peca, acquired from the Montreal Canadiens for forward Aaron Luchuk and a seventh-round pick in June’s draft, was a late arrival to the game as was call-up Rudolfs Balcers from AHL Belleville. Peca played nine minutes while Balcers didn’t get on the ice.
Veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey, who was mentioned in possible trades but was not dealt, said his young teammates will have a great chance in front of them.
“Nobody’s going to be complaining about ice time here tonight with 10 forwards,” Hainsey said during the first intermission. “A lot of guys are going to get an opportunity to play minutes coming the last six weeks here. It’s an opportunity for everybody to showcase yourself for the rest of the season.”
Ottawa fell after Columbus’ Emil Bemstrom scored with 25 seconds remaining in overtime. Connor Brown scored twice for the Senators, and Colin White added a goal as Ottawa dropped its third straight.
There is a good possibility Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan, who last played on Nov. 16, will suit up against the Predators. The 32-year-old right winger entered the joint NHL/NHLPA player assistance program on Nov. 20 after concluding that his battle with alcohol had “no good end.”
–Field Level Media