3 Keys For a Successful Predators Road Trip

The Nashville Predators may be happy to see the calendar turn to November, as the early part of the season has not seen much success. After the two wins against the San Jose Sharks in the Global Series, the Predators have gone 1-4-1 and have looked really bad in those contests. Now, they leave Smashville for a tough five-game road trip looking for answers on how they can turn their fortunes around.

The real simple and obvious answer is to score more goals. While it is true that the Predators rank 30th in the NHL in goals scored at a paltry 2.44 per game, there is more to their troubles than a simple put-the-puck-in-the-net solution. There are many other things the Predators must do in order to improve on the 3-5-1 record they have posted to start the season.

Improving Special Teams Performance

To date, the Predators have scored only three times on 36 power-play attempts. That 8.3% is 30th in the NHL, with only the Anaheim Ducks and the Columbus Blue Jackets being worse than them in that category. Matt Duchene, Nino Niederreiter, and Roman Josi have accounted for the three power-play goals. Even though the Predators’ power play has been historically weak, there was hope after seeing some improvement in 2021-22. Historically, complaints about it have ranged from predictable to robotic in execution. This season, a color analyst from the opponent commented that the Predators’ power play seemed “static.” Hopefully, some change in design or personnel can provide a spark.

Florida Panthers Anton Stralman Nashville Predators Matt Duchene
Former Florida Panthers defenseman Anton Stralman blocks a shot by Nashville Predators Matt Duchene (AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

For the penalty kill, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that the Predators are in the top ten with an 84.8% efficiency rate. The bad news, they are also in the top ten in committing penalties. When a team struggles, giving the opponent extra man-up advantages is generally not a good strategy for reversing a team’s fortune. A big part of turning things around for the Predators will be drawing more penalties than they give up and converting on a few more of their man-up opportunities. It sounds simple, but it has not happened so far this season for the Predators.

Predators’ Top Players Need to Step Up

If you take away the three points that each had against the St. Louis Blues, Duchene, Josi, and Filip Forsberg have not played up to expectations. The hope was that the Blues’ win and coming off a nice four-day rest would jump-start these players and the rest of the team. Instead, the Predators put up a clunker of an effort in being shut out by the Washington Capitals. Forsberg had these comments after the Capitals game. “We created chances off our forecheck. I thought that was something that we had been doing well all year, but you’ve got to score goals to win, and zero goals is never going to be acceptable.”

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The lack of production has been extremely evident in the third period of this season’s games. In their first nine games, the Predators have been outscored by their opponents 12-6 in the third period, including being outscored 6-0 in road games. It is a bit of a curiosity how a team with so many battle-tested veterans has played so poorly in crucial parts of games. Then again, that may be part of the problem. Josi and Duchene are both in their 30s, as are newcomers Niederreiter and Ryan McDonagh. It may be that some of these players are just experiencing a little bit of a decline as they age.

Support for Juuse Saros

Everything mentioned before leads to an increase in what is expected from the Predators’ star goaltender. Juuse Saros has been a player who has been the guy to help propel this team to success in the past. When they rebounded from an 11-16-1 start to make the playoffs during the shortened 2020-21 season, he saved a league-best 12.3 goals above expected in the second half. This year, he has saved an extra 2.5 goals. The 27-year-old has struggled a bit, ranking 35th in save percentage (.908) at five on five, but he still could use some help around him.

Juuse Saros Mark Borowiecki Nick Foligno
Nick Foligno, formerly of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Mark Borowiecki, and Juuse Saros of the Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

A big part of that help must come from the Predators’ blue line. The acquisition of the veteran McDonagh has not paid dividends as expected so far. When paired with Mattias Ekholm, the duo ranks 89th out of 96 defensive pairs in expected goals allowed. McDonagh was recently dropped down to the third pairing with Jeremy Lauzon as head coach John Hynes shuffled the roster hoping to jump-start the team.

Related: Predators “Herd Line” Vital For Team’s Continued Success

During this road trip, the Predators must at least “tread water” and take about half of the points available to them during this stretch. It is not just that they face five games away from Smashville. It is also the fact that of the five teams they will face, none of them have a losing record at the moment. It may be a bit of a challenge, but with just a few adjustments in key areas, the Predators could return home feeling good about their chances for the rest of the season.

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