If the Nashville Predators were hoping to use Sunday’s matchup with Central Division rival Chicago as a sort of measuring stick, it’s time to throw that idea out the window.
The Preds made so many mistakes in allowing the Blackhawks’ first goal that coach Barry Trotz suggested after the game that you could “put a tent over that circus.”
Added center Mike Fisher: “We really didn’t challenge them very well. That wasn’t our ‘A’ game, no question.”
The Blackhawks, who are rampaging through their schedule – still without a loss in regulation through their first 12 games – met a fatigued Preds team that was playing its third game in four days. On the other hand, Chicago had arrived in Nashville on Friday and was well rested. The result, a 3-0 loss for Nashville, was not very competitive, as the Preds amassed only seven shots through two periods, and did not provide much of a useful example to see how they stack up against the league’s best.
“We were a little bit on the tired side,” Trotz said at one point, though in no one way did he excuse his team’s play. “That’s that. They were sitting here for a couple of days. We have a day off tomorrow and then we have a tough week.”
It’s hard to imagine that with the way the Preds started their schedule – two games at home and then seven on the road – that a four-game homestand would represent a tough week.
But in this case, it does. By the end of the week, the Preds will have played six games in 10 days. While the number of games represents a difficult grind, it’s the quality of the opponents that will challenge the Preds, whose 14 points provide only a one-point cushion over the teams that are tied for seventh through ninth. As a result, by the end of the homestand, the Preds could know a bit more about where they rate against some of the league’s best teams.
Including Chicago, the Preds will have faced three teams with records in the NHL’s top five on this homestand. Next up is Tuesday with a visit from San Jose, whose 16 points are tied for the fourth most in the league.
The Sharks come in trying to figure out some things themselves. They have lost five straight (two by shootout), but always present a challenge in the form of big center Joe Thornton, whose three goals and 12 assists mean that he has averaged an assist per game.
On Sunday, Trotz bemoaned the Preds’ lack of will to go to the net and cited Thornton, and praised Chicago’s Jonathan Toews (who scored the game’s second goal on Sunday by doing just that). Alas, Nashville’s quest for goals this season has become a case of feast or fame: nine in winning two straight last Tuesday and Thursday and then just one in losing two straight on Saturday and Sunday.
“You’ve got to be determined to get to the net,” Trotz said. “Everything has to be gritty in this league . . . (Chicago’s) Patrick Kane can do something pretty but Patrick Kane doesn’t play for the Nashville Predators unless we trade for him or something. Top offensive players — look at Jonathan Toews and Joe Thornton — drive the net hard. That’s what it is. It’s a working man’s league.”
Trotz said going to the net is nothing that practice will help and that’s probably a good thing since the Preds don’t have much in the way of that scheduled this week, owing to so many games. He said it’s a mindset and the Preds talked about it both at second intermission and after the game.
Forward Colin Wilson, whose seven points lead the team, echoed Trotz’s comments after the game. Trotz cited Paul Gaustad and Rich Clune as the two shining examples of Preds forwards who were willing to go to the net. The problem is that combined they own 73 goals spread out over roughly 10 NHL seasons (72 of them by Gaustad).
Among the Preds’ issues is that right wing Patric Hornqvist, the team’s leading goal scorer in two of the last three seasons whose strength is going to the net, remains out with a lower-body injury. Hornqvist was injured on Jan. 26 and projected to be out three to four weeks. He could start skating again later in the week.
Anaheim, with the second-best record in the West and tied for the second-most points in the league, visits on Saturday. The Ducks are scoring goals aplenty, led by ageless wonder Teemu Selanne.
So if the Preds want to see if they again stack up among the best in the West, they’ll need to figure out a way to start scoring again.