There is not a more confusing and frustrating team in the NHL right now than the Nashville Predators.
On paper, Nashville should be among the best teams in the league and probably atop the Central Division with the talented pieces of Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, Roman Josi, James Neal, Pekka Rinne and James Neal scattered in the lineup.
Instead, the Preds are 25-21-8 with 58 points and barely maintain a wild-card playoff spot in the Western Conference.
What makes the Predators so confusing and frustrating is their lack of identity. On some nights, they live up to their potential by looking like a perennial Stanley Cup contender. On other nights, they just simply look bad.
Nashville lacks consistency.
Too often do the Predators play an excellent game, then follow it up with a poor effort. Two recent sets come to mind. After Nashville beat the Minnesota Wild 3-0 on Jan. 16, they lost 4-1 to the Chicago Blackhawks the very next game on Jan. 19. More recently, the Preds defeated the San Jose Sharks 6-2 on Saturday then followed it up by losing 5-3 to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.
Entering the NHL All-Star break, the Preds won four straight contests on a Western Canada road-trip. Nashville looked great, and more importantly, goaltender Rinne was back to being himself. In his last three starts before the break, Rinne went 3-0-0 with a 1.01 goals-against average and a .963 save-percentage.
Unfortunately, though not surprising given Nashville’s consistency problems all season, that winning streak did not carry over after the break, despite being on a four-game home stand. Nashville disappointingly went 1-3-0 on said home stand and wasted an opportunity to climb higher in the standings. Rinne, too, slumped again in his last three starts, posting a 4.04 GAA and a .831 save percentage.
Winning games against other playoff teams has been been problematic for the Predators, too. Nashville is 8-15-4 against teams currently in playoff position, and that is not a record to wear on your sleeve.
The most confusing part of Nashville this season is their record when being outshot by opponents. Typically, hockey coaches will tell their teams a key to winning games is to put the puck on net more than the other team. But for Nashville, that is not the case. They are actually better when being outshot.
Nashville is 13-5-3 when being outshot by the opposition and are 11-16-5 when outshooting the opposition.
Though statistics do not lie, head coach Peter Laviolette cannot go into the locker room every game and tell the team to shoot less than the opponent that night.
The Predators are just an odd team.
With just 28 games left in the regular season, Nashville needs to figure out who they are. Too much has been invested into this win-now roster assembled by general manager David Poile. If the Predators fail to improve, it could lead to a disappointing year not qualifying for the playoffs with big changes on deck in the offseason.
Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.