You would be excused for believing the Nashville Predators were guilty of multiple personalities this week.
On a short trip through Ontario, the Predators managed to smash Toronto, and then lose to Ottawa, a team they have already beaten this year. Still, the differing outcomes are somewhat explainable. Toronto was in the midst of a very terrible stretch of hockey—having lost in similar fashion to hapless Buffalo the game prior—and showing no inclination at all to play defense. The Predators put forth maximum effort at the Senators, outshooting Ottawa 16-3 in the third period and 35-19 for the game, but ran up against solid goaltending.
Maybe the toughest test of this week will come at home tonight against the Florida Panthers. At a glance, the Panthers, seventh in the Atlantic division and seeming to be headed nowhere fast, is ripe for the picking against the Central Division’s leading Predators. But Florida knows a thing or two the Predators may not have taken the time to think about.
For one thing, it’s probably more fun to play on the road for Florida than it is at home, though no one in the organization would say such. The Panthers are filling 53 percent of its seats in South Florida and earlier in the season failed to bring even 8,000 fans to one game. The team’s 3-3-1 record at home isn’t particularly bad by the numbers, but the 4-2-4 record on the road shows they know how to pick off points in the standings on the away slog. Also, the fact the Panthers have played much more away than at home proves, if nothing else, they’re used to it right now.
Florida also has a weapon the Predators should try to avoid: Scottie Upshall. This may be the first time in over a decade that any writer has referred to Upshall as a weapon, but the Predators would be wrong to regard him as anything but one. Originally a first-round pick of Nashville’s in 2002, he got his NHL start in Nashville and was for a time viewed as a promising asset. Clearly that hasn’t turned out for Upshall, as he has bounced around a little, has some nagging tendencies toward injury and isn’t the most solid on defense.
Nevertheless, Upshall can still skate well and make an unsuspecting team pay for it, which he did while playing against Nashville in Phoenix in 2010, scoring a natural hat trick in the third period and helping to defeat the team that drafted him.
This season, Upshall, by now a veteran winger who is mostly efficient if not flashy, has posted three goals and four assists with a minus 1 rating on a team with defensive problems among its many problems, so Upshall is certainly not hurting his team.
In many ways, the Panthers have a much richer history than the Predators. The team’s early years in the NHL in the early and middle ‘90s were good ones, boasting a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals, but the past decade has mostly not been good, on or off the ice. And if that seems familiar to someone, it should to Upshall. When he came to Nashville as an 18 year old, the Predators were struggling for a playoff berth, respectability and fan attendance. Sort of like Florida now.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, and unless the Predators prefer to trip up the present by falling over their past, hopefully they will remember that.