As the Western Conference wild-card race heats up, the Nashville Predators find themselves on the outside looking in as they hit the road for a four-game road trip. They’ll need to be better than their current 5-5-1 record when playing on enemy territory if they hope to hang on and the upcoming week is a perfect opportunity to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. They’ll take on the Detroit Red Wings, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers in the span of six nights, making it a favourable trip in terms of miles travelled while facing competition they currently own a 2-1-0 record against.
The Predators’ current streak of win one, lose one is a concerning trend, but departing Nashville after winning two of their last three games on home ice will have the team in good morale. The importance now is not only improving on their away record but remaining consistent throughout December if they hope to remain in the hunt for playoff positioning.
Detroit Red Wings (13-9-3) – Dec. 7, 2021
First Meeting This Season
Tuesday night, the Predators will be hosted by the surprising Red Wings, who are off to a good start and currently hold a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Much like Nashville, they are in a battle for positioning with multiple teams just below only separated by a point or two. This also marks the first time the Predators and Red Wings meet in the 2021-22 regular season, their last contest coming in the 2020-21 regular season. Nashville won that game in a decisive 7-1 dismantling, just 48 hours after a 3-2 shootout win against the same team. Both victories at that time came on the road.
However, last year’s Red Wings compared to the current version are two different entities. Nashville’s defensive squad will have their hands full with the high-octane attack from Detroit’s youth movement that features rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider, two impact players that have become big contributors to a Detroit team that holds a 9-2-2 record when playing at home. Nashville’s defense will feel tested throughout the game, as they’ll face a team that can roll four lines and constantly pressure and attack down low.
The offense will be in tough figuring out Alex Nedeljkovic, who is off to another great start. Strictly speaking about his home record, Nedeljkovic holds a 5-1-2 record, similarly close to his 7-1-2 record in home games as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes. One player that looks to get back on track is Matt Duchene, who ended his month of November with four points in the last five games, but has since been held off of the scoresheet in the first two games of December.
New York Islanders (5-10-5) – Dec. 9, 2021
Last meeting: 3-2 Win (SO), Oct. 30, 2021
The Predators will have one day off before they move on to the Islanders. A team that was struck with a postponed schedule after an outbreak of Covid-19, this will be a prime opportunity for Nashville to gain momentum. The Islanders haven’t been able to get into their groove as of late, their 5-10-5 record a glaring surprise to most. The fact that the Islanders are winless at home so far this season (0-4-2) has left many wondering when they’ll catch a break and start showing signs of their post-season run just a couple of months ago.
The Islanders have amassed just 38 goals in 20 games, while allowing 61, making this game a huge momentum booster and something Nashville can build upon if they can offer a 60-minute effort. Goaltender Juuse Saros has had an up-and-down start to the year, and so has the defense in front of him, but shutting down a team whose offense has been anemic thus far could benefit both facets of Nashville’s line-up. This is not to say that Saros hasn’t been particularly bad, but the nights he hasn’t been as good as the nights he would stand on his head, it has shown.
One name they’ll need to keep tabs on is one Matthew Barzal, who is piling up points in December with five points in the first three games of the month. This could be a statement game from defenseman Mattias Ekholm, who hasn’t looked himself to start the season, specifically on the physical side of the game. The 31-year-old snapped a 10-game pointless drought with his two assists against the Montreal Canadiens on December 4, but the inconsistency in his game has been too often stated. Shutting down a player like Barzal while the team he plays for struggles offensively could be a confidence booster and what sets Ekholm off to the form he saw last season when he registered 23 points in 48 games.
New Jersey Devils (9-9-5) – Dec. 10, 2021
Last meeting: 4-2 Win, Nov. 26, 2021
Facing the New Jersey Devils on the second half of a back-to-back couldn’t have worked out better. They’ll face the Philadelphia Flyers next, before welcoming in Nashville, but the team is spiralling downwards after losing a fourth consecutive game. It marks the third time this season that the Devils have lost a minimum of three games in a row, and are 2-5-3 in their last ten games.
The last time these two teams met, back in November, the Predators doubled up the Devils in a 4-2 victory. Both Alexandre Carrier and Roman Josi contributed with a goal and an assist each, while Ryan Johansen added a pair of assists. Josi, who was appearing in his 700th career game, is quickly climbing up the ladder for points all-time among players who have dawned Nashville colours, and another strong showing against the Devils could be what the doctor ordered. He’s been a consistent contributor at both ends of the ice for his entire career, and the quality of play he provides for the Predators each year has been something coaches and teammates alike have admired.
Jonathan Bernier started in the last contest against Nashville and allowed three goals on 30 shots and has only appeared in one of the three games in December. While it’s still undecided who plays against Nashville, either one of the two between Bernier and Mackenzie Blackwood will hope to improve their 6-4-2 home record. They’ve allowed 15 goals in just three games this month while scoring 8, making this a prime opportunity for Nashville to string together some wins and get their mojo going offensively.
New York Rangers (16-4-3) – Dec. 12, 2021
Last meeting: 3-1 Loss, Oct. 21, 2021
Finishing off their road trip and the week itself, Nashville will hope to exact revenge on a team they lost to in October. The Rangers edged out the Predators in their only meeting so far this season, scoring an empty-net goal late into the third and sealing it by a final score of 3-1. Saros had a strong showing, stopping 27 of 29 shots, but the one thing he couldn’t do for his team was score a goal, and the team in front of him could only provide one goal. This comes in a game where Nashville out-chanced New York in inner-slot opportunities (27 to 16), generated more scoring chances and also had a slight advantage in puck possession throughout the game. Igor Shesterkin just had one of those games for the Rangers.
If there was a statement game in this road trip, it would be this one. The Rangers are flying high with a 9-1-0 record in their last 10 games, while holding an 8-1-1 home record. Their six-game winning streak is a combination of strong goaltending performances, opportunistic goals in timely situations and a defense that can suffocate the neutral zone and clog up the inner-slot area. They’ve allowed two goals or less in five of their six last games, so the Predators will have to rely on their top players like Duchene, Forsberg, Granlund and Johansen to score some goals while also hoping for some back-end support from Josi. A game like this could turn into a goaltender’s nightmare but a win will provide the Predators with a major confidence boost by taking down one of the top teams in the league.
It’s not impossible for head coach John Hynes and his troops to pick up six of a possible eight points during this road trip, and they’ll have their work cut out for them. Nashville has strung together four consecutive wins once, while also winning three in a row another time, and this road trip could be the chance the Predators need to push themselves away from the middle of the pack and further up the standings. They’ll also require a little bit of help from the teams above them losing the odd game here and there, however, the best way to become a contender in the West is to capitalize on months where the travelling schedule is less hectic and the quality of opponent is to your advantage.
Covering the Nashville Predators. I work for a company called SPORTLOGiQ and have loved the game of Hockey for over three decades. I’m obsessed with advanced analytics and pair that with my love for the eye test – i.e. watching the games (I DO that too!)