Low-scoring Preds must get hot to contend for playoffs

Right winger Patric Hornqvist (24 overall points) has collected 15 points in the Predators' 19 seasonal victories.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Only four teams in the NHL had scored fewer goals than the Nashville Predators, as of Tuesday.

And last year, the Predators tied for dead last in goals-for with 109.

In the offseason, Nashville made some acquisitions to address the problem. The club signed former 22-goal scorer Viktor Stalberg and two-time 20-goal scorer Matt Cullen to multiyear deals.

The Predators also thought rookie forward Filip Forsberg might help. They thought forwards like Colin Wilson and Patric Hornqvist would benefit from renewed health.

For the most part, those hopes and expectations have not worked out as planned. So, what’s a general manager to do?

GM David Poile continually explores potential trades to add more scoring; but so far, he has not been able to complete a deal.

"Every day," he said. "We do. You’re always trying to better your club and, again, I have not been able to. I’m sure it’s frustrating for lots of different parts here — from the players to the fans to myself. We always seem to be, if it’s 3-2, we got two and they got three. If it’s 2-1, they got two, we got one.

"We’re just always having a little bit of a shortfall this year. We’re not stealing any games and we’re not winning that 1-0 game or that 2-1 game, and we’re certainly not scoring enough goals. That’s why we’re where we are."

Entering Tuesday, Nashville is tied for the fewest points in the Central Division, 10 points out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference (35 games to play). It’s not impossible for the Predators to make the playoffs … but they’ll have to get — and soon.

To do that, they will have to turn around their scoring. Stalberg, who started the season slowly because of a shoulder injury from training camp, has five goals in 41 games and has struggled to fit in. He ranks 12th on the team in points.

Cullen, too, has not easily fit in and produced. He also has five goals and lately has centered the fourth line. Twice in the Predators’ previous four games, he has played less than 12 minutes.

Forsberg, only 19, struggled to adapt to the NHL level and had one goal in 12 games, before a concussion kept him out a month. He starred at the recent World Junior Championships, but upon returning was assigned to the Predators’ top minor-league affiliate.

Wilson, 24, with seven goals in 46 games, is not producing enough. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2008 NHL Draft has never scored more than 16 goals in a season. He’s on pace for 12 by year’s end.

Hornqvist, with nine goals in 42 games, has been effective but is not on pace for 20 goals, a plateau he has reached three times in his career. If any player could get hot and help to carry the Predators, Hornqvist would represent a leading candidate.

To be fair, some players have played well offensively, notably Craig Smith, Mike Fisher, defenseman Shea Weber, Nick Spaling and Paul Gaustad, known more for his defensive play.

However, even long-time veteran David Legwand, who ranks second on the team in points with 28, has gone cold. He has seven goals but only one in his past 15 games.

Legwand, like Hornqvist, is another player who might be able to get hot and help shoulder the load offensively.

While Nashville has one of the NHL’s better power plays (ranked 7th) that unit has sputtered recently. In its past seven games, Nashville has scored a power play goal in just one game. The unit is 1 for 13 in that span.

Coach Barry Trotz said the lack of practice time has hurt in that respect. The Predators have not practiced since last Wednesday and will not again until this Wednesday.

So on Tuesday, Trotz altered up the Predators’ morning skate routine and went over the power play.

Trotz added that 13 chances in seven games is not a lot so even during games the Predators are not getting to work much on their power play.

The implication here: Nashville has been a little rusty on special teams.

"We’re only getting one or two power plays a game and that’s not enough practice time for our power play," he said. "We need our power play to be good and usually it is pretty decent for us. … I think we have to take the morning skate and focus on just one or two things."

If Poile can pull off a deal, that might be the best way to provide a spark. The NHL trading deadline remains nearly two months away (March 5).

Normally, deals heat up then, which is part of why it might be difficult to complete a trade now.

But if the Predators don’t start scoring – and winning – soon, it could be too late.