Low-scoring Preds fading quickly out of playoff picture

The Predators are slipping further out of a playoff spot in the West; and once again, Nashville's scoring woes are the main culprit, writes John Manasso.

Craig Smith (zero goals in five games -- left) and Matt Cullen (just six seasonal goals) have been at the center of Nashville's scoring difficulties.

Craig McPeak/Bruce Fedyck / USA TODAY Sports

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For about five or six weeks, it wasn't a problem.

However, once again the issue of goal-scoring has arisen with the Nashville Predators -- and at the worst possible time.

A week ago, the Predators stood four points out of the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Since then, Nashville has scored one goal in each of its last three games -- all regulation losses. Now, their hopes to qualify for the postseason have begun to look more distant.

Coach Barry Trotz recognizes that players are beginning to press, so he created a competition during Friday's practice to get their minds off the issue.

"I think that's just a natural, human instinct to press a little bit when you need to score," Trotz said. "But there's a happy medium. What happens when you press is nothing comes as instinctive and you look for the next option. We talked about, 'Let's just clear our minds.'

"We can score some goals. Let's just do the right things: be ready to shoot, be ready to go to the net, be ready to make good plays and we've done that. Right before the (Olympic) break, we were scoring probably three goals a game and we were 6-2-2. Playing good defensively and all those things."

The Predators (eight points out of West playoff slot) are still playing well defensively -- allowing eight goals in three games and tallying plenty of shots -- but the lack of scoring is killing them.

At 2.40 goals per game, Nashville has fallen to 24th in that category.

Oddly, the team's usually productive special teams have hit a wall lately. In a three-game span, the Predators' power play tumbled from six to 11th in the league -- while also failing to score in their last 14 chances.

This comes after the unit went 3-for-4 in a win against Tampa Bay last week, the Predators' most recent victory.

The Predators' new power play will bear a different look, in the wake of David Legwand getting traded to the Red Wings this week. Before getting dealt, Legwand was tied for the team lead in points (40) and his 16 power-play points ranked second on the club.

Legwand has been replaced, in essence, by Colin Wilson, who has gone 23 games without a goal -- with only four assists during that period.

"Some guys have got to let it go," Trotz said of pressing, "and some guys have got to step up a little bit and produce. There's not one guy in this room who can go, 'Hey, I'm going to be the guy.' We need collectively some guys to score. We've got some guys who have been dry for 20 games that should be in our top nine. You can't have guys go a quarter of the season without a goal. We've got two or three of those guys."

After general manager David Poile traded Legwand, he referenced two players in particular, Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg, who, if they had scored more on a pace with their career production, would have helped to put the Predators in the playoff picture.

Both players were the Predators' top free-agent signings last summer, in terms of looking for offensive production.

Cullen has one goal in his last 33 games and six on the season. Stalberg (seven seasonal goals) has found the net just three times in his last 25 outings.

Craig Smith, the Predators' goals leader (18), may be trying to do too much, as well. He has gone five games without a goal.

Smith was asked if the Predators were pressing to score goals.

"I would say so," he said. "I don't think we've scored very many goals the last couple games, so I think if we try to shoot the puck in the net this time, it will help a lot. Everybody who gets on the ice wants to score a goal, so it's not like we're not trying. I think everyone's doing the right things. Just a few bounces here and there it only takes one play to score a goal."

Wing Eric Nystrom talked about how the psychology of scoring goals can be paradoxical.

"It's amazing (how) when you start thinking about it that it becomes harder," Nystrom said. "You've just got to let it happen. Scoring goals is the result of doing the right things and being in the right position over and over and over again. But when you start looking for them or trying to sniff out goals, they don't come.

"You've just got to keep doing the right thing: putting pucks there, putting bodies there over and over and over again and it's going to break. It's frustrating, but at the same time, there's no secret formula to it."

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