Low-scoring Preds flirting with NHL infamy

Since 1949-50 when the NHL began playing a 70-game season, the lowest-scoring team has been the 1953-54 Chicago Blackhawks, who netted 133 goals or 1.9 per game.

No other team since then has averaged fewer than two goals per game. Entering Monday’s matchup with the Dallas Stars — 19 games into their 48-game schedule — the Nashville Predators are averaging 1.95 goals per game.

To put it in perspective, the Predators have failed to score a goal in regulation almost once every three games. They have been shut out five times already and in a sixth game defeated the San Jose Sharks 1-0 in overtime.

“You can’t really get too low,” said Predators captain Shea Weber after Friday’s loss to the Vancouver Canucks, presumably referring to the team’s emotional state and not its scoring average. “… I think right now we just have to focus on that. At the same time, you have to learn from this game and it’s an old story, but we have to do a little bit better and score a few more goals.”

An old story indeed. The Predators for the most part have always been a defense-first team, but last season – with most of the same players on this roster — they ranked eighth in the NHL in scoring (they are dead last this season), averaging almost a goal per game more at 2.83. They also owned the NHL’s top-ranked power play in 2011-12. This year, the Preds rank 25th in that category.

While the Predators have gotten a decent influx of offense from their blue line, the issue has proved to be their forwards. More than half of their starting regulars are under-producing at dramatic rates. In a number of cases, those forwards are producing at about half the rate of their historical production.

This season, the Predators have collected a grand total of 13 goals in 117 games from six forwards: Martin Erat, Mike Fisher, Sergei Kostitsyn, David Legwand, Patric Hornqvist, Craig Smith and Matt Halischuk. That puts those seven on a pace for 37 goals this season, or .111 per game.

Over the course of their careers, that group has combined for 721 goals in 3,070 games, or .234 goals per game. In this truncated 48-game season, that means the Preds could have expected 79 goals from that group.

A few players in particular stand out for pulling down these averages:

Hornqvist has led the Preds in goals in two of the last three seasons. He missed 10 games with a lower-body injury, which helps to explain his lack of productivity, and has only one goal in nine games. Hornqvist’s struggles not only hurt the offense as a whole, but the power play in particular.

His lack of production is not for lack of trying. In the four games since he returned from injury, Hornqvist has taken 23 shots but failed to net a goal. He entered the season with a 9.7 shooting percentage for his career, meaning he should have scored at least twice.

Halischuk (zero goals; 15 last season) has also dragged the team’s scoring average. In Saturday’s 4-0 loss at Detroit, Halischuk had a breakaway with the Preds down 1-0, but Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard denied his shot with a left-pad save. That is how things have gone for the Preds this season. Like Halischuk, Craig Smith, who scored 14 goals last season, also is struggling, with only goal while playing in every game.

Last season, the team’s top line was Erat, Fisher and Kostitsyn. Together, they have eight goals. Erat, with 159 career goals in 10 seasons entering this one, goes into Monday without a goal in 10 games. So it’s a collective effort.

At least the Predators don’t have to worry about scoring the fewest goals in league history. That bit of infamy goes to the 1928-29 Blackhawks, who scored 33 in 44 games. They are followed by the ’24-’25 Montreal Maroons (45 in 30 games) and the ’28-’29 Pittsburgh Pirates (44 in 46 games). But those totals came before the league overhauled its rules for the 1929-30 season to allow forward passing inside all three zones (except for the two-line pass).

Here’s the confounding thing: The Predators have demonstrated the ability to score in a big way, at times, this season. They scored nine goals in the two games prior to going their current 120 minutes without a tally. In an earlier two-game stretch, they also scored nine in two games – more than enough to win the way they play defense, as they entered Monday third in the league in goals against per game.

Of their six regulation losses, five have come by shutout, so when they score, they have recorded a point in their 13 other games. The positive, if there is any to be drawn from it, is that Nashville began the day tied with Detroit for fifth in the Western Conference, only two points behind Central Division foe St. Louis for fourth.

The Preds have hit other skids like this earlier this season. They have two separate three-game stretches in which they totaled two goals (Jan. 24 to 28 and Feb. 9 to 12). When that has happened, coach Barry Trotz has praised the value of going to the net and scoring dirty goals.

“They don’t put the chances up on the board,” Trotz told reporters in Nashville on Monday following the team’s morning skates. “They put the goals up there. Have to capitalize.”

They do have to capitalize. Otherwise, history awaits.