The Nashville Predators have been one of the league’s better teams this season with a 22-12-2 record at the time of writing this. Their 46 points has them in second place in the Central Division and third in the Western Conference. The on-the-surface reasons for their success are obvious: the league’s most productive blue line, offensive depth and Vezina-caliber goaltending.
However, an under-the-radar reason for their record has been their schedule. A schedule that has been surprisingly team-friendly for the Predators. It’s also an aspect that should not be overlooked, especially when you consider how tough their remaining schedule is.
Home Success Versus Road Struggles
Through 36 games this season, the Predators have played 19 home games as opposed to 17 on the road. Their 19 matchups at Bridgestone Arena are tied for most in the league. In those 19 games, they have a 14-5-0 record, second-most home wins this season behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Predators have had two five-game wins streaks on home ice, but have lost their last three home games.
Five of their wins were by one goal, six were by at least three and seven of their 14 wins were against teams not currently in playoff position. Of their five home losses, two were one-goal games and both were lost in regulation. Two others were by three-plus goals, both shutouts. Four of their losses were to current playoff teams and backup netminder Juuse Saros started two of the games.
The Predators’ 17 road games are in line with much of the league as six other teams have played the same number. They have gone 8-7-2 in road matchups, have lost their last nine games away from Bridgestone Arena and haven’t won a road game since Nov. 10 against the Dallas Stars. It has been quite a regression after they started the season by winning their first eight road games.
Four of their wins and six of their losses on the road have occurred in one-goal games. Meanwhile, three wins and two losses have been by at least three goals. Six of their road losses have been to non-playoff teams while they’ve won four games against opponents in a playoff position.
Schedule Has Been Loaded with Easy Games
Of the Predators’ 36 games, 19 were against teams currently outside the playoffs. Against those teams, they went 11-6-2. They played two games against seven different non-playoff teams. These opponents included the Arizona Coyotes, St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks.
Versus the Coyotes, the Predators went 0-2-0 with a minus-four goal differential. The Coyotes won the matchups 2-1 and 3-0 with goaltenders Darcy Kuemper and Adin Hill stealing the games. The Blues and Predators have split their series thus far with the Blues having a plus-one goal differential. Neither game was close with at least a three-goal margin in each. Lastly, the Predators have also split their games against the Canucks with the Canucks having a plus-one goal differential. Both games were close with the Predators earning their victory in overtime while their loss was by two goals. None of the goalies who played in the matchups were particularly sharp.
Against current playoff teams, the Predators have a similar record at 10-6-1 in 17 games. These have occurred against 10 different teams, including at least two games versus six teams. The most interesting matchups have been against the Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks and the Lightning.
In three games against the Flames, the Predators have a 1-2-0 record with a minus-four goal differential. In the Predators’ lone win, Pekka Rinne went down with an injury and Saros stepped in to earn the victory. The Flames won the other two games by three goals each, including an Oct. 9 shutout. The Predators also struggled against the Sharks with an 0-2-0 record and both games were by 5-4 scores.
What’s remarkable is that while the Predators struggled against several teams, including several teams that won’t sniff the postseason, they went 2-0-0 against the Lightning, the league’s best team. The Predators also had a plus-four goal differential in the two games. Rinne was remarkable in both with a combined .959 save percentage and 1.50 goals against average. It just goes to show how quirky the NHL can be. The Predators, one of the league’s best teams, can drop both games against the 27th-place Coyotes but take two of two from the first-place Lightning.
Lack of Back-To-Backs
Another source of the Predators’ easy schedule has been only two back-to-backs this season. Their first set of back-to-backs occurred on Oct. 19 and 20 with games against the Flames and Edmonton Oilers. The Predators won both, 5-3 against Calgary and 3-0 versus the Oilers. Both occurred away from Nashville.
Their second set of back-to-backs took place in November. On Nov. 12, they played the Anaheim Ducks, a game they lost 2-1 in a shootout. They dropped the second game as well, a 5-4 defeat at the hands of the Sharks. Both matchups were on the road as well. On this date last year, they had played three sets of back-to-backs and finished the season with nine in total.
Back to this season, there were 21 occurrences in which the Predators had exactly one off day between games. Their record in the game following a single off day? 15-8-1. They also played eight games that immediately followed two or more off days and had a 5-3-0 record in the game back.
Performance Declines by Month
If you’ve paid attention to the Predators in recent games, you could say they haven’t played well. That assertion would be true and it’s a negative trend that has occurred as the season has progressed. In October they had a 9-3-0 record with a 4-3-0 record against current playoff teams. They went 3-1-0 in one-goal games.
In November their record dropped to 8-5-1 with a 5-2-1 record against playoff teams and a 3-3-1 record in one-goal games. Finally, in December they have gone 5-4-1, including 1-1-0 in matchups against teams in playoff spots. They have a 3-2-1 record in games decided by one goal.
A reason for this downward trend is the plethora of injuries the team has faced, especially to key players. Viktor Arvidsson went on injured reserve with a broken thumb on Nov. 12, P.K. Subban joined him on Nov. 15 with an upper-body injury and the list grew to three when Filip Forsberg went down with a hand injury on Dec. 1.
Additionally, Kyle Turris missed eight games between Nov. 23 and Dec. 13 with an undisclosed injury. As players went on injured reserve, the Predators play went with it. At the time of writing this, they have dropped three in a row, all by one goal, and five of eight dating back to Dec. 6. As players return to health, hopefully the team’s performance rebounds with it, a much-needed hope as the team’s schedule is about to get difficult.
Related: Seven Things About P.K. Subban
A Much Tougher Road Moving Forward
Granted, no victory in the NHL is a given. The Predators have already proven that this season. But if the team and its fanbase thought the schedule to this point was tough, the remaining schedule is considerably more difficult. Between Dec. 22 and Feb. 1, the Predators play 11 of 17 games on the road. In the middle of that harsh schedule, they embark on a six-game road trip that includes games against the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Columbus Blue Jackets.
From now until season’s end, they will play seven back-to-backs with two sets that include all road games. One of the most difficult back-to-backs will occur on March 29 and 30 with a road game against the Pittsburgh Penguins before returning home to play the Blue Jackets. Of the Predators’ 46 remaining games, 22 will be against current playoff teams. They also play 17 games against Central Division foes, including three against the Winnipeg Jets and two versus the Colorado Avalanche.
The Predators are a good team. That much is a given. Even with the number of injuries they’ve encountered, they remained in sole possession of first place in the division as recent as Dec. 15. However, in recent weeks, the injuries have begun to take their toll on the team with two power play goals in their last eight games, a span in which they scored more than three goals once.
It would be difficult for any team to withstand long-term injuries to both top line wingers and their number one defenseman. The bright spot is that all three should be back in the near future, which is good because the Predators will need them to stay afloat throughout the remainder of the season.