Predators’ Recent Struggles Are Seriously Concerning

The Nashville Predators are having an enigmatic February regarding their position in the race for a Stanley Cup Playoff appearance. Before the All-Star break, the Predators were hitting their stride, going 3-0-1 and collecting seven of a possible eight points to put some space between themselves and those who trailed in the wild card positions. Then, as if the clock struck 12 on this Disney season, the Predators’ flaws and shortcomings began to creep up and bite them. Penalty troubles, a lack of transition in neutral one rushes, and an overall-poor defensive effort were too much to mask, leading Nashville into their most-recent four-game losing streak.

Despite Roman Josi’s seven assists in the four-game span, the team looks like they’re playing a step behind the opposition on most shifts. Head coach John Hynes’ group has been the second-best team on the ice for four games in a row, and one more could put the team in jeopardy of falling behind in the standings. Currently, Nashville sits in the first wild card spot, a night-and-day result compared to before the All-Star break when they sat mightily in second in the Central Division. Their schedule hasn’t been helpful, playing the likes of the Winnipeg Jets, Washington Capitals, and Carolina Hurricanes, but their efforts alone outweigh any excuse.

Eeli Tolvanen Nashville Predators
Eeli Tolvanen, Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

Their week ahead won’t help them either, as they take on the Florida Panthers, Dallas Stars, and Tampa Bay Lightning. Both Florida and Tampa Bay are having exceptional seasons, sitting at first and second respectively in the Atlantic, while Dallas is chomping at the heels of Nashville. March also contains three games against teams within their division, making this next stretch of games pivotal in determining what side of the coin the Predators hope to land on.

Mark Borowiecki Injury Creates Opening

Mark Borowiecki was injured mid-way into the first period of the Predators’ Feb. 18 game against the Hurricanes, and the gritty defenseman did not return. Playing just 1:41 before the incident, there’s concern whether he’ll miss some time, and if so, who steps in and fills the role on the Predators’ third pairing? Following the game, Hynes didn’t have an update on Borowiecki, which raises concern given the time he’s missed this season with upper-body and lower-body injuries, as well as a trip to COVID-19 protocols.

In terms of who can replace Borowiecki, Matt Tennyson could be a viable option after his short stint this season received considerable praise. In the four games he appeared in, Tennyson registered three assists and seven hits while picking up one minor penalty and two blocks. Nashville also has both Ben Harpur and Philippe Myers on their depth chart. However, both struggled during extended stints, specifically when Mattias Ekholm and Dante Fabbro were side-lined at the same time. Harpur is the better approach in this situation as he is capable of a physical game while maintaining enough discipline to avoid stockpiling penalty minutes.

Related: Solving the Nashville Predators’ Penalty Problem

The favorable result would be the third pairing with Tennyson and Matt Benning, limiting them between 12 to 15 minutes and leaning on the younger defenseman like Fabbro and Alexandre Carrier to step up their game. As long as the first two defensive pairings are playing their game, the bottom pairing can come in for a couple of shifts to throw some checks and change the momentum with their physicality.

Rinne Jersey Retirement Should Inspire

One source of inspiration to give a 60-minute effort and win some games is the upcoming jersey retirement ceremony for Pekka Rinne, scheduled for Feb. 24. The long-time goaltender played all 15 of his seasons in the NHL with the Predators, accumulating 414 wins in 772 appearances and making it to the Stanley Cup Final once. Rinne also served as a mentor to current starter Juuse Saros, who can hold his head up high after appearing at the All-Star Game as Rinne did.

Pekka Rinne Nashville Predators
Pekka Rinne, Nashville Predators (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)

“This organization, this city means so much to me, and now having this honor, as a player, to me that’s the highest honor you can have, and it obviously involves a lot of emotion to and it’s a pretty surreal feeling,” Rinne stated in an interview with FOX 17 News Sports Director Jill Jelnick. The passion for the city of Nashville that exudes Rinne is what separates him from many goaltenders of his era, and Saros is on his way to becoming the future of the Predators’ crease. One thing he can gain from the experience of Rinne’s jersey retirement is how important he once was to the Predators’ success and how appreciated he was for carrying that mantle for 15 years.

In his last four starts, Saros has posted a sub-900 save percentage in three of them and faced under 30 shots during those outings. While he isn’t to blame for all of their Predators’ struggles as of late, he hasn’t looked like himself since returning from the All-Star Game. Saros has allowed a total of 15 goals against in his last four starts, albeit eight of those came on the power play. If the Predators want to maintain their hold on a playoff spot, it starts from the crease out, and Saros’ return to form will be the injection of hope this team desperately needs.

Help On The Way?

As the trade deadline quickly approaches, the Predators are in a position where adding at low cost could benefit their playoff aspirations. Becoming a buyer at all costs may not be the way to go, as teams looking to stock up won’t have any problems throwing around first-round selections or prospects. General manager David Poile should stray from touching his prospect pool, aiming instead to add depth on the blue line and down the middle to give his team a shot at improving their overall product. That time may come soon with reports out of Philadelphia that Nashville scouts have been attending Flyers games, among a few other teams.

The Flyers’ struggles are well documented, riddled with poor performances and injuries, putting general manager Chuck Fletcher in a position to sell at the trade deadline. They currently have three forwards and five defensemen who will become unrestricted free agents after this season, giving potential for the Flyers to stockpile draft picks and build towards a brighter future. It’s not likely all of those names will be shipped out, as the Flyers still need a team to ice for the remainder of the season, but the possibilities are there regardless to make for an eventful trade deadline.

Poile’s best route to take is to inquire about a name like Derick Brassard at the center position to improve the bottom-six synergy and add playoff experience, or Keith Yandle on defense to play on the bottom pairing. Players that, at most, could be acquired for a fourth-round or fifth-round selection. It allows for more flexibility in the lineup and adds players capable of playing a physical defensive game while maintaining a discipline level. The Predators have to clean up their penalty woes, and bringing in someone like Brassard or Yandle could help mitigate that problem.

Related: Flyers: Potential Trade Returns for Giroux From Avalanche, Wild & Blues

Poile, Hynes, and the Predators will need to search for answers sooner rather than later if they hope to keep their hands on a playoff spot. Whether they find a solution within the locker room or add a piece or two by the deadline, they need to figure it out, or the summer will feel particularly long in Nashville.

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