The 82-game National Hockey League schedule is a relentless grind for all clubs, and the Nashville Predators know this as much as any other team.
There are long stretches on the road and plenty of back-to-back games, which is something that Nashville has struggled in this season. (At least, the last game of these two-game sets has given the Predators’ problems.)
Nashville got blanked 4-0 on Saturday by the Arizona Coyotes to stay winless in the second half of these games. The Tennessean’s Adam Vingan tweeted this tidbit about the Predators struggles in the back-end of back-to-backs.
The Predators will also drop to 0-5-1 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
— Adam Vingan (@AdamVingan) January 10, 2016
The loss temporarily took Nashville out of a playoff spot before regaining it after Colorado’s loss to Chicago on Sunday. This is just another item on the litany of struggles that have the Predators fighting for their playoff lives. (The two teams traded the last spot again after Tuesday’s games)
I touched on this problem briefly in my article asking Preds’ fans how to grade the team’s performance in the first half, but I think this is something worth delving into further. What’s the reason behind Nashville’s second game struggles?
It’s one thing to lose close games in the last of these two-game sets, but it’s another thing to get blown out. Nashville has lost the first six games by an appalling 24-7 margin. The usually steady Predators’ defense has given up four goals in each of these losses.
Pekka Rinne usually plays against the “stronger” opponent and that saves backup Carter Hutton for the other opponent. However, both goalies have not recorded a win when starting the last of the two-game stretch.
The Predators’ offensive struggles have also reared their ugly head in these games as Nashville averages barely over a goal a game.
Nashville has 12 of these sets this season, which is one more than in the 2014-15 campaign. However, the number of these games is near the bottom in the league. (Columbus holds the most back-to-back games with 18 according to the On the Forecheck blog’s Super Schedule tracker.)
The natural excuse for Nashville’s problems in these games is fatigue. It’s hard to get up and play two games in two nights. It’s especially difficult when you have to leave one city and go to another that’s a few hours away.
The schedule-makers try their best to make sure that teams don’t have a ton of these games, but it’s an inevitable trying to compress 82 games into a five-month span.
Back-to-back games have been a part of the NHL schedule for years. Most teams struggle in the latter game, but it’s worrisome when a team like the Predators can’t get even one win. (Like the Winnipeg Jets struggled in 2012.) The NBA has tried to cut down on it, but teams should still be up for the challenge.
Saturday’s game against the Coyotes was a microcosm of what’s happened with the Predators in the second game. Arizona came out of the blocks and eventually wore down Nashville en route to the win.
Can the Nashville Predators Fix This?
The Predators have six more of these back-to-back sets, but won’t have to worry about it until Jan. 26 and 27 when they play the Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames.
Nashville still needs to pick up points to keep Colorado at bay and to move up the standings. Roman Josi said just as much.
“I don’t know,” Predators defenseman Roman Josi said when asked why the team’s record in those situations is so poor. “I honestly don’t know. Just not playing well in those games.”
The Predators need to find a way to fix this (and many other) problems if they want to make it to the postseason.
Covered hockey since attending SUNY Oswego in Upstate New York in the early 2000s. Has written about college, major junior and professional hockey for the last five years.
Resides in Watertown, NY.